While we often associate tooth decay with cavities forming in a tooth’s visible or biting surfaces, the occurrence of this all too common disease isn’t limited to those areas. Cavities can develop in any part of a tooth exposed to bacteria.
Gum recession, the shrinking back of the gums from the teeth, can cause such exposure in areas normally covered by the gums. Because these areas are usually more vulnerable to infection when exposed, cavities can develop at or right below the gum line. Because of their location it can be difficult to fill them or perform other treatments.
One way to make it less difficult is to perform a crown lengthening procedure. While the term sounds like we’re increasing the size of the tooth, we’re actually surgically altering the gums to access more of the affected tooth surface for treatment. It’s typically performed in a dental office with local anesthesia by a general dentist or a periodontist, a specialist in the gums.
During the procedure, the dentist starts by making small incisions in the gums to create a tissue “flap” that can be lifted out of the way. This exposes the underlying bone, which they then reshape to support the gum tissue once it’s re-situated in its new position. The dentist then sutures the gums back in place. Once the gums heal, the decayed area is ready for treatment.
Crown lengthening is also useful for other situations besides treating cavities. If a tooth has broken off at the gum line, for example, there may not be enough remaining structure to support a crown. Crown lengthening can make more of the underlying tooth available for the crown to “grab” onto. It’s also useful in some cases of “gummy smiles,” in which too much of the gum tissue is visible in proportion to the tooth size.
Because crown lengthening often involves removing some of the bone and is thus irreversible, you should discuss this procedure with your dentist in depth beforehand. It could be, though, this minor procedure might make it easier to preserve your teeth and even make them look more attractive.
Gum recession is an all too common problem for millions of people that if left untreated could lead to tooth and bone loss. But the good news is not only can the process be stopped, much of the damage can also be repaired through periodontal plastic surgery.
Gum recession occurs when the gum tissue protecting the teeth detaches and draws back to expose the root surface. This exposure may result in a range of effects, from minor tooth sensitivity to eventual tooth loss. There are a number of causes for gum recession, including overaggressive brushing or flossing, biting habits or badly fitting dentures or appliances.
The most prominent cause, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by plaque buildup on tooth surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. Fortunately, early gum disease is highly treatable by thoroughly cleaning tooth, root and gum surfaces of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), along with possible antibiotic therapy, to reduce the infection and promote tissue healing.
Unfortunately, advanced cases of gum recession may have already resulted in extensive damage to the tissues themselves. While disease treatment can stimulate some re-growth, some cases may require reconstructive surgery to repair and further rebuild the tissues.
There are several techniques periodontists (specialists in gums, bone and other dental support structures) or dentists with advanced training can perform to “re-model” recessed gum tissues. One of the major areas is placing tissue grafts (either from the patient or a human donor) at the site to encourage further tissue growth. Properly affixing a graft requires a great deal of training, skill and experience, especially in cases where the graft may need to be connected with adjoining tissues to establish a viable blood supply for the graft.
In skilled hands, a periodontal surgical procedure is fairly predictable with minimal discomfort afterward. And the lasting effects are well-worth it — not only will your health benefit from restored gum tissue and greater protection for your teeth, you’ll also enjoy a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information the treatment of 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.
We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?
Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.
When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?
In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.
So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.
If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Autumn begins in the month of September, a season that promises cooler days and longer nights. But more significantly for sports fans, September marks the start of football season. Football remains America’s favorite spectator sport—and it’s also played by countless college and high school athletes, as well as those who enjoy an occasional pickup game in the back yard or on the beach. Yet, like many contact sports, football (even touch football) carries a risk of injury—and one of the areas of the body most vulnerable to injury is the mouth.
Some of the most common dental injuries in contact sports include lacerations (cuts), tooth fractures, displacement (teeth pushed deeper into or out of their sockets), knocked-out teeth, and temporomandibular joint problems. While it’s hard to pin down the exact statistics, researchers estimate that over 5 million teeth are avulsed (completely knocked out) every year in the U.S. alone—a significant number of which are due to sports injuries. It is also estimated that the lifetime cost to treat an avulsed tooth ranges from $5,000 to $20,000!
Given the prevalence of sports-related dental injuries, it’s no wonder that protective devices have been developed to minimize the risk. Properly fitted mouthguards have been shown time and again to be effective at preventing many types of dental injuries. Yet the use of devices isn’t always required by rule-making organizations—and many casual players don’t use them at all. That’s a shame, because so many of the injuries are preventable.
Custom-made mouthguards are available right here at the dental office. Strong and durable, these protective devices are specially fabricated from a model of the player’s own teeth. That means they offer the maximum protection, yet can be comfortably worn during practices, backyard games or championships—an important consideration, since accidents often happen when least expected. (And if you’re a parent of a child who plays sports, that’s probably something you already know.)
It isn’t just football players who can benefit from mouthguards: Those with a passion for soccer, basketball, baseball, martial arts, and dozens of other sports can also get the protection they need from this small (but important) item. So this season, when you’re watching or playing your favorite game, think about the extra safety and peace of mind you could gain from a custom-made mouthguard.
If you have questions about custom-made mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
That bit of gum bleeding after you brush, along with redness and swelling, are strong signs you have gingivitis, a form of periodontal (gum) disease. Without treatment, though, your gingivitis could turn into something much more painful and unsightly — a condition commonly known as “trench mouth.”
Properly known as Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG), the more colorful name arose from its frequent occurrence among soldiers during World War I. Although not contagious, many soldiers contracted it due to a lack of means to properly clean their teeth and gums and the anxiety associated with war. Inadequate hygiene and high stress still contribute to its occurrence today, along with smoking, medications that dry the mouth and reduced disease resistance — all of which create a perfect environment for bacterial growth.
ANUG can arise suddenly and be very painful. The cells in the gum tissue begin to die (“necrotizing”) and become swollen (“ulcerative”), especially the small triangle of gum tissue between the teeth called the papillae, which can appear yellowish. Patients also encounter a characteristic foul breath and taste. Untreated, ANUG can damage tissue and contribute to future tooth loss.
Fortunately, antibiotics and other treatments are quite effective in eradicating bacteria that cause the disease, so if caught early it’s completely reversible. We start with a complete examination to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.Â We then attempt to relieve the pain and inflammation with non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen and begin antibiotic treatment, most notably Metronidazole or amoxicillin. We may also prescribe a mouthrinse containing chlorhexidine and mild salt water rinses to further reduce the symptoms.
We must also treat any underlying gingivitis that gave rise to the more acute disease. Our goal here is remove any bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that have built up on tooth surfaces, particularly below the gums. Only then can we fully bring the disease under control.
It’s also important you become more consistent and effective with daily brushing and flossing, quit smoking, reduce undue stress, and get better rest and nutrition. Establishing these new habits and lifestyle changes will help ensure you’ll never have to experience trench mouth again.
If you would like more information on ANUG and other periodontal gum 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”
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