While the term “plastic surgery” might bring to mind face lifts or tummy tucks, not all procedures in this particular surgical field are strictly cosmetic. Some can make a big difference in a person’s health.
One example is periodontal plastic surgery, which corrects gum tissue loss around the teeth. Although these procedures can indeed improve appearance, they more importantly help save teeth.
Gum loss is most often a consequence of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from a thin film of food particles on the teeth called dental plaque. As the disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth, they shrink back or recede, exposing the area around the roots. Without the protective cover the gums provide the roots, they become more susceptible to decay.
In milder cases of gum recession, treating the infection often results in the gums regaining their normal attachment to teeth. But with more advanced recession, natural gum healing may not be enough to reverse it. For such situations grafting donor tissue to the recessed area can help stimulate new tissue growth.
While gum tissue grafts can come from an animal or other human, the most likely source is from the person themselves. In one type of procedure, free gingival grafting, the surgeon locates and completely removes (or “frees”) a thin layer of skin resembling gum tissue, typically from the roof of the mouth, shapes it and then transplants it by suturing it to the recession site. Both donor and recipient sites heal at about the same rate in two to three weeks.
Another technique is known as connective tissue grafting. In this procedure the surgeon partially removes the donor tissue from its site while leaving a portion containing blood vessels intact. The palatal tissue is still used and transported to fit beneath the tissue that’s still attached to the blood supply. This connective tissue graft is then positioned and sutured to the recipient site while still maintaining its blood supply connection at the donor site. Maintaining this connection facilitates healing and increases the chances the graft will “take” and become firmly attached to the new site.
Grafting procedures require advanced techniques and skills. But with them we may be able to restore gum attachment to teeth with an impact on appearance and dental health that’s well worth the effort.
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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
There are a variety of methods for treating periodontal (gum) disease depending on its severity — from routine office cleanings to periodontal surgery. But the goal behind all of them remains the same: remove bacterial plaque and calculus (tartar), the root cause for gum disease, from all tooth and gum surfaces.
The traditional method for doing this is called scaling in which we use special hand instruments (scalers) to mechanically remove plaque and calculus. Scaling and a similar procedure called root planing (the root surfaces are “planed” smooth of plaque to aid tissue reattachment) require quite a bit of skill and experience. They're also time-consuming: full treatment can take several sessions, depending on how extensive the infection has spread.
In recent years, we've also seen a new method emerge for removing plaque: lasers. Commonly used in other aspects of healthcare, lasers utilize a focused beam of light to destroy and remove diseased or unhealthy tissue while, according to studies and firsthand accounts, minimizing healthy tissue destruction to a better degree than traditional techniques. Procedure and healing times are likewise reduced.
Because of these beneficial characteristics, we are seeing their use in gum disease treatment, especially for removing diseased and inflamed tissues below the gum line and decreasing sub-gingival (“below the gums”) bacteria.
Dentists who have used lasers in this way do report less tissue damage, bleeding and post-treatment discomfort than traditional treatments. But because research is just beginning, there's not enough evidence to say laser treatment is preferably better than conventional treatment for gum disease.
At this point, lasers can be an effective addition to conventional gum disease treatment for certain people, especially those in the early stages of the disease. As we continue to study this technology, though, the day may come when lasers are the preferred way to stop gum disease from ruining your dental health.
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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
If you’re seeing your dentist regularly, that’s great. But if that’s all you’re doing to stay ahead of dental disease, it’s not enough. In fact, what you do daily to care for your teeth is often the primary factor in whether or not you’ll maintain a healthy mouth.
Top of your oral care to-do list, of course, is removing daily plaque buildup from teeth and gums. This sticky film of bacteria and food particles can cause both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. You do that with effective daily brushing and flossing.
Effective brushing starts with the right toothbrush—for most people a soft-bristled, multi-tufted brush—and fluoride toothpaste. As to technique, you should first avoid brushing too hard or too often (more than twice a day). This can damage your gums and cause them to recede, exposing the tooth roots to disease. Instead, use a gentle, scrubbing motion, being sure to thoroughly brush all tooth surfaces from the gumline to the top of the teeth, which usually takes about two minutes.
The other essential hygiene task, flossing, isn’t high on many people’s “favorite things to do list” due to frequent difficulties manipulating the floss. Your dentist can help you with technique, but if it still proves too difficult try some different tools: a floss threader to make it easier to pull floss through your teeth; or a water flosser, a handheld device that directs a pressurized water stream on tooth and gum surfaces to loosen and flush away plaque.
And don’t forget other tooth-friendly practices like avoiding sugary snacks between meals, drinking plenty of water to avoid dry mouth, and even waiting to brush or floss about an hour after eating. The latter is important because acid levels rise during eating and can temporarily soften enamel. The enzymes in saliva, though, can neutralize the acid and re-mineralize the enamel in about thirty minutes to an hour. Waiting to brush gives saliva a chance to do its job.
Lastly, keep alert for anything out of the ordinary: sores, lumps, spots on the teeth or reddened, swollen, bleeding gums. All these are potential signs of disease. The sooner you have them checked the better your chances of maintaining a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth at home, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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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