“No man is an island….” So wrote the poet John Donne four centuries ago. And while he meant the unity of humanity, the metaphor could equally apply to the interdependence of the various parts of the human body, including the mouth. According to recent scientific research, your mouth isn’t an “island” either.
Much of this research has focused on periodontal (gum) disease, an infection most often caused by bacterial plaque that triggers inflammation in the gum tissues. Although an important part of the body’s defenses, if the inflammation becomes chronic it can damage the gums and weaken their attachment to the teeth. Supporting bone may also deteriorate leading eventually to tooth loss.
Avoiding that outcome is good reason alone for treating and controlling gum disease