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.
The basics for treating tooth decay have changed little since the father of modern dentistry Dr. G.V. Black developed them in the early 20th Century. Even though technical advances have streamlined treatment, our objectives are the same: remove any decayed material, prepare the cavity and then fill it.
This approach has endured because it works—dentists practicing it have preserved billions of teeth. But it has had one principle drawback: we often lose healthy tooth structure while removing decay. Although we preserve the tooth, its overall structure may be weaker.
But thanks to recent diagnostic and treatment advances we’re now preserving more of the tooth structure during treatment than ever before. On the diagnostic front enhanced x-ray technology and new magnification techniques are helping us find decay earlier when there’s less damaged material to remove and less risk to healthy structure.
Treating cavities has likewise improved with the increased use of air abrasion, an alternative to drilling. Emitting a concentrated stream of fine abrasive particles, air abrasion is mostly limited to treating small cavities. Even so, dentists using it say they’re removing less healthy tooth structure than with drilling.
While these current advances have already had a noticeable impact on decay treatment, there’s more to come. One in particular could dwarf every other advance with its impact: a tooth repairing itself through dentin regeneration.
This futuristic idea stems from a discovery by researchers at King’s College, London experimenting with Tideglusib, a medication for treating Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers placed tiny sponges soaked with the drug into holes drilled into mouse teeth. After a few weeks the holes had filled with dentin, produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t new, but methods to date haven’t been able to produce enough dentin to repair a typical cavity. Tideglusib has proven more promising, and it’s already being used in clinical trials. If its development continues to progress, patients’ teeth may one day repair their own cavities without a filling.
Dr. Black’s enduring concepts continue to define tooth decay treatment. But developments now and on the horizon are transforming how we treat this disease in ways the father of modern dentistry couldn’t imagine.
When you think orthodontics, you may instantly picture braces or clear aligners worn by teenagers or adults. But there’s more to orthodontics than correcting fully developed malocclusions (poor bites). It’s also possible to intervene and potentially reduce a malocclusion’s future severity and cost well beforehand.
Known as interceptive orthodontics, these treatments help guide jaw growth in children while mouth structures are still developing and more pliable. But timing is critical: waiting until late childhood or puberty could be too late.
For example, we can influence an upper jaw developing too narrowly (which can cause erupting teeth to crowd each other) with an expander appliance placed in the roof of the mouth. The expander exerts slight, outward pressure on the upper jaw bones. Because the bones haven’t yet fused as they will later, the pressure maintains a gap between them that fills with additional bone that eventually widens the jaw.
Functional appliances like the Herbst appliance influence muscle and bone development in the jaws to eventually reshape and reposition them. The Herbst appliance utilizes a set of metal hinges connected to the top and bottom jaws; when the patient opens and closes their jaws the hinges encourage the lower jaw to move (and eventually grow) forward. If successful, it could help a patient avoid more invasive treatments like tooth extraction or jaw surgery.
Some interceptive objectives are quite simple in comparison like preserving the space created by a prematurely lost primary tooth. If a child loses a primary tooth before the incoming permanent tooth is ready to erupt, the nearby teeth can drift into the empty space. Without enough room, the permanent tooth could erupt out of position. We can hold the space with a simple loop device known as a space maintainer: usually made of acrylic or metal, the device fits between adjacent teeth and prevents them from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to come in.
Interceptive orthodontics can have a positive impact on your child’s jaw development, now and in the future. For these techniques to be effective, though, they must begin early, so be sure your child has a complete orthodontic evaluation beginning around age 7. You may be able to head off future bite problems before they happen.
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.
Unlike the months on either side, August isn't known for major holidays. But it does have one cause for celebration: National Fresh Breath Day! True, this observance will probably never achieve big-time recognition. Yet everyone would agree that fresh breath is something to appreciate! Unfortunately, bad breath is a persistent problem for many people. The first step in treating it is to identify the cause. Here are 5 common causes of bad breath:
1. Poor oral hygiene. Certain types of oral bacteria cause bad breath, and the mouth provides a perfect environment for them—especially when dental plaque and food debris is not well cleansed. So to keep your breath fresh, maintain a diligent oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once a day. For an extra-clean mouth, use a tongue scraper—a plastic tool about the size of a toothbrush that's available in most drug stores. This will remove bacteria and food debris from your tongue for extra freshness.
2. Oral diseases. Bad odors in your mouth may also be caused by infections—which is what tooth decay and gum disease actually are. Sometimes old fillings wear out, allowing bacteria to re-infect a tooth that was once treated for decay. Other signs of these common oral diseases include tooth pain and bleeding or puffy gums. If you notice any of these, don't ignore it—make a dental appointment today!
3. Diet. Smelly foods will give you smelly breath; it's that simple. And the odors may linger after you have eaten them. When onion, garlic and other pungent foods are digested, their odor-producing substances enter your bloodstream and proceed to your lungs—which can affect how your breath smells. If you suspect your dietary habits are causing bad breath, try eliminating certain foods (at least temporarily) and see if that helps.
4. Dry mouth. Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, so reduced saliva flow can lead to bad breath. This accounts for "morning breath," which is caused when the mouth dries out during sleep (especially if you are a mouth-breather). However, some people don't produce enough saliva throughout the day. Sometimes it's just that they don't drink enough water. But a very common cause of chronic dry mouth is regular use of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. If you notice that medication is drying out your mouth, let your doctor know. And stay hydrated!
5. Smoking. Given that smoking increases your risk for many serious diseases, including oral cancer, the fact that it can lead to bad breath seems almost trivial. Still, it's worth noting that smoking causes mouth odor both directly and indirectly by reducing the flow of saliva and promoting gum disease. In fact, tobacco in all forms is a hazard to your health.
If you'd like more information on bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease” and “Dry Mouth.”
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