Posts for: August, 2014
Although your teeth feel as if they’re rigidly set in the jawbone, they’re actually capable of movement. In fact, dynamic tooth movement is an essential mechanism in good dental function — it allows your teeth to adapt to changes brought on by age and other factors.
The periodontal ligament is a key component in this mechanism. This elastic tissue actually holds the teeth to the bone through tiny fibers that attach to the tooth root on one side of the ligament and to the jawbone on the other. The teeth move within the ligament to maintain contact with both adjacent and opposing teeth in response to changes like the normal wear that occurs due to aging.
This is a primary reason why a missing tooth should be replaced by an artificial one as soon as possible. Because of the tendency just described, teeth next to the space left by the missing tooth will begin to move (or drift) into the space at an accelerated rate. The end result is teeth out of their normal position and range, which could seriously disrupt their normal function as well as adversely affect your appearance.
This is especially important for back teeth. Because they’re not easily visible to others when we open our mouths, many people will forgo replacement when they’re lost. But missing back teeth can set off a chain reaction of movement that could eventually hinder jaw function.
The best option for a tooth replacement is a dental implant. Life-like and durable, dental implants encourage bone growth at the implant site and adjacent teeth will respond to it as they would a natural tooth. If an implant isn’t feasible, then a fixed bridge is also a viable replacement option that will prevent drift. As a result, tooth movement should continue normally with no adverse effects on function.
If you’ve lost teeth or are about to undergo tooth extraction, it’s in your other teeth’s best interest to consider a permanent replacement. A new implant or bridge will vastly improve your smile and prevent more serious problems in the future.
If you would like more information on the importance of teeth replacement, 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 “Replacing Back Teeth.”
Baseball legend Babe Ruth, President Ulysses S. Grant and George Harrison of the Beatles — these three notable people from different backgrounds and historical eras have a sad commonality — they all died from oral cancer. They are a reminder that regardless of one’s wealth or fame, no one is immune from oral cancer and its deadly effects.
Like other cancers, oral cancer is characterized by abnormal cell growth capable of spreading into nearby tissue or other parts of the body. Although oral cancer accounts for less than 3% of all occurring cancers, it’s among the most deadly: only 58% of oral cancer patients survive five years after treatment. This is mostly due to the difficulty of detecting oral cancer in its early stages; in fact, 30% of oral cancers have already spread (metastasized) when they’re finally diagnosed.
Early detection through careful monitoring is the best strategy for defeating oral cancer. If you have a predisposing factor like a family history of oral cancer, then regular screenings during dental checkups are a must. During an exam we may be able to detect abnormalities (like unusual white spots on the gums or jaws) that may signal a cancer in a pre-cancerous or early stage. You also should be on the lookout for a persistent sore throat or hoarseness, lingering mouth pain, a painless lump in the mouth or on the neck, or ear pain on only one side.
There are also conditions or behaviors that may increase your risk for oral cancer, like using tobacco (both smoke and smokeless) or consuming alcohol. If you use tobacco you should consider quitting it altogether; you should consider cutting back on alcohol consumption if you’re a moderate to heavy drinker. You should also avoid sexual behaviors that increase your chances of viral infection — research has found a link between oral cancer and the viral infection caused by the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV 16).
Improving your nutrition can also reduce your cancer risk. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables supplies the body with cancer-fighting nutrients, including antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by carcinogens. Studies have shown this kind of diet consistently lowers the risk of oral and throat cancer, as well as cancers of the esophagus, breast, prostate, lung and colon.
If you would like more information on oral cancer, 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 “Oral Cancer.”
Picture this: You’re feeling some mild irritation in your mouth, which seems to be coming from the area near your tongue. You go to the mirror, open wide… and notice a series of red patches on the tongue’s surface, which are surrounded by whitish borders. Should you drop what you’re doing and rush to get medical help right away?
Sure, a visit to the dentist might be a good idea to rule out more serious problems — but first, sit down and relax for a moment. Chances are what you’re experiencing is an essentially harmless condition called “benign migratory glossitis,” which is also known by its common name — geographic tongue. While it may look unusual, geographic tongue isn’t a serious condition: It’s not cancerous or contagious, and it doesn’t generally lead to more severe health problems. However, it can make your tongue feel a bit more sensitive, and may occasionally lead to mild sensations of burning, stinging or numbness.
The appearance of reddish patches on the tongue results from the temporary loss of structures called papillae: tiny bumps which normally cover the tongue’s surface. These patches may appear or disappear over the course of days — or even hours — and sometimes appear to change their shape or location.
