Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and 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 magazine article “What are Furcations?”
During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
First, there were braces; then came removable clear aligners—both great ways to straighten teeth. But braces with their metal brackets and wires aren't the most attractive look. And, although nearly invisible aligners improve appearance, they don't work in every bite situation (although their range has improved of late).
But now a third choice has emerged: lingual braces. Like their traditional counterparts, lingual braces are fixed in place—but on the back side of the teeth rather than the front. Instead of "pushing" teeth toward new positions, they "pull" them, arriving at the same "destination" by another path.
This new method came about simultaneously by two different orthodontists a world apart and for different reasons. A Beverly Hills dentist was looking for an invisible form of treatment similar to clear aligners for his appearance-conscious patients. A Japanese dentist wanted an alternative that would reduce the risk of damage or injury posed by traditional braces to his martial arts patients.
Lingual braces (referring to their proximity to the tongue) address both of these concerns. All of the brackets and wiring are positioned out of sight. And because they're shielded by the teeth, they're not as likely to be damaged or cause injury following hard contact to the face—a great benefit for athletes, law enforcement officers and, yes, martial artists.
Even so, lingual braces won't replace the other two methods any time soon. You'll need to consider other factors, such as that lingual braces can cost up to a third more than traditional braces. And although their availability is steadily growing, not all orthodontists have been trained to offer lingual braces, so you may have to widen your search radius for a provider near you.
You may also find it takes a bit of time to get used to the feel of lingual braces. Upper braces can affect speech ability, at least initially, and the lower ones can interfere with tongue comfort. Most people, though, do adjust to them within a week or so.
But by and large, lingual braces do offer a fixed option that's out of sight, out of mind. With this newer orthodontic choice, you now have three good options for achieving a healthier mouth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on methods for straightening 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 “Lingual Braces.”
Getting dental implants is going to require surgery. But don't let that concern you—it's a relatively minor procedure.
Currently the “gold standard” for tooth replacement, an implant consists of a titanium post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. We can affix a life-like crown to a single implant or support a fixed bridge or removable denture using a series of them.
Because placement will determine the restoration's final appearance, we must carefully plan implant surgery beforehand. Our first priority is to verify that you have adequate jawbone available to support an implant.
Additionally, we want to identify any underlying structures like nerves or blood vessels that might obstruct placement. We may also develop a surgical guide, a retainer-like device placed in the mouth during surgery that identifies precisely where to create the holes or channels for the implants.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, we begin the surgery by opening the gum tissue with a series of incisions to expose the underlying bone. If we've prepared a surgical guide, we'll place it in the mouth at this time.
We then create the channel for the insert through a series of drillings. We start with a small opening, then increase its size through subsequent drills until we've created a channel that fits the size of the intended implant.
After removing the implant from its sterile packaging, we'll directly insert it into the channel. Once in place, we may take an x-ray to verify that it's been properly placed, and adjust as needed. Unless we're attaching a temporary crown at the time of surgery (an alternate procedure called immediate loading), we suture the gums over the implant to protect it.
Similar to other dental procedures, discomfort after surgery is usually mild to moderate and manageable with pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if necessary, we can prescribe something stronger). We may also have you take antibiotics or use antibacterial mouthrinses for a while to prevent infection.
A few weeks later, after the bone has grown and adhered to the implant surface, you'll return to receive your new permanent crown or restoration. While the process can take a few months and a number of treatment visits, in the end you'll have new life-like teeth that could serve you well for decades.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery.”
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