The top cause for adult tooth loss isn't decay or trauma—it's periodontal (gum) disease. The disease may begin with the gums, but it can ultimately damage underlying bone enough to weaken its support of teeth, causing them to loosen and fall out.
But that's not the end of the havoc gum disease can wreak. The consequences of an uncontrolled infection can ripple beyond the mouth and worsen other health problems like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis.
The common link between gum disease and these other conditions is the inflammatory response, a natural mechanism to fight infection caused by disease or trauma. This mechanism changes blood vessels to increase blood flow to hasten the travel of protective white blood cells to the injury or disease location.
But if this mechanism that supports healing becomes chronic, it can actually do harm. The chronic inflammation that occurs with gum disease can damage mouth structures, just as inflammation from diabetes or arthritis can damage other parts of the body. And any form of chronic inflammation, even that found in gum disease, can worsen other inflammatory diseases.
You can lessen this link between gum disease and other conditions—as well as improve your oral health—by preventing or seeking prompt treatment for any periodontal infection in the following ways:
- Practice daily brushing and flossing to clear away bacterial dental plaque, the main cause of gum disease;
- See your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups;
- See your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, common signs of a gum infection;
- Stop smoking to lower your risk for both gum disease and tooth decay;
- Adopt a healthy diet, which can help you lose weight (a factor in diabetes and other inflammatory diseases) and strengthen your immune system;
- Manage other inflammatory conditions to lessen their effect on your gum disease risk.
Taking these steps can help you avoid the inflammation caused by gum disease that might also affect the rest your body. Seeking prompt treatment at the first sign of an infection will also minimize the damage to your teeth and gums and the effect it could have on the rest of your health.
If you would like more information on 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 “Gum Disease & Systemic Health.”
You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
There are important reasons not to smoke, like minimizing your risk for deadly diseases like heart disease or lung cancer. But here's another good reason: Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and possible tooth loss. And although not necessarily life-threatening, losing your teeth can have a negative effect on your overall health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, individuals who smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop gum disease, and four times as likely the infection will become advanced. Your risk may also increase if you're regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.
There are a number of reasons for this increased risk. For one, smokers are less likely than non-smokers to recognize they have gum disease, at least initially, because they may not display classic symptoms of an infection like red, swollen or bleeding gums. This happens because the nicotine in tobacco smoke interferes with normal blood circulation. As a result, their gums may appear healthy when they're not.
That same circulation interference can also inhibit the production and supply of antibodies to fight infection. Not only can this intensify the infection, it can also slow healing and complicate treatment. In fact, smokers are more likely to have repeated episodes of infection, a condition called refractory periodontitis.
But there is good news—smoking's effect on your gum health doesn't have to be permanent. As soon as you stop, your body will begin to repair the damage; the longer you abstain from the habit, the more your gum health will improve. For example, one national study found that former smokers who had not smoked for at least eleven years were able to achieve an equal risk of gum disease with someone who had never smoked.
Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it can be done. If abrupt cessation (“cold turkey”) is too much for you, there are medically-supported cessation programs using drugs or other techniques that can help you kick the habit. And while it may be a long road, leaving smoking behind is an important step toward improving and maintaining good dental health.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum health, 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
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