What causes geographic tongue? Several factors seem to be responsible for setting off the problem, but as of yet the actual cause of the disease is unknown. Among these triggers are emotional stress and psychological upsets, hormonal disturbances, and deficiencies in zinc or vitamin B. The condition, which affects between one and three percent of the population, is seen more frequently in non-smokers, in women, and in those with a family history of the problem. It is also associated with people who suffer from psoriasis, a common skin condition, and those who have a fissured (deeply grooved) tongue.
Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for geographic tongue — but the good news is that treatment is usually unnecessary. If you’re experiencing this condition, it may help if you avoid foods with high levels of acidity (like tomatoes and citrus fruits), as well as hot and spicy foods. Alcohol and other astringent substances (like some mouthwashes) may also aggravate it.
While geographic tongue isn’t a serious condition, it can cause worry and discomfort. That’s why it’s a good idea for you to come into the office and have it checked, just to make sure. A thorough examination can put your mind at ease, and rule out other conditions that may be more of a concern. We may be also able to help you manage this condition by prescribing anesthetic mouth rinses, antihistamines, or other treatments.
If you would like more information about geographic tongue, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Geographic Tongue.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is an infectious disease that progressively weakens the attachment of supporting tissues to the teeth, including gums, ligaments and bone. If not stopped, the loss of attachment will eventually lead to bone and tooth loss.
A thin layer of plaque that builds up on teeth (mainly due to poor oral hygiene habits) is the main breeding ground for the bacteria that cause gum disease. Our main treatment goal is to remove as much of this plaque as possible from tooth and gum surfaces. Much of the plaque can be removed using special hand or ultrasonic instruments that deep clean dental surfaces, including the roots. But while effective, these manual techniques may not address the full extent of infection, especially if the disease is well advanced.
If severe bone loss has already occurred, deep pockets of infection may have developed. As bone loss progresses, teeth with multiple roots may also develop an anatomical problem known as furcation invasions where the roots of the tooth branch off. If there continues to be signs of disease, like gum inflammation, bleeding or pus formation, it’s these hard to reach areas that may still be a problem even after extensive treatment. If so, we may need to take a different approach with antimicrobial or antibiotic products.
The most effective antimicrobial substance for reducing bacteria in biofilm is a chlorhexidine mouthrinse. The typical 0.12% solution is only available by prescription — if taken for a prolonged time it can result in tooth staining, affected taste or mouth irritation. To assure the solution reaches below the gum line, it will need to be applied by us in the office, followed up flushing irrigation of the affected area.
Another alternative is topically applied antibiotics that can stop or even reverse the progression of gum disease. There’s evidence that topical applications can penetrate into these deeper areas of infection. A common antibiotic used in this way is tetracycline, which has been shown to stop inflammation and infection.
These treatments don’t eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning, and the prolonged use of antibacterial products can have a detrimental effect on “good” bacteria (needed, for example, to complete the digestive process). It will depend on the extent of the gum disease to determine how successful conservative treatment may be. It’s also important that you contribute to your own dental health with a renewed daily oral hygiene habit.
If you would like more information on treatments 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
The main strategy in fighting dental disease is to try to prevent it in the first place. The success of this strategy depends largely on effective oral hygiene with three essential elements: daily brushing, daily flossing, and semi-annual checkups with professional cleaning.
Many people have little trouble incorporating brushing into their daily routine; flossing, though, is a different matter for some. They may feel it’s too time-consuming or too hard to perform. Patients with orthodontic appliances especially may encounter difficulty navigating the floss around the appliance hardware.
Flossing, though, is extremely important for removing bacterial plaque, the primary aim of oral hygiene. This thin film of food remnant that builds up and sticks to the teeth is the breeding ground for bacteria that cause both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s important that as much plaque as possible is removed from the teeth and gum surfaces every day. While brushing removes plaque from the open surfaces of the teeth, flossing removes plaque clinging between teeth and around the gums that can’t be accessed with a toothbrush.
If traditional flossing is too difficult, there’s a viable alternative using an oral irrigator. Also known as a water flosser, an oral irrigator directs a stream of pressurized, pulsating water inside the mouth to blast away plaque in these hard to reach places. The hand applicator comes with a variety of tips that can be used for a number of dental situations, such as cleaning around braces or implants. In home use since the early 1960s, the latest versions of oral irrigators have proven to be very effective, especially for orthodontic patients — research shows an oral irrigator used in conjunction with brushing can remove up to five times more plaque than just brushing alone.
That being said, traditional flossing is also effective at plaque removal when performed properly. Sometimes, resistance to flossing can be remedied with a little training during dental checkups. We can work with you on techniques to improve your flossing activity, as well as train you to use an oral irrigator.
Whichever method you choose, it’s important for you to incorporate flossing (or irrigation) into your daily routine. Removing plaque, especially in those hard to reach places, is essential for reducing your risk of developing destructive dental disease.
If you would like more information on flossing or oral irrigation, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”