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.”
If you’re facing cancer treatment, we wish you the best outcome possible. Treating this disease has advanced tremendously in recent decades, but the available options are still often challenging to endure. It will be your primary focus for the foreseeable future.
As a dental provider we also want you to be aware how the two main treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, could adversely affect your teeth and gums, especially if you’re receiving radiation therapy near the head and neck. The aim of cancer treatment is to attack and destroy cancer cells to prevent their growth. Unfortunately, it can also destroy neighboring healthy cells and lead to harmful consequences in different parts of the body, including the mouth.
Salivary glands, for example, are especially vulnerable to damage during cancer treatment. This could create a situation where the mouth no longer produces adequate saliva flow, leading to a condition called xerostomia or dry mouth. Besides a lot of discomfort, restricted saliva flow can also increase your risk of tooth decay and other dental diseases. This is because saliva is the body’s acid neutralizer (acid can erode tooth enamel) and its first line of defense against microbial infection.
To guard against this, it’s important to support salivary flow as much as possible if you experience dry mouth symptoms during treatment (as well as beyond—it’s possible the damage to these glands could be permanent). Since some medications also contribute to dry mouth, you should speak with your physician about the prescriptions you’re taking: if any have dry mouth side effects ask if there’s an alternative drug without these side effects. You should also drink more water during the day and especially when taking medications. And consider substances like xylitol gum that can help boost saliva flow.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible to fully avoid the effects of these treatments on your teeth and gums. So, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. If necessary, there are a number of restoration options to restore your smile after you’ve completed your treatment.
If you press your tongue against your teeth, unless something is badly wrong they won't budge. In fact, your teeth are subjected to a fair amount of pressure each day as you chew and eat, and yet they remain firmly in place.
But there's a deeper reality—your teeth do move! No, it's not a paradox—the gum and bone tissues that hold your teeth in place allow for slight, imperceptible changes in the teeth's position. Their natural ability to move is also the basis for orthodontics. Here are 3 more facts you may not know about your teeth's natural ability to move.
Teeth are always on the move. Teeth are held firmly within the jawbone by an elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament and a thin layer of bony-like material called cementum. In response to pressure changes, though, the bone dissolves on the side of the teeth in the direction of pressure and then rebuilds behind it, solidifying the teeth's new position, a process that happens quite slowly and incrementally. And it will happen for most of us—some studies indicate more than 70% of people will see significant changes in their bite as they age.
Orthodontics works with the process. Orthodontic appliances like braces or clear aligners apply targeted pressure in the direction the orthodontist intends the teeth to move—the natural movement process does the rest. In the case of braces, a thin metal wire is laced through brackets bonded to the front of the teeth and then anchored, typically to the back teeth. The orthodontist incrementally tightens the wire against its anchors over time, encouraging tooth movement in response to the pressure. Clear aligners are a series of removable trays worn in succession that gradually accomplish the same outcome.
Watch out for the rebound. That nice, straight smile you've gained through orthodontics might not stay that way. That's because the same mechanism for tooth movement could cause the teeth to move back to their former positions, especially right after treatment. To avoid this outcome, patients need to wear a retainer, an appliance that holds or "retains" the teeth in their new positions. Depending on their individual situations and age, patients may have to wear a retainer for a few months, years or from then on.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Your tooth is in peril if its innermost layer, the pulp, becomes infected and inflamed. Deep tooth decay, repeated dental procedures or fractures can all expose the pulp and ultimately the roots to infection and lead to tooth loss.
But that scenario isn't inevitable — we can often save the tooth with a root canal treatment. By accessing the tooth's interior through a prepared hole, we're able to clean out the infected tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals, and fill the empty space with a special filling. We then cap the tooth with a custom crown to protect it from a re-infection.
Root canal treatments have a very high success rate — chances are good your tooth will survive for many years afterward. But there's a slight chance the tooth may become re-infected; in that case, a second root canal treatment may be in order.
In a few cases, though, a second root canal may not be advisable, and could even accelerate damage to the tooth. For example, if past dental work resulted in an extensive crown restoration, accessing the root canals the conventional way will require disassembling that restoration. This could weaken the tooth significantly.
We can approach the problem from a different route: instead of accessing the tooth's interior through the crown (the visible part of the tooth), we instead perform a surgical procedure called an apicoectomy, which accesses the tooth at the root end through the gums.
In this procedure we numb the area with local anesthesia and then make a small incision through the gums at the level of the affected root. After access, we remove any diseased tissue around the root and a few millimeters of the root tip itself. We then insert a small filling in its place to seal the canal and prevent further infection. In some cases we may also insert a graft to encourage bone growth and aid in healing.
Over time, the affected area will heal and return to normal function. Even if a traditional root canal treatment can't be used, an apicoectomy could be another option for saving your tooth.
If you would like more information on your options for preserving a problem tooth, 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 “Apicoectomy.”
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