How do you know if you have periodontal (gum) disease? Sometimes your gums will tell you—when they’re red, swollen or bleed easily.
But your gums can also look and feel healthy while a gum infection still brews below the gum line. In this case, a regular dental visit could make the difference. Even without overt signs of infection, we may be able to detect gum disease with a slender metal instrument called a periodontal probe.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that most of the time arises from dental plaque. This thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulates on tooth surfaces, especially because of poor or non-existent oral hygiene. A continuing infection can weaken gum tissues and cause them to pull away or detach from the teeth.
Normally, there’s a slight gap between the gums and teeth. But as the infected gums pull away, the gaps grow larger and deeper, forming what are known as periodontal pockets. They become filled with infection that soon spreads to the root and bone and increases the risk of tooth loss.
These pockets, though, could be the means for detecting a gum infection with the help of the periodontal probe. During a dental exam we gently insert the probe, which has millimeter depth markings etched on it, between a tooth and its adjacent gums. While a depth of 1 to 3 mm is normal, a probe measurement of 4 to 5 mm could be a sign of an early stage infection. A reading of 7 to 10 mm, on the other hand, may indicate more advanced disease.
Along with other factors, periodontal probing can be quite useful identifying both the presence and extent of a gum infection and then how to treat it. The goal of any treatment is to remove plaque and tartar (calculus) deposits that sustain the infection. But probing, along with other diagnostic methods like x-rays, could point to deeper infection below the gum line that require more extensive methods, including surgery, sometimes to access and remove the disease.
Achieving the best treatment outcome with gum disease often depends on finding the infection early. Periodontal probing helps to make that discovery more likely.
The ongoing opioid addiction epidemic has brought together government, law enforcement and healthcare to find solutions. The focus among doctors and dentists has been on finding ways to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.
Opioids (or narcotics) have been a prominent part of pain management in healthcare for decades. Drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl can relieve moderate to extreme pain and make recovery after illness or procedures much easier. Providers like doctors and dentists have relied heavily on them, writing nearly 260 million narcotic prescriptions a year as late as 2012.
But although effective when used properly, narcotics are also addictive. While the bulk of overall drug addiction stems from illegal narcotics like heroin, prescription drugs also account for much of the problem: In 2015, for example, 2 million Americans had an addiction that began with an opioid prescription.
The current crisis has led to horrific consequences as annual overdose deaths now surpass the peak year of highway accident deaths (just over 54,000 in 1972). This has led to a concerted effort by doctors and dentists to develop other approaches to pain management without narcotics.
One that’s gained recent momentum in dentistry involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin work by dilating blood vessels, which reduces painful inflammation. They’re available over the counter, although stronger doses require a prescription.
NSAIDs are effective for mild to moderate pain, but without the addictive properties of narcotics. There are some adverse health consequences if taken long-term, but limited use for pain or during post-procedure recovery is safe.
Many dentists are recommending NSAIDs for first-line pain management after most dental procedures. Narcotics may still be prescribed, but in a limited and controlled fashion. As part of this new approach, dentists typically combine ibuprofen and acetaminophen: Studies have shown the two work together better at reducing pain than either one individually.
Still, many aren’t eager to move away from the proven effectiveness of narcotics to primarily NSAIDs. But as these non-addictive drugs continue to prove their effectiveness, there’s hope the use of addictive opioids will continue to decrease.
Dentures in one form or another have been around for centuries. Although dental implants have earned a well-deserved prominence of late, the denture still remains a viable tooth replacement option.
What's more, dentures aren't reserved for total tooth loss only. Even if you've lost just a few of your teeth, we can fit you with a removable partial denture (RPD). Although mainly considered a temporary solution for missing teeth, some people depend on an RPD for many years due to finances or other issues.
The traditional RPD consists of a rigid acrylic plastic base that resembles gum tissue supported by a metal framework, with prosthetic (false) teeth precisely placed to fill the space of the missing teeth. They're held in place with metal clasps that extend from the metal framework to fit over the remaining natural teeth.
Although they're an effective restoration, traditional RPDs have a few drawbacks. Some people find them uncomfortable to wear or have an allergy to the acrylic plastic. They also have a propensity to stain from beverages like tea, coffee or wine.
But there's a more recent version called a flexible RPD that addresses these and other concerns. It's made of a pliable nylon that's durable, yet comfortable to wear. Rather than metal clasps, they're secured in place with thin, finger-like nylon extensions that fit into the small, natural depressions in the crowns of the teeth around the gum line.
Flexible RPDs are also highly adaptable to appear life-like in many situations. We can fashion the nylon base to cover areas around natural teeth where the gums may have receded due to gum disease.
They do, however, have a few downsides. Unlike traditional dentures, they're difficult to reline or repair. Like any oral appliance, they can suffer from wear and neglect, so you must properly clean and maintain them. And, like any RPD their best role is as a temporary bridge rather than a permanent restoration.
In the meantime, though, you can count on a flexible RPD to restore your ability to eat and speak proficiently, as well as smile with confidence. It's a great affordable way to address a few missing teeth.
If you would like more information on dentures as a restoration option, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures.”
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.
Henry Ford famously said a customer could have any color they wanted on their Model T “as long as it was black.” Those days are over—today’s cars and trucks come with a slew of options, and not just their paint color.
There’s something else with a wide array of possible options: your choice of toothbrush. Your local store’s dental care aisle has dozens of toothbrushes in a myriad of sizes, shapes and features. And many promise better hygiene outcomes because of their unique design.
It’s enough to make your head spin. But you can narrow your search for the right toothbrush— just look for these basic qualities.
Bristle texture. At this all-important juncture between brush and teeth, softer-textured bristles are better. That might sound counter-intuitive, but soft bristles are just as capable at removing bacterial plaque, that sticky tooth film most responsible for dental disease, as stiffer bristles. Stiffer bristles, on the other hand, can damage gums and cause recession. Also, look too for rounded bristles (gentler on the gums), and multi-leveled or angled ones for better access around teeth.
Size and shape. Toothbrushes come in different sizes because, well, so do mouths. Look, then, for a brush and bristle head that can comfortably reach all the teeth in your mouth. If you have problems with manual dexterity, choose a brush with larger grip handles. A brush that’s comfortable to use and easy to handle can make your brushing more effective.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. The American Dental Association tests hygiene products like toothbrushes. If they pass the association’s standards, the manufacturer includes the ADA Seal of Approval on their packaging. Not all submit their brushes for this evaluation, so the seal’s absence doesn’t necessarily mean a brush is of low quality. The seal, though, does tell you the product passes muster with dental professionals.
It often takes a little trial and error to find the right brush, but since you should change yours out every six months, it’s a small price to experiment. And, no matter how great the brush, it’s only as good at removing plaque as the hand that holds it. So, be sure you learn proper brushing techniques—that and the right brush will keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on choosing the right toothbrush, 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 “Sizing Up Toothbrushes.”
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