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.”
Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Even with wear and tear from years of eating and biting they can continue to function properly and look attractive well into your senior years.
Teeth are resilient thanks in part to enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. But the gums also contribute to this resilience: besides attractively framing the teeth, they protect the dentin and roots below the enamel covering.
Unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or “recede” from their normal place. Not only does this look unattractive, the recession can also expose teeth to disease and cause tooth sensitivity to temperature changes or biting pressure.
There are a number of causes for gum recession, some of which you may have little control over. If, for example, your teeth come in off center from their bony housing, the gum tissues may not develop around them properly. You might also have inherited a thinner type of gum tissue from your parents: thinner tissues are more delicate and susceptible to recession.
But there are other causes for which you have more control. Over-aggressive brushing (too hard for too long), ironically, does more harm than good as it can injure your gums and cause them to recede. More likely, though, your recession is a direct result of neglecting proper hygiene for your teeth and gums.
When teeth aren't properly cleaned through daily brushing and flossing, a thin film of bacteria and food remnant called plaque builds up on tooth surfaces. This can trigger periodontal (gum) disease, which subsequently causes the gum tissues to detach from the teeth and often recede.
To reduce your risk of gum disease, you should gently but thoroughly brush and floss daily, and visit us for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. If you have a poor bite (malocclusion), consider orthodontic treatment: malocclusions make it easier for plaque to accumulate and harder to remove.
Above all, if you begin to see signs of gum problems — swelling, bleeding or pain — see us promptly for an examination and treatment. Dealing with these issues early is the best way to ensure your gums continue to do their jobs for the long-term.
Undergoing regular dental cleanings is an essential part of periodontal (gum) disease prevention. While a daily habit of brushing and flossing cleans bacterial plaque from most tooth surfaces, it’s difficult to remove from places your brush or floss can’t access well. That, as well as hardened plaque deposits known as calculus, must be removed by a hygienist or dentist with a technique known as scaling.
Scaling is traditionally performed manually using specialized hand instruments known as scalers. Although hand scalers are quite effective, they must be used carefully to avoid damage to gum tissue or, during deeper cleaning known as root planing, the tooth roots. A different method for plaque removal known as ultrasonic scaling has grown in popularity as an alternative to manual scaling.
Ultrasonic scaling uses equipment emitting vibrational energy that crushes and loosens plaque and calculus, and disrupts growing bacterial colonies in biofilm. Plaque particles are then washed away using water irrigation. The most recent models of ultrasonic scalers have matched the effectiveness of hand scaling in removing plaque and calculus in shallow gum pockets, and surpassed the manual technique in cleaning out pockets greater than 4 mm. In experienced hands, they’re kinder to tooth structure and other tissues. Water irrigation also improves healing by removing bacteria and scaling by-products, which also makes the area easier to view by the hygienist.
On the other hand, any type of power scaler must be used with caution with patients who have pacemakers, and are not recommended for those with hypersensitive teeth or teeth that are in the early stages of de-mineralization. The technique may also produce an aerosol of finely misted particles (with possible contamination) that requires added measures to contain them.
For most patients, though, ultrasonic scalers are an effective tool for plaque and calculus removal. As ultrasonic devices continue to evolve, patients will ultimately benefit from greater comfort and reduced treatment times.
If you would like more information on plaque removal with ultrasonic scalers, 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 “Dental Cleanings Using Ultrasonic Scalers.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Periodontal (gum) disease causes more than simple gum swelling—this bacterial infection can harm and destroy your teeth’s supporting structures, including the bone. Its aggressiveness sometimes requires equally aggressive treatment.
Gum disease usually begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces. Without proper oral hygiene plaque builds up with large populations of bacteria that can trigger an infection.
The growth of this disease is often “silent,” meaning it may initially show no symptoms. If it does, it will normally be reddened, swollen and/or bleeding gums, and sometimes pain. A loose tooth is often a late sign the disease has severely damaged the gum ligaments and supporting bone, making tooth loss a distinct possibility.
If you’re diagnosed with gum disease, there is one primary treatment strategy—remove all detected plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. This can take several sessions because as the gums begin responding to treatment and are less inflamed, more plaque and calculus may be discovered.
Plaque removal can involve various techniques depending on the depth of the infection within the gums. For surfaces above or just below the gum line, we often use a technique called scaling: manually removing plaque and calculus with specialized instruments called scalers. If the infection has progressed well below the gum line we may also use root planing, a technique for “shaving” plaque from root surfaces.
Once infection reaches these deeper levels it’s often difficult to access. Getting to it may require a surgical procedure known as flap surgery. We make incisions in the gums to form what looks like the flap of an envelope. By retracting this “flap” we can then access the root area of the tooth. After thoroughly cleansing the area of infection, we can do regenerative procedures to regain lost attachment. Then we suture the flap of gum tissue back into place.
Whatever its stage of development, it’s important to begin treatment of gum disease as soon as it’s detected. The earlier we can arrest its spread, the less likely we’ll need to employ these more invasive procedures. If you see any signs of gum disease as mentioned before, contact us as soon as possible for a full examination.
If you would like more information on preventing and 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
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