If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
If you would like more information on 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.”
If you think periodontal (gum) disease is something that only happens to the other guy (or gal), you might want to reconsider. Roughly half of adults over age 30—and nearly three-quarters over 65—have had some form of gum disease.
Gum disease isn't some minor inconvenience: If not treated early, a gum infection could lead to bone and tooth loss. Because it's inflammatory in nature, it may also impact the rest of your health, making you more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
Gum disease mainly begins with dental plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces. Plaque's most notable feature, though, is as a haven for oral bacteria that can infect the gums. These bacteria use plaque as a food source, which in turn fuels their multiplication. So, the greater the plaque buildup, the higher your risk for a gum infection.
The best way to lower that risk is to reduce the population of bacteria that cause gum disease. You can do this by keeping plaque from building up by brushing and flossing every day. It's important for this to be a daily habit—missing a few days of brushing and flossing is enough for an infection to occur.
You can further reduce your disease risk by having us clean your teeth regularly. Even if you're highly proficient with daily hygiene, it's still possible to miss some plaque deposits, which can calcify over time and turn into a hardened form called tartar (or calculus). Tartar is nearly impossible to remove with brushing and flossing, but can be with special dental tools and techniques.
Even with the most diligent care, there's still a minimal risk for gum disease, especially as you get older. So, always be on the lookout for red, swollen or bleeding gums. If you see anything abnormal like this, see us as soon as possible. The sooner we diagnose and begin treating a gum infection, the better your chances it won't ultimately harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of 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.”
During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.
With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”
That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.
Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.
Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.
But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.
This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.
Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.
Over the years, dentists have become quite proficient in treating even the most severe periodontal (gum) disease. Many of these positive outcomes are achieved through manual effort using simple hand instruments called scalars and conventional periodontal surgery.
But that might be changing soon: Periodontists (specialists who care for the gums and other supporting dental structures) are starting to use a different kind of tool for gum disease treatment—surgical lasers.
Although lasers are more commonplace in other fields of medicine, recent developments hint at a more prominent future role for them in dentistry. One of these developments is a laser procedure called Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP®) that treats deep spaces of infection called periodontal pockets, which develop advanced gum disease.
These pockets form as infected gums gradually detach from a tooth as the supporting bone is lost. This widens the normally narrow gap between the teeth and gums. The ensuing pocket fills with infection that must be removed to adequately treat the gum disease. As the pocket extends down to the root, it's often necessary to perform a surgical procedure through the adjacent gum tissue to fully access it.
But with the LANAP® procedure, the dentist can use a laser to access a deep pocket without opening the gums. Moving from above into the gap between the tooth and gums, the light from the laser has the ability to remove diseased tissue without damaging healthy tissue.
The dentist follows this with ultrasonic equipment and manual scalers to further decontaminate the tooth root surface. The laser is then employed once again to facilitate the formation of a blood clot between the teeth and gums to seal the area with a fibrin clot. Once treated, the dentist will monitor the tooth to ensure maximum bone regeneration and gum reattachment.
Although outcomes are the same for the most part, this laser technique for periodontal pockets may have some advantages over conventional surgery. Studies so far show that LANAP® causes less tissue removal and bleeding, less potential for gum recession and less discomfort experienced by patients.
It's not likely that lasers will fully replace conventional gum disease treatments any time soon. But if the encouraging evidence thus far continues, the laser will one day become as commonplace alongside the other tools used for gum disease treatment.
If you would like more information on treatments for 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 “Treating Gum Disease With Lasers.”
As part of the fight against COVID-19, many of us have been wearing some form of face mask in public for most of 2020. While it's intended for good, mask wear has had some unintended consequences. For one, it's inhibited the expression of one of our most important social abilities—smiling.
We're all hoping, though, that 2021 will be different—that our smiles will once more shine out from behind our masks. If and when that happens, you'll want to be ready: Here are a few things you can do in the new year to give your smile a nice upgrade.
Teeth whitening. Fighting teeth yellowing is an ongoing battle. Certain foods, staining beverages and habits like smoking can take the gleam from your smile in no time. But you can brighten up dull teeth with a professional whitening treatment. And because our bleaching solutions are stronger than you'll find in your local retail store, the shine could last for years with only an occasional touchup.
Orthodontics. Straightening teeth orthodontically not only can improve your dental health and function, it could revamp your smile (you might call it the original “smile makeover”). Even if you're well past your teens, an orthodontic correction may still be a viable option. And if you're concerned about your appearance during treatment, you might be able to take advantage of nearly invisible clear aligners.
Bonding. A chipped tooth can certainly detract from an otherwise attractive smile, but it may not take extensive means to repair it. Many chipped or disfigured teeth can be made whole through dental bonding. This technique bonds a color-matched dental material called composite resin directly to the tooth. Best of all, the treatment may only take one visit.
Veneers and crowns. For more extensive chipping or staining, you can step up to a custom-made porcelain veneer or crown. Veneers are thin layers of porcelain that are bonded to the face of teeth to mask imperfections. Crowns cover a damaged but otherwise viable tooth to protect it and give it a more attractive appearance.
Dental Implants. If you have a missing tooth—or one that's simply past saving—consider replacing it with a dental implant. A dental implant attached to a crown is the closest thing we have to a natural tooth in both appearance and function. In fact, most people with implant-supported replacement teeth forget they have dental implants. We can also merge implants with other restorations like dentures or bridges for a more secure, comfortable hold and a more natural smile.
These and other cosmetic enhancements could make a big difference in your smile. To find out how, see us for a complete dental examination and consultation. We want you to be ready for what we hope will soon be a “mask-free” 2021.
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