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.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
It’s likely you depend on your regular dentist for the lion’s share of your dental care. But in cases of advanced disease or trauma, you may need the services of a dental specialist.
This could be the case with periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces called dental plaque that isn’t adequately removed through daily oral hygiene practices. While your regular dentist can effectively treat many forms of gum disease, there are times when you should see a periodontist who specializes in the gum, supporting bone and connective tissues.
So, when should you see a periodontist for gum disease treatment? Here are 3 situations that may call for this important dental specialist.
If your dentist refers you. Your dentist may be quite proficient in treating gum disease, mainly by removing the dental plaque and tartar sustaining the infection. But if the infection has advanced deep within the gum tissues especially around the roots and bone, you may need more advanced measures, including surgery, performed by a periodontist.
If you’d like a second opinion. Of course, you don’t need a referral to see a periodontist. You can make an appointment with one for another opinion about your diagnosis and recommended treatment plan. If you choose to see a periodontist, make sure they have access to all your dental and medical records, as well as your past health history.
If you have other health issues. Gum disease often doesn’t occur in a vacuum – it may exist and even influence (or be influenced by) other inflammatory medical conditions. If you have such a condition like diabetes or cardiovascular disease, you may opt to see a periodontist first for a more comprehensive evaluation.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for the first signs of disease including red, swollen or bleeding gums (if you smoke, be aware smoking hides these signs of disease). And practice daily brushing and flossing as well as obtaining regular dental cleanings to keep plaque accumulation to minimum. Preventing gum disease and getting treatment as early as possible may help you avoid more invasive treatments later.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, when we call attention to the importance of keeping those pearly whites clean. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, protect your teeth and gums from dental disease. It might also lessen the risk or severity of heart disease, arthritis—or even dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Sound far-fetched? A number of years ago, researchers noticed that people with periodontal (gum) disease were also more prone to systemic conditions like chronic heart and lung diseases, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. The common thread: inflammation, the body's response to infection or trauma.
Inflammation in and of itself is a necessary part of the healing process. But if it becomes chronic, as it often does with a gum infection and these other systemic diseases, this defensive response meant to aid healing can instead damage tissues.
We've also learned that inflammation arising from gum disease may worsen inflammation associated with other systemic conditions. It can work the other way as well: If you have an inflammatory disease, your risk for gum disease goes up and any gum infection can be more acute.
What we've learned recently, though, might be even more concerning: Results from a recent study are showing some evidence of a link between gum disease and dementia and decline in cognitive ability. The study, published in the journal Neurology this past July, followed approximately 8,000 Americans for twenty years. Participants came from a variety of locations and demographic subsets, and were on average in their early sixties with no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study.
Of the participants who completed the study, about 19% had developed dementia. Of these participants, those with severe gum disease and tooth loss were slightly more likely to have dementia than subjects with healthy teeth and gums.
At the very least, these studies raise more questions about the connections between oral and general health, calling for further exploration. One thing's for sure, though—healthy teeth and gums play an important role in the overall quality of life and health. The time and effort required for the following are well worth it to maintain a healthy mouth.
- Brush and floss your teeth every day without fail;
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings;
- Eat a “tooth-friendly” diet low in sugar and rich in vitamins and minerals (especially calcium);
- See your dentist as soon as possible if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
We all want to stay fit and active throughout our senior years. Taking care of your teeth and gums—especially with daily oral hygiene—is a key part of the formula for a long and happy life.
If you would like more information about the importance of dental hygiene to overall health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
When you floss (you do floss, right?), you probably notice a sticky, yellowish substance called plaque stuck to the thread. This thin film of tiny food particles and bacteria is the reason you floss and brush in the first place: Because it's the main trigger for tooth decay and gum disease, removing it decreases your risk for disease.
But this isn't the only form of plaque you should be concerned about. That same sticky substance can also interact with your saliva and harden into what's commonly known as tartar. Dentists, however, have a different term: They refer to these calcified deposits as calculus. And it's just as much a source of disease as its softer counterpart.
You might have noticed that this form of plaque has the same name as an advanced type of mathematics. Although dental calculus has little in common with algebra's cousin, both terms trace their origins back to the same linguistic source. The word “calculus” in Latin means “small stone;” it became associated with math because stone pebbles were once used by merchants long ago to calculate sales and trades.
The term became associated with the substance on your teeth because the hardened plaque deposits resemble tiny stones or minerals—and they can be “as hard as a rock” to remove. In fact, because they adhere so firmly it's virtually impossible to remove calculus deposits with brushing or flossing alone. To effectively eliminate calculus from tooth surfaces (including under the gum line) requires the skills and special dental tools of dentists or dental hygienists.
That's why we recommend a minimum of two dental cleanings a year to remove any calculus buildup, as well as any pre-calcified plaque you might have missed with daily hygiene. Reducing both plaque and calculus on your teeth fully minimizes your risk of dental disease. What's more, removing the yellowish substance may also brighten your smile.
That's not to say daily brushing and flossing aren't important. By removing the bulk of plaque buildup, you reduce the amount that eventually becomes calculus. In other words, it takes both a daily oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits to keep your teeth healthy and beautiful.
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