Your gums can take a lot — they’re resilient and they endure a variety of abrasive foods over a lifetime. But resilience isn’t the same as invulnerability: your gums can be weakened by periodontal (gum) disease or by over-aggressive brushing that causes them to shrink away (recede) from the teeth they protect.
Unfortunately, it’s not a rare problem — millions suffer from some degree of gum recession, caused mainly by gum disease. This aggressive infection arises from bacteria in dental plaque, a thin film that builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. Fortunately, gum disease can be effectively treated in its early stages by removing plaque above and below the gum line. Diseased gums will quickly rebound to their normal health.
Unfortunately, though, heavily recessed gums from advanced stages of gum disease (as well as those who’ve inherited thinner gum tissues and are more susceptible to recession) may not come back fully without help. This can affect the health and survival of affected teeth, as well as your appearance.
Plastic periodontal surgery can help restore these lost tissues. There are a number of procedures that can be used depending on the exact nature of the recession, and most involve some form of tissue grafting. A specimen of donated gum tissue (either from another portion of the patient’s gums or a thoroughly cleansed and properly processed donation from another person) is surgically attached to the gums at the recession site.
The graft can be completely freed from the harvest area or in some cases a part of it remains attached to receive blood supply while the rest is grafted to the site. These procedures, especially the latter, require meticulous skill and sophisticated microsurgical techniques to make an effective attachment. If the tooth root is involved, it must be thoroughly prepared beforehand through polishing and decontamination to ensure the new graft will take. The graft is sutured in place and sometimes covered with a moldable dressing for protection.
As the area heals, the tissues begin to grow around the graft, restoring better coverage for the tooth. Coupled with comprehensive gum disease treatment, this form of plastic surgery can restore new health to teeth and a transformed smile.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession with plastic surgery, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
What makes a beautiful smile? Beautiful teeth, for sure. But there's also another component that can make or break your smile, regardless of your teeth's condition: your gums. Although their primary function is to protect and stabilize the teeth, your gums also enhance them aesthetically by providing an attractive frame.
But just as a painting displayed in an oversized frame can lose some of its appeal, so can your smile if the size of your gums appears out of proportion with your teeth. Normally, a smile that displays more than four millimeters of gum tissue is considered “gummy.”
There are some things we can do to improve your gum to teeth ratios. What we do will depend on which of the following is the actual cause for your gummy smile.
Excess gum tissue. We'll start with the obvious: you have excess gum tissue that obscures some of the visible tooth crown. We can often correct this with a surgical procedure called “crown lengthening,” which removes some of the excess tissue and then reshapes the gums and bone to expose more teeth length.
Teeth that appear too short. The problem may not be your gums — it could be your teeth appear too short. This can happen if the teeth didn't erupt fully, or if they've worn down due to aging or a grinding habit. One option here is to “lengthen” the tooth cosmetically with veneers, crowns or other bonding techniques.
Higher lip movement. Rather than your teeth and gums being out of size proportion, your upper lip may be rising too high when you smile, a condition known as hypermobility. One temporary fix is through Botox injections that paralyze the lip muscles and prevent their movement from overextending. We could also use periodontal surgery to perform a lip stabilization procedure that permanently corrects the upper lip movement.
Overextended jaw. Your gums may seem more prominent if your upper jaw extends too far down and forward. In this case, orthognathic (jaw straightening) surgery might be used to reposition the jaw relative to its connection with the skull. Setting the jaw up and back in this way would reduce the prominence of the gums when you smile.
As you can see, treatments range from cosmetic techniques to moderate surgical procedures. A full dental exam will help determine which if any of these measures could reduce gumminess and improve your smile.
If you would like more information on correcting gummy smiles, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
It’s been a long road back to oral health for you after periodontal (gum) disease. But after several plaque removal sessions and perhaps even surgical procedures to address deep infection, your gums have regained their healthy pink appearance.
But now you must face a hard reality: because you’ve had gum disease you’ll need to be extra vigilant with your oral hygiene to avoid another round with this destructive disease. But don’t worry—you won’t have to fight your prevention battle alone. We’ll continue to provide you care that reduces your risk of re-infection. We call that care periodontal maintenance (PM).
The heart of PM care involves regular dental visits for monitoring, cleanings and treatment when necessary. While most patients may visit their dentist at least twice a year, as a previous gum disease patient we may advise more frequent visits, especially if you’ve just finished periodontal treatment. Depending on the extent of your disease, we may begin with a visit every other week or once every two to three months. If your mouth continues to be disease-free we may suggest increasing the time between visits.
During your visit we’ll carefully examine your mouth, as well as screen you for any signs of potential oral cancer. We’re looking for both signs of re-infection or new issues with your teeth and gums. We’ll also assess the effectiveness of your oral hygiene efforts and advise you on ways you can improve.
If we find any signs of disease, we’ll then formulate a treatment plan to effectively deal with it. With frequent visits we have a better chance of discovering re-infection early—and the earlier the better to minimize any further damage. We may also need to take steps to make future PM care easier. This could include gum surgery to alter the tissues around certain teeth for easier access for examination and cleaning.
Our main focus with PM care is to look ahead: what can we do now to prevent a future bout of gum disease or at least lessen its effect? With continued monitoring and care we can drastically reduce your risk for further damage from this destructive disease.
If you would like more information on post-gum disease maintenance, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
There have been vast improvements over the years in various methods to restore diseased, damaged or missing teeth. A lot of this is due to better restorative materials that are stronger and more life-like.
But given the mouth's hostile environment and the forces generated from chewing, even the most durable restorations could fail. You can, however, improve their durability through proper care and good protective practices.
Here are 3 ways to preserve your dental work and keep it functioning for years or even decades to come.
Daily oral hygiene. Although the bacteria in dental plaque doesn't affect non-living dental materials, it can infect and weaken living tissues around fillings, crowns or implants. Because these tissues often support restorations, an infection could cripple your dental work's survivability. You can prevent this by practicing daily brushing and flossing, and getting regular dental cleanings, to remove plaque and decrease your risk of dental disease.
Dietary choices. You can further prevent dental disease by restricting your consumption of sugar and eating foods rich in calcium and other nutrients. But there's one other thing to keep in mind about what you eat: Some foods can stain veneers and other restorations, as well as natural tooth enamel. If staining occurs at different rates, your dental work could stand out from your natural teeth and look out of place. You can help avoid this by limiting items in your diet known to stain (like wine or coffee) and practicing good oral hygiene.
Poor habits. Many of us have nervous habits like nail-biting or ice-chewing, or an unconscious habit of grinding teeth. Habits like these can damage restorations like composite bonding or veneers. To prevent the chances of this happening, take steps to stop habits and practices that involve biting down on hard objects (including foods like fruits with hard skins). You should also talk to your dentist about solutions to reduce teeth grinding, especially if it's occurring while you sleep.
Above all, keep up your dental visits to regularly monitor the condition of your dental work and obtain repairs or enhancements as needed. By taking care of these valuable restorations, you can help them continue to function and serve your needs for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on maintaining your dental restorations, 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 “Extending the Life of Your Dental Work.”
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