How do you know if you have periodontal (gum) disease? Sometimes your gums will tell you—when they’re red, swollen or bleed easily.
But your gums can also look and feel healthy while a gum infection still brews below the gum line. In this case, a regular dental visit could make the difference. Even without overt signs of infection, we may be able to detect gum disease with a slender metal instrument called a periodontal probe.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that most of the time arises from dental plaque. This thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulates on tooth surfaces, especially because of poor or non-existent oral hygiene. A continuing infection can weaken gum tissues and cause them to pull away or detach from the teeth.
Normally, there’s a slight gap between the gums and teeth. But as the infected gums pull away, the gaps grow larger and deeper, forming what are known as periodontal pockets. They become filled with infection that soon spreads to the root and bone and increases the risk of tooth loss.
These pockets, though, could be the means for detecting a gum infection with the help of the periodontal probe. During a dental exam we gently insert the probe, which has millimeter depth markings etched on it, between a tooth and its adjacent gums. While a depth of 1 to 3 mm is normal, a probe measurement of 4 to 5 mm could be a sign of an early stage infection. A reading of 7 to 10 mm, on the other hand, may indicate more advanced disease.
Along with other factors, periodontal probing can be quite useful identifying both the presence and extent of a gum infection and then how to treat it. The goal of any treatment is to remove plaque and tartar (calculus) deposits that sustain the infection. But probing, along with other diagnostic methods like x-rays, could point to deeper infection below the gum line that require more extensive methods, including surgery, sometimes to access and remove the disease.
Achieving the best treatment outcome with gum disease often depends on finding the infection early. Periodontal probing helps to make that discovery more likely.
You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that someone playing hockey, racing motocross or duking it out in an ultimate fighter match had a tooth knocked out. But acting in a movie? That's exactly what happened to Howie Mandel, well-known comedian and host of TV's America's Got Talent and Deal or No Deal. And not just any tooth, but one of his upper front teeth—with the other one heavily damaged in the process.
The accident occurred during the 1987 filming of Walk Like a Man in which Mandel played a young man raised by wolves. In one scene, a co-star was supposed to yank a bone from Howie's mouth. The actor, however, pulled the bone a second too early while Howie still had it clamped between his teeth. Mandel says you can see the tooth fly out of his mouth in the movie.
But trooper that he is, Mandel immediately had two crowns placed to restore the damaged teeth and went back to filming. The restoration was a good one, and all was well with his smile for the next few decades.
Until, that is, he began to notice a peculiar discoloration pattern. Years of coffee drinking had stained his other natural teeth, but not the two prosthetic (“false”) crowns in the middle of his smile. The two crowns, bright as ever, stuck out prominently from the rest of his teeth, giving him a distinctive look: “I looked like Bugs Bunny,” Mandel told Dear Doctor—Dentistry & Oral Health magazine.
His dentist, though, had a solution: dental veneers. These thin wafers of porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask slight imperfections like chipping, gaps or discoloration. Veneers are popular way to get an updated and more attractive smile. Each veneer is custom-shaped and color-matched to the individual tooth so that it blends seamlessly with the rest of the teeth.
One caveat, though: most veneers can look bulky if placed directly on the teeth. To accommodate this, traditional veneers require that some of the enamel be removed from your tooth so that the veneer does not add bulk when it is placed over the front-facing side of your tooth. This permanently alters the tooth and requires it have a restoration from then on.
In many instances, however, a “minimal prep” or “no-prep” veneer may be possible, where, as the names suggest, very little or even none of the tooth's surface needs to be reduced before the veneer is placed. The type of veneer that is recommended for you will depend on the condition of your enamel and the particular flaw you wish to correct.
Many dental patients opt for veneers because they can be used in a variety of cosmetic situations, including upgrades to previous dental work as Howie Mandel experienced. So if slight imperfections are putting a damper on your smile, veneers could be the answer.
If you would like more information about veneers and other cosmetic dental enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
You already know the basics for healthy and attractive teeth and gums: brush and floss every day; and have your teeth cleaned and checked by a dentist every six months. But there are also some lesser known things you can do to improve what you're already doing—and some of them may go against popular wisdom.
Here then are 3 counter-intuitive tips for turbo-boosting your teeth and gum health.
