Periodontal (gum) disease is potentially devastating to your teeth, gums and bone. To fight it we have to remove the substance that causes and sustains the disease from all oral surfaces — a thin layer of bacteria and food particles known as plaque.
To accomplish this task, we use a variety of hand instruments called scalers to mechanically remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), as well as ultrasonic equipment to vibrate plaque loose and flush it away with water. If we detect plaque deposits well below the gum line and around the tooth roots, we may need to use other techniques like root planing or surgery to access these deeper areas.
Â While gum disease is persistent and aggressive, these traditional techniques have proven quite effective in controlling the infection and restoring health to diseased gums. Yet like other aspects of medicine and dentistry, technological advances have created a new option for gum disease treatment: the Nd:YAG laser.
The Nd:YAG laser is named for the crystal it uses to produce a narrow and intense beam of light on a specific frequency. In recent years it's become an important surgical tool because it can distinguish between diseased and healthy tissue, destroying the former while not affecting the latter.Â It's being used now on a limited basis for treating gum disease, especially for removing infected tissue in deep pockets that can form below the gum line, and for removing plaque and calculus from root surfaces.
Â Because of its precision, early evidence of effectiveness is encouraging: minimal tissue damage and swelling, less bleeding and reduced patient discomfort after treatment. The heat from the laser has also been shown to kill bacteria and essentially sterilize the area.
Still, the findings aren't conclusive enough as to whether lasers are superior in most circumstances to traditional scaling methods. For the time being, we'll continue to use the tried and true methods for removing plaque and calculus. But as laser technology advances, the time may come when this new approach to gum disease treatment will become a more prominent and beneficial option for patients.
If you would like more information on your treatment options for gum disease, 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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
As a parent you’re concerned with a number of issues involving your child’s health, not the least of which involves their teeth. One of the most common is thumb-sucking.
While later thumb-sucking is a cause for concern, it’s quite normal and not viewed as harmful in infant’s and very young children. This universal habit is rooted in an infant swallowing pattern: all babies tend to push the tongue forward against the back of the teeth when they swallow, which allows them to form a seal while breast or bottle feeding. Infants and young children take comfort or experience a sense of security from sucking their thumb, which simulates infant feeding.
Soon after their primary teeth begin to erupt, the swallowing pattern changes and they begin to rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth when swallowing. For most children thumb sucking begins to fade as their swallowing pattern changes.
Some children, though, continue the habit longer even as their permanent teeth are beginning to come in. As they suck their thumb the tongue constantly rests between the front teeth, which over time may interfere with how they develop. This can cause an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet properly, a problem that usually requires orthodontic treatment to correct it.
For this reason, dentists typically recommend encouraging children to stop thumb-sucking by age 3 (18-24 months to stop using a pacifier). The best approach is positive reinforcement — giving appropriate rewards over time for appropriate behavior: for example, praising them as a “big” boy or girl when they have gone a certain length of time without sucking their thumb or a pacifier. You should also use training or “Sippy” cups to help them transition from a bottle to a regular cup, which will further diminish the infant swallowing pattern and need for thumb-sucking.
Habits like thumb-sucking in young children should be kept in perspective: the habit really isn’t a problem unless it goes on too long. Gentle persuasion, along with other techniques we can help you with, is the best way to help your child eventually stop.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Thumb Sucking in Children” and “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Ed Helms is best known for his role as the self-absorbed, Ivy League sales rep, Andy Bernard, on television's The Office. But to millions of fans he's also Stu, a member of a bachelor trip to Las Vegas in the 2009 movie The Hangover. In it, Stu and his friends wake up from a wild night on the Strip to find some things missing: the groom-to-be, their memories and, for Stu, a front tooth.
In reality, the missing tooth gag wasn't a Hollywood makeup or CGI (computer-generated imagery) trick—it was Ed Helm's actual missing tooth. According to Helms, the front tooth in question never developed and he had obtained a dental implant to replace it. He had the implant crown removed for the Hangover movie and then replaced after filming.
Helms' dental situation isn't that unusual. Although most of the 170 million-plus teeth missing from Americans' mouths are due to disease or trauma, a few happened because the teeth never formed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are in the back of the mouth, a few, as in Helms' case, involve front teeth in the “smile zone,” which can profoundly affect appearance.
Fortunately, people missing undeveloped teeth have several good options to restore their smiles and dental function. The kind of tooth missing could help determine which option to use. For example, a bridge supported by the teeth on either side of the gap might work well if the teeth on either side are in need of crowns.
If the missing tooth happens to be one or both of the lateral incisors (on either side of the centermost teeth), it could be possible to move the canine teeth (the pointy ones, also called eye teeth) to fill the gap. This technique, known as canine substitution, may also require further modification—either by softening the canines' pointed tips, crowning them or applying veneers—to help the repositioned teeth look more natural.
The optimal solution, though, is to replace a missing tooth with a dental implant which then has a lifelike crown attached to it, as Ed Helms did to get his winning smile. Implant-supported replacement teeth are closest to natural teeth in terms of both appearance and function. Implants, though, shouldn't be placed until the jaw has fully developed, usually in early adulthood. A younger person may need a temporary restoration like a bonded bridge or a partial denture until they're ready for an implant.
Whatever the method, there's an effective way to restore missing teeth. Seeing us for an initial exam is the first step toward your own winning smile.
As permanent teeth gradually replace primary (“baby”) teeth, most will come in by early adolescence. But the back third molars—the wisdom teeth—are often the last to the party, usually erupting between ages 18 and 24, and the source of possible problems.
This is because the wisdom teeth often erupt on an already crowded jaw populated by other teeth. As a result, they can be impacted, meaning they may erupt partially or not at all and remain largely below the gum surface.
An impacted tooth can impinge on its neighboring teeth and damage their roots or disrupt their protective gum attachment, all of which makes them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Impacted teeth can also foster the formation of infected cysts that create areas of bone loss or painful infections in the gums of other teeth.
Even when symptoms like these aren’t present, many dentists recommend removing the wisdom teeth as a preemptive measure against future problems or disease. This often requires a surgical extraction: in fact, wisdom teeth removal is the most common oral surgical procedure.
But now there’s a growing consensus among dentists that removing or not removing wisdom teeth should depend on an individual’s unique circumstances. Patients who are having adverse oral health effects from impacted wisdom teeth should consider removing them, especially if they’ve already encountered dental disease. But the extraction decision isn’t as easy for patients with no current signs of either impaction or disease. That doesn’t mean their situation won’t change in the future.
One way to manage all these potentialities is a strategy called active surveillance. With this approach, patient and dentist keep a close eye on wisdom teeth development and possible signs of impaction or disease. Most dentists recommend carefully examining the wisdom teeth (including diagnostic x-rays and other imaging) every 24 months.
Following this strategy doesn’t mean the patient won’t eventually have their wisdom teeth removed, but not until there are clearer signs of trouble. But whatever the outcome might be, dealing properly with wisdom teeth is a high priority for preventing future oral health problems.
If you would like more information on wisdom teeth and their potential impact on dental health, 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come with a Dilemma.”
The Internet is truly amazing: It takes only a few seconds to tap into a vast store of knowledge to find information that once took people hours or days. But amidst all that helpful data, there's also some not so helpful information—in fact, some can be downright harmful, including to your dental health.
One particular Internet trend is brushing teeth with black, gooey substances containing activated charcoal. Scores of online videos featuring people doing this are getting viral views, perhaps more for the “gross” factor than the claimed health benefits.
So, why do it? Advocates of using activated charcoal for oral hygiene claim the ingredient kills harmful microorganisms in your mouth. The charcoal is also supposed to whiten your teeth.
But clinical studies of the practice, including one recently published in the Journal of the American Dental Association have been unable to substantiate these claims. There's simply no evidence that activated charcoal does what its advocates say it can do.
Unfortunately, there is evidence the practice can actually harm your teeth. This is because activated charcoal is an abrasive substance that over time could damage your teeth's enamel. Eroded enamel doesn't regrow, so eventually the more vulnerable dentin, the tooth layer just beneath the protective enamel, becomes exposed. It's not only darker and less attractive than enamel, its more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities.
The best way to care for your teeth, brushing and flossing daily, may seem boring compared to videos of brushing with charcoal, but it is effective—and safe. You should also see your dentist for more thorough cleanings at least every six months to round out your dental care.
And if you want a brighter smile, your dentist can perform a tooth whitening procedure that can give you months or even years of satisfaction. Professional tooth whitening (or even home whitening kits applied properly) also won't harm your enamel.
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