Periodontal (gum) disease can cause a number of devastating effects that could eventually lead to tooth loss. However, you may be more prone to a particular effect depending on the individual characteristics of your gums.
There are two basic types of gum tissues or “periodontal biotypes” that we inherit from our parents: thick or thin. These can often be identified by sight — thinner gum tissues present a more pronounced arch around the teeth and appear more scalloped; thicker tissues present a flatter arch appearance. While there are size variations within each biotype, one or the other tends to predominate within certain populations: those of European or African descent typically possess the thick biotype, while Asians tend to possess the thin biotype.
In relation to gum disease, those with thin gum tissues are more prone to gum recession. The diseased tissues pull up and away (recede) from a tooth, eventually exposing the tooth’s root surface. Receding gums thus cause higher sensitivity to temperature changes or pressure, and can accelerate tooth decay. It’s also unattractive as the normal pink triangles of gum tissue between teeth (papillae) may be lost, leaving only a dark spot between the teeth or making the more yellow-colored root surface visible.
While thicker gum tissues are more resilient to gum recession, they’re more prone to the development of periodontal pockets. In this case, the slight gap between teeth and gums grows longer as the infected tissues pull away from the teeth as the underlying bone tissue is lost. The resulting void becomes deeper and more prone to infection and will ultimately result in further bone loss and decreased survivability for the tooth.
Either of these conditions will require extensive treatment beyond basic plaque control. Severe gum recession, for example, may require grafting techniques to cover exposed teeth and encourage new tissue growth. Periodontal pockets, in turn, must be accessed and cleaned of infection: the deeper the pocket the more invasive the treatment, including surgery.
Regardless of what type of gum tissue you have, it’s important for you to take steps to lower your risk of gum disease. First and foremost, practice effective daily hygiene with brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the main cause of gum disease. You should also visit us at least twice a year (or more, if you’ve developed gum disease) for those all important cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on hereditary factors for 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 “Genetics & Gum Tissue Types.”
One of the most important revolutions in healthcare in recent decades is the increasing use of lasers. Now, laser technology is making a showing in dental care for the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Lasers (an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation") narrowly focus and amplify light within a small area. First developed in the early 1960s, laser technology rapidly advanced in the ensuing decades with more compact and precise devices that were eventually safe and effective for many types of medical procedures. Its remarkable features are now available for the primary focus of gum disease treatment—removing bacterial plaque.
Plaque is a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces that serves as a haven for the bacteria that cause gum disease. The continuing presence of plaque and calculus (tartar) enables the infection to thrive and advance within the gum tissues, ultimately damaging them along with supporting bone. As the tissues weaken and bone volume diminishes, the teeth are at greater risk for loss.
It's necessary, therefore, first and foremost to remove all detectable plaque and calculus to stop the infection. This is traditionally done with special hand tools called scalers used to manually remove plaque, or with ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose to be flushed away with water. These procedures can take numerous sessions and may result in some minor post-procedural discomfort and bleeding during the cleaning.
But lasers specifically designed for plaque removal can minimize tissue damage and resulting discomfort. Because the particular laser light used reacts only with plaque and diseased tissue, it can remove them without disturbing nearby healthy tissue usually more efficiently than traditional scaling. Dentists who've used the technology frequently report less bleeding and higher patient satisfaction.
But before lasers for gum disease treatment are widely adopted, the procedure must undergo further scrutiny. Reports from dentists notwithstanding, not enough research studies have been performed to date that meet the necessary scientific criteria. But if the evidence so far from the field holds up, it's quite possible lasers will one day become a regular part of dental practice for treating gum disease.
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.”
A “gummy” smile, in which the upper gums are too prominent, is a common condition. There are several causes for gummy smiles — determining which one is the first step to having your appearance changed.
Although perceptions vary from person to person, most dentists agree a gummy smile shows 4 mm or more of gum tissue, and the amount is out of proportion with the length of the crown (the visible tooth). Teeth normally erupt through the gums during childhood and continue development until early adulthood, shrinking back from the tooth until stabilizing in place.
This typically produces a crown length of about 10 mm, with a “width to length” ratio of about 75-85%. But variations can produce differences in the relationship between teeth and gums and the width to length ratio of the teeth. The teeth may appear shorter and the gums more prominent. Worn teeth, caused by aging or grinding habits, may also appear shorter.
If tooth to gum proportionality is normal, then the cause may be upper lip movement. When we smile, muscles cause our lips to retract 6-8 mm from the lip’s resting position. If the amount of movement is greater (meaning the lip is hypermobile), it may show too much of the gums. The upper jaw can also extend too far forward and cause the gums to appear too prominent.
There are a number of ways to improve gummy smiles, depending on the cause. Periodontal plastic surgery known as crown lengthening removes and reshapes excess gum tissue to reveal more of the tooth. Lip hypermobility can be reduced with Botox injections (to paralyze the muscles) or in some cases with surgery to reposition the muscle attachments. Orthognathic surgery can be used to surgically reposition an overextended upper jaw. Other cosmetic enhancements such as orthodontics, bonding or porcelain restorations can also prove effective.
The first step is to obtain an accurate diagnosis for your gummy smile. From there, we can devise the best treatment approach to bring your smile back into a more attractive proportion.
If you would like more information on minimizing a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
It’s been a long road back to oral health for you after periodontal (gum) disease. But after several plaque removal sessions and perhaps even surgical procedures to address deep infection, your gums have regained their healthy pink appearance.
But now you must face a hard reality: because you’ve had gum disease you’ll need to be extra vigilant with your oral hygiene to avoid another round with this destructive disease. But don’t worry—you won’t have to fight your prevention battle alone. We’ll continue to provide you care that reduces your risk of re-infection. We call that care periodontal maintenance (PM).
The heart of PM care involves regular dental visits for monitoring, cleanings and treatment when necessary. While most patients may visit their dentist at least twice a year, as a previous gum disease patient we may advise more frequent visits, especially if you’ve just finished periodontal treatment. Depending on the extent of your disease, we may begin with a visit every other week or once every two to three months. If your mouth continues to be disease-free we may suggest increasing the time between visits.
During your visit we’ll carefully examine your mouth, as well as screen you for any signs of potential oral cancer. We’re looking for both signs of re-infection or new issues with your teeth and gums. We’ll also assess the effectiveness of your oral hygiene efforts and advise you on ways you can improve.
If we find any signs of disease, we’ll then formulate a treatment plan to effectively deal with it. With frequent visits we have a better chance of discovering re-infection early—and the earlier the better to minimize any further damage. We may also need to take steps to make future PM care easier. This could include gum surgery to alter the tissues around certain teeth for easier access for examination and cleaning.
Our main focus with PM care is to look ahead: what can we do now to prevent a future bout of gum disease or at least lessen its effect? With continued monitoring and care we can drastically reduce your risk for further damage from this destructive disease.
If you would like more information on post-gum disease maintenance, 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 Cleanings.”
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