If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
If you would like more information on treating 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 article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
It’s important for your child’s current and future health that we watch out for tooth decay. Taking x-rays is a critical part of staying one step ahead of this common disease.
But while x-ray imaging is commonplace, we can’t forget it’s still a form of radiation that could be potentially harmful, especially for a child whose tissues are rapidly developing. We must, therefore, carefully weigh the potential benefits against risk.
This concern has given birth to an important principle in the use of x-rays known as ALARA, an acronym for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” In basic terms, we want to use the lowest amount of x-ray energy for the shortest period of time to gain the most effectiveness in diagnosing tooth decay and other conditions.
A good example of this principle is a common type of radiograph known as a bitewing. The exposable x-ray film is attached to a plastic devise that looks like a wing; the patient bites down on it to hold it in place while the x-ray exposure takes place. Depending on the number of teeth in a child’s mouth, an appointment usually involves 2 to 4 films, and children are typically spaced at six months apart. Frequency of x-rays depends on your child’s tooth decay risk: lower risk, less need for frequent intervals.
Each bitewing exposes the child to 2 microsieverts, the standard unit for radiation measurement. This amount of radiation is relatively low: by contrast, we’re all exposed to 10 microsieverts of background radiation (natural radiation occurring in the environment) every day or 3,600 microsieverts annually. Even two appointments of four bitewings each year is a fraction of a percent of the background radiation we’re exposed to in the same year.
This conservative use of x-rays is well within safe parameters for children. As x-ray technology continues to advance (as with the development of digital imaging) we anticipate the exposure rate to diminish even more. Prudently used, x-rays remain one of our best tools for ensuring your child’s teeth are healthy and developing normally.
If you would like more information on the use of x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Mayim Bialik has spent a good part of her life in front of TV cameras: first as the child star of the hit comedy series Blossom, and more recently as Sheldon Cooper’s love interest — a nerdy neuroscientist — on The Big Bang Theory. (In between, she actually earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA…but that’s another story.) As a child, Bialik had a serious overbite — but with all her time on camera, braces were just not an option.
“I never had braces,” she recently told Dear Doctor – Dentistry & Oral Health magazine. “I was on TV at the time, and there weren’t a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.” Instead, her orthodontist managed to straighten her teeth using retainers and headgear worn only at night.
Today, there are several virtually invisible options available to fix orthodontic issues — and you don’t have to be a child star to take advantage of them. In fact, both children and adults can benefit from these unobtrusive appliances.
Tooth colored braces are just like traditional metal braces, with one big difference: The brackets attached to teeth are made from a ceramic material that blends in with the natural color of teeth. All that’s visible is the thin archwire that runs horizontally across the teeth — and from a distance it’s hard to notice. Celebs like Tom Cruise and Faith Hill opted for this type of appliance.
Clear aligners are custom-made plastic trays that fit over the teeth. Each one, worn for about two weeks, moves the teeth just a bit; after several months, you’ll see a big change for the better in your smile. Best of all, clear aligners are virtually impossible to notice while you’re wearing them — which you’ll need to do for 22 hours each day. But you can remove them to eat, or for special occasions. Zac Efron and Katherine Heigl, among others, chose to wear clear aligners.
Lingual braces really are invisible. That’s because they go behind your teeth (on the tongue side), where they can’t be seen; otherwise they are similar to traditional metal braces. Lingual braces are placed on teeth differently, and wearing them often takes some getting used to at first. But those trade-offs are worth it for plenty of people. Which celebs wore lingual braces? Rumor has it that the list includes some top models, a well-known pop singer, and at least one British royal.
So what’s the best way to straighten your teeth and keep the orthodontic appliances unnoticeable? Just ask us! We’d be happy to help you choose the option that’s just right for you. You’ll get an individualized evaluation, a solution that fits your lifestyle — and a great-looking smile!
For more information about hard-to-see (or truly invisible) orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “Clear Aligners for Teenagers.”
A “gummy” smile, in which the upper gums are too prominent, is a common condition. There are several causes for gummy smiles — determining which one is the first step to having your appearance changed.
Although perceptions vary from person to person, most dentists agree a gummy smile shows 4 mm or more of gum tissue, and the amount is out of proportion with the length of the crown (the visible tooth). Teeth normally erupt through the gums during childhood and continue development until early adulthood, shrinking back from the tooth until stabilizing in place.
This typically produces a crown length of about 10 mm, with a “width to length” ratio of about 75-85%. But variations can produce differences in the relationship between teeth and gums and the width to length ratio of the teeth. The teeth may appear shorter and the gums more prominent. Worn teeth, caused by aging or grinding habits, may also appear shorter.
If tooth to gum proportionality is normal, then the cause may be upper lip movement. When we smile, muscles cause our lips to retract 6-8 mm from the lip’s resting position. If the amount of movement is greater (meaning the lip is hypermobile), it may show too much of the gums. The upper jaw can also extend too far forward and cause the gums to appear too prominent.
There are a number of ways to improve gummy smiles, depending on the cause. Periodontal plastic surgery known as crown lengthening removes and reshapes excess gum tissue to reveal more of the tooth. Lip hypermobility can be reduced with Botox injections (to paralyze the muscles) or in some cases with surgery to reposition the muscle attachments. Orthognathic surgery can be used to surgically reposition an overextended upper jaw. Other cosmetic enhancements such as orthodontics, bonding or porcelain restorations can also prove effective.
The first step is to obtain an accurate diagnosis for your gummy smile. From there, we can devise the best treatment approach to bring your smile back into a more attractive proportion.
If you would like more information on minimizing a gummy smile, 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.”
Twice a year dental cleanings are an important aspect of optimal oral health. But if you’re not brushing and flossing every day, your dental visits could change from regular maintenance to teeth rescue missions.
These two hygiene tasks don’t take long—a single trip with floss around each tooth and a couple of minutes of brushing at least twice a day—but you’ll need to perform them effectively to get the most out of them. Not to worry, though: with a little practice and helpful advice from us, this small investment in time and effort could save your teeth—and your money.
The first thing to know, though, is the reason behind brushing and flossing: to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque that can build up daily on teeth. Bacteria produce acid, which at elevated levels can erode enamel and lead to decay; and some bacterial strains can cause periodontal (gum) disease. These infections could ultimately lead to gum recession, bone deterioration and tooth loss.
Daily brushing and flossing lowers your risk of this occurring. It’s your preference in what order you do them, but for now let’s start with flossing.
There are a number of techniques—and tools—for effective flossing. If you’re using thread floss, simply cut off about 18 inches and wrap each end around the middle finger from each hand. Use the remaining fingers to create a small amount of floss between the two best fingers for a particular area of the mouth and gently pull the floss in between the tooth gap. Form a “C” shape around one of the tooth sides and rub up and down until you hear a squeak (which you’ll only hear if you use un-waxed floss). Now, repeat the action with the adjacent tooth, then move to the next and each succeeding gap and do the same until you’ve cleaned each side of each tooth.
When brushing, hold your toothbrush gently like a paintbrush or pencil at about a 45-degree angle with just a small amount of toothpaste on the end bristles. All it takes is a gentle scrubbing or wiggling motion and the abrasives and detergents in the toothpaste will do the rest. Just make sure you fully brush all your teeth and gum surfaces, which should take about two minutes.
Along with regular dental visits and a low-sugar diet to discourage bacterial growth, brushing and flossing will help you avoid disease and enjoy the best oral health possible.
If you would like more information on keeping your teeth and gums clean, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
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