Avoid brushing too hard and too often. While it may not seem like it, “The more, the better” isn't necessarily a good thing when it comes to brushing your teeth. Vigorous brushing several times a day could actually damage both your teeth enamel and your gums, eventually leading to problems like sensitive teeth. So, easy does it on the brushing pressure—let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the work removing disease-causing dental plaque. Likewise, avoid brushing more than twice a day.
Wait on brushing right after eating. If your first instinct right after a meal is to head to the sink to brush your teeth, curb your enthusiasm. Your enamel is actually in a slightly softened state right after eating and drinking because of an increase in mouth acid (especially if you've consumed sodas, sports drinks or juices). Saliva restores the mouth's pH balance and helps remineralize enamel in about an hour. If you brush before then, you could be sloughing off microscopic bits of enamel—an eventual problem if this is a regular habit.
Stop snack “grazing.” If you're one of those that likes to munch on food throughout the day, you could be thwarting your overall efforts to maintain good dental health. Remember saliva? As mentioned, it effectively neutralizes acid in a few minutes. But continuous snacking maintains a constant high level of acid in the mouth—saliva has little chance to catch up. As a result, your mouth stays acidic, which can lead to higher risk of dental disease. If possible, limit your snacking to mealtimes.
These tips might be surprising, but they're based on sound science and research. Incorporating them into your regular, ongoing dental care, could increase your chances of healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on how best to clean and care for your teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Archeologists can tell us quite a bit about our primitive ancestors. For example, because of their coarse, abrasive diet and a primitive understanding of oral hygiene, their teeth had a rough go of it. They simply wore out faster — a contributing factor, no doubt, to their short life spans of thirty or forty years.
But thanks to improvements in lifestyle, healthcare and diet, people live much longer today. And so do their teeth, thanks to advances in dental care and disease prevention. While teeth still wear to some degree as we age, if we care for them properly with daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, we can keep that wear to a minimum. Teeth truly can last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, it's still all too common for people to lose their teeth prematurely. The main reason: the two most prevalent dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Tooth decay arises from high concentrations of mouth acid that erode enamel, teeth's irreplaceable protective shell. Gum disease is an infection that damages the bone supporting tissues as it infiltrates deep below the visible gum line.
While they occur by different mechanisms, the two diseases have some commonalities. They both, of course, can lead to tooth loss. And, they're both triggered by oral bacteria found in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles built up on tooth and gum surfaces. Multiplying bacteria feed on plaque and produce acid as a by-product. And certain bacterial strains infect gum tissues.
Both of these diseases can be treated successfully, especially if detected early. But the better approach is to prevent them in the first place. This introduces another commonality — they share the same prevention strategy of daily, comprehensive brushing and flossing for plaque removal, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and a sharp eye for any signs of disease like bleeding gums or tooth pain.
With diligent dental care and close attention to your oral health, you increase your chances of avoiding the full threat of these diseases.Â And with healthy teeth, you have a better chance of living a long and healthy life.
If you would like more information on minimizing tooth wear, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
A "toothy grin" might be endearing, but not necessarily healthy. More of the teeth showing may mean your gums have pulled back or receded from the teeth. If so, it's not just your smile that suffers—the parts of teeth protected by the gums could become more susceptible to disease.
There are a number of causes for gum recession. Some people are more likely to experience it because of genetically thinner gum tissues. Over-aggressive brushing could also contribute to recession. But the most common cause by far is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by dental plaque accumulating on teeth mainly as a result of inadequate hygiene.
There are some things we can do to help heal and restore recessed gums, most importantly treating gum disease. The number one goal of treatment is to uncover and remove all dental plaque from tooth and gum surfaces, which can take several sessions and sometimes minor surgery if the infection has reached the tooth roots. But removing plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) is necessary to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal.
For mild recession, this may be enough for the gums to regain normal coverage. But in more severe cases we may need to help rejuvenate new tissue with grafting surgery. In these highly meticulous procedures a surgeon uses microscopic techniques to position and attach donated tissue to the recession site. The graft serves as a scaffold on which new tissue growth can occur.
While these treatments can be effective for reversing gum recession, they often require time, skill and expense. It's much better to try to prevent gum recession—and gum disease—in the first place. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing to prevent plaque buildup, as well as regular dental visits for more thorough cleanings. Be on the lookout too for any signs of a beginning gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums and see your dentist as soon as possible to minimize any damage to your gums.
Caring for your gums is equally as important as caring for your teeth. Healthy gums equal a healthy mouth—and an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on preventing gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”
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