Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
A loose permanent tooth is not a good thing—and not something you should put off having examined. That’s because a loose tooth could soon become a lost tooth.
How we treat it depends on its underlying cause, which could be one of two types. One is primary occlusal trauma, meaning the affected tooth has experienced accidental trauma or higher biting forces than it normally encounters. This usually happens because of teeth grinding habits.
It could also be secondary occlusal trauma. Unlike primary trauma where the supporting gums and bone may be reasonably healthy, secondary trauma occurs because these structures have been severely damaged by periodontal (gum) disease. As the gums begin to detach from a tooth and its underlying bone deteriorates, even normal biting forces can loosen it.
If gum disease is present, our first priority is to bring it under control. We do this primarily by removing all dental plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles that triggers the infection and sustains it) and calculus or tartar (calcified plaque). This can take several sessions and, in the case of deep infection, may require a surgical procedure.
On the other hand, if teeth grinding is the primary cause, we’ll focus on minimizing the habit and its effects. One way is to create a custom-fitted guard worn to prevent upper and lower teeth from making solid contact. You may also need to improve your management of stress—another factor in teeth grinding—through medication, therapy or biofeedback.
In either case, improved periodontal health will help the gums naturally regain their strong attachment with help, if necessary, from gum tissue or bone grafting surgery. But this healing process can take time, so we may need to secure a loose tooth in the interim by splinting it to neighboring stable teeth. This usually requires bonding rigid material or metal across the back of all involved teeth or in a channel cut along the teeth’s biting surfaces. In this way the more stable teeth support the loose one.
Splinting may be temporary as the mouth heals from disease or trauma and the teeth regain their stability. In some cases, though, it may be permanent. Either way, dealing promptly with a loose tooth can help ensure it’ll survive—so see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on treating loose teeth, 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
If you followed the 2018 FIFA World Cup Soccer games, you probably know that one of this year’s biggest surprises was the debut of the team from Iceland—the smallest country ever to earn a chance at the sport’s top prize. But here’s something you may not have known: When he’s not on the field, the team’s coach, Heimir Hallgrímsson, is a practicing dentist! Those two skill sets might not seem like a natural fit… but they came together dramatically at a recent contest.
At a local women’s game last summer, when a player was hit and her tooth was knocked out, Dr. Hallgrímsson took immediate action. “I jumped on the pitch and put the tooth back in, took her to a dental office and fixed it,” he said.
Not everyone has the special training or ability to fix a tooth that has been damaged or knocked out—but there are some simple things that you can do to help an adult who has suffered this kind of injury. Here’s a quick run-down:
- After making sure the person is stable and not otherwise seriously injured, try to locate the tooth.
- Handle it carefully, without touching root surfaces, and clean it gently with water if possible.
- Try to open and gently rinse out the mouth, and find where the tooth came from.
- Carefully place the tooth back in its socket, making sure it is facing the right way, and hold it in place with a soft cloth.
- If the tooth can’t be re-implanted, place it in a bag with a special preservative solution, milk or saliva, or have the person hold it between the cheek and gum—but make sure it isn’t swallowed!
- Rush to the nearest dental office or urgent care facility.
When these steps are followed and the person receives professional treatment as quickly as possible (ideally within minutes), their tooth will have the best chance of being saved. But even if it isn’t possible to preserve the tooth, receiving prompt and appropriate care can make replacing the tooth much easier.
Having Dr. Hallgrímsson on the sidelines was a lucky break for the injured soccer player—and as a coach, just getting to the World Cup is a remarkable achievement. But you don’t need to be a coach (or a dentist) to give first aid in a dental emergency. Taking the right steps can help ensure the best possible outcome… and might even save a tooth!
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “Knocked Out Tooth” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Back-to-school season can be an exciting time for kids—and parents too! As summer starts giving way to fall, your to-do list begins to fill up: there are clothes to buy, supplies to gather, and get-togethers with friends both old and new. Here are a few do’s (and don’ts) that can help keep your kids oral health in tip-top shape through this busy season…and all year long.
Do pack kids a healthy lunch
In addition to a protein like lean meat, eggs or peanut butter, a healthy lunch may include crunchy vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks, dairy like cheese or yogurt, and fresh fruits. Add a bottle of water and your kids will be all set to go!
Don’t include soda or sugary snacks
Foods with a lot of sugar—like soda, processed foods and sweet treats—aren’t a healthy choice. In addition to promoting obesity, sugar provides food for the harmful oral bacteria that can cause cavities. Even 100% juices have loads of sugar—so go easy on the sweets for better checkups!
Do be sure kids brush and floss regularly
That means brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and flossing once a day—every day! Brushing and flossing daily is the most effective way to fight cavities at home. If your kids need help, take time to show them how…and if you need to “brush up” on the proper techniques yourself, just ask us to demonstrate.
Don’t let kids chew on pencils or fingernails
Fidgety kids often develop habits like these to help themselves feel calmer. But chewing on things that don’t belong in the mouth is a recipe for dental problems—like chipped or broken teeth. Try giving them sugarless gum instead; if the problem persists, ask us for help.
Do ask about a mouthguard if they play sports
It’s not just for football or hockey—baseball, basketball and many other schoolyard sports have the potential to damage teeth and gums. A custom-made mouthguard from our office is comfortable enough to wear every day, and offers superior protection.
Don’t forget to schedule routine dental visits
With the hustle and bustle of a new school year it’s easy to let things slide. But don’t put off your kids’ regular dental checkups! Professional cleanings and dental exams can help keep those young smiles bright, and prevent little problems from getting bigger.
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