Periodontal (gum) disease is as common as it is destructive. Almost half of all adults 30 and older have some form—and those numbers increase to nearly three-quarters by age 65.
Fortunately, we have effective ways to treat this bacterial infection, especially if we catch it early. By thoroughly removing all plaque, the disease-causing, bacterial biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, we can stop the infection and help the gums return to normal.
Unfortunately, though, you're at a greater risk for a repeat infection if you've already had gum disease. To lower your chances of future occurrences, we'll need to take your regular dental exams and cleanings to another level.
Although everyone benefits from routine dental care, if you've had gum disease you may see these and other changes in your normal dental visits.
More frequent visits. For most people, the frequency norm between dental cleanings and exams is about six months. But we may recommend more visits for you as a former gum disease patient: depending on the advancement of your disease, we might see you every three months once you've completed your initial treatment, and if your treatment required a periodontist, we may alternate maintenance appointments every three months.
Other treatments and medications. To control any increases in disease-causing bacteria, dentists may prescribe on-going medications or anti-bacterial applications. If you're on medication, we'll use your regular dental visits to monitor how well they're doing and modify your prescriptions as needed.
Long-term planning. Both dentist and patient must keep an eye out for the ongoing threat of another gum infection. It's helpful then to develop a plan for maintaining periodontal health and then revisiting and updating that plan as necessary. It may also be beneficial to perform certain procedures on the teeth and gums to make it easier to keep them clean in the future.
While everyone should take their oral health seriously, there's even greater reason to increase your vigilance if you've already had gum disease. With a little extra care, you can greatly reduce your chances of another bout with this destructive and aggressive disease.
If you would like more information on preventing recurring 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
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.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
There’s one sure thing about tooth decay: you can’t ignore it. In fact, the best outcomes result from finding it early and treating it before it enters the pulp in the center of the tooth, often a filling or similar treatment.
If it does advance to the pulp, you may need a root canal treatment to save the tooth. This is a moderately invasive procedure where we access the pulp and root canals, tiny passageways leading to the root and supporting bone. We then remove all the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling. Later we’ll crown the tooth for added protection against future infection or fracture of the tooth.
But there’s also another less-invasive method than a root canal called pulp capping. It’s only appropriate to use, however, if the pulp has become exposed or almost exposed by decay, but hasn’t yet shown signs of disease.
Pulp capping can be either direct or indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the healthy pulp has been exposed by the disease process. We first isolate the tooth from the rest of the mouth to prevent contamination and then proceed to remove all of the tooth’s decayed dentin structure. We then apply a biocompatible material directly over the pulp to protect it from further decay and to facilitate healing. We then restore the tooth, usually with a filling, to its proper function and life-like appearance.
When the pulp is threatened by decay but not yet exposed, we may then use the indirect method. In this approach we first remove most of the decayed dentin, but leave a small amount next to the pulp to keep it covered. We then treat this remaining dentin with a material to help it heal and re-mineralize, followed by a temporary filling of the tooth. A few months later we’ll remove this filling and inspect the treated dentin. If it has regenerated sufficiently, we remove any remaining decay and permanently restore the tooth.
As we said, pulp capping is only used with patients with deep decay whose pulp tissue is healthy. But when we can use it we can avoid some of the permanent alterations that often come with a root canal treatment and still save the tooth.
If you would like more information on treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that May Save a Decayed Tooth.”
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