As your dental provider, we're always alert for signs of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the two leading causes of tooth loss. But we're also watching for less common conditions that could be just as devastating.
Root resorption falls into this latter category: it occurs when a tooth's root structure begins to break down and dissolve (or resorb). It's a normal process in primary ("baby") teeth to allow them to loosen and give way when permanent teeth are ready to erupt.
It's not normal, though, for permanent teeth. Something internally or—more commonly—externally causes the root structure to break down. External resorption usually occurs at the neck-like or cervical area of a tooth around the gum line. Known as external cervical resorption (ECR), it can first appear as small, pinkish spots on the enamel. These spots contain abnormal cells that cause the actual damage to the root.
We don't fully understand how root resorption occurs, but we have identified certain factors that favor its development. For example, it may develop if a person has experienced too much force against the teeth during orthodontic treatment. Injury to the periodontal ligaments, teeth-grinding habits or some dental procedures like internal bleaching may also contribute to later root resorption.
Early diagnosis is a major part of effective treatment for root resorption. Because it's usually painless and easily overlooked, resorption is often too difficult to detect in its early stages without x-rays—a good reason for regular dental exams. Beginning spots or lesions are usually small enough to surgically remove the tissue cells causing the damage and then filled with a tooth-colored filling material. If it has advanced further, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment.
At some point, the damage from root resorption can be too great, in which case it might be best to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant or similar restoration. That's why catching root resorption early through regular dental exams can give you the edge for saving your tooth.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
Most dental problems arise from tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But they aren't the only source of danger to your teeth—gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be just as damaging to your tooth enamel as dental disease.
GERD usually occurs when a ring of muscles at the top of the stomach weaken, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This resulting acid reflux can make life unpleasant and pose potential health dangers—over time it can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause ulcers and pre-cancerous cells. It can also erode tooth enamel if acid enters the mouth and raises its level of acidity.
This can be a problem because acid can soften and dissolve the mineral content of tooth enamel. This is the primary cause of tooth decay as acid produced by oral bacteria attack enamel. The more bacteria present, often thriving in dental plaque, the higher the potential levels of acid that can damage enamel. Stomach acid, which is strong enough to break down food, can cause similar harm to enamel if it causes higher than normal acidity in the mouth.
There are some things you can do to protect your teeth if you have GERD, namely manage your GERD symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. You may need to avoid alcohol, caffeine or heavily acidic or spicy foods, all known to aggravate GERD symptoms. Quitting smoking and avoiding late night meals might also ease indigestion. And your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help control your acid reflux.
You can also boost your teeth's enamel health by practicing daily brushing and flossing—but not right after a reflux episode. The enamel could be softened, so brushing can potentially remove tiny particles of mineral content. Instead, rinse with water mixed with or without a little baking soda to help neutralize acid and wait about an hour—this will give saliva, the mouth's natural acid neutralizer, time to restore the mouth's normal pH level.
And be sure you're using a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens enamel—in fact, your dentist may recommend topical fluoride applications to boost the effect.
These and other tips can help minimize the effects of GERD on your dental health. With an ounce of prevention, you can keep it from permanently damaging your teeth.
If you would like more information on managing your dental health with GERD, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
If you're over 30 your chances for developing periodontal (gum) disease are better than half. And it's not a minor matter—untreated gum disease can lead not only to tooth loss, but to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory conditions.
Fortunately, we have effective ways to treat gum disease, even in advanced stages. But the best approach by far in avoiding a devastating outcome for your teeth is to prevent gum disease from developing in the first place.
It helps first to know how gum disease begins. The most common cause is dental plaque, a thin biofilm of food particles on tooth surfaces that harbors the bacteria that triggers the disease. If you keep your teeth clean of built-up plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings, you'll minimize the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
If you don't practice effective oral hygiene, however, within a few days you could develop an initial infection called gingivitis. This form affects the outermost layers of the gums and triggers a defensive response from the body known as inflammation. Ordinarily, inflammation helps protect surrounding tissues from infection spread, but it can damage your gums if it becomes chronic. Your weakened gums may begin to detach from the teeth, forming voids filled with inflammation known as periodontal pockets. Eventually, the infection can spread to the supporting bone and lead to tooth loss.
In addition to a dedicated oral hygiene and dental care program, you should also be on the lookout for early signs of gingivitis. Infected gums can become red, swollen and tender to the touch. You may notice they bleed easily while brushing and flossing, or a foul taste or breath that won't go away even after brushing. And if some of your teeth feel loose or don't seem to bite together as they used to, this is a sign of advanced gum disease that deserves your dentist's immediate attention.
Practicing preventive hygiene is the best way to stop gum disease before it starts. But if gum disease does happen, catching it early can be a game-changer, both for your teeth and your smile.
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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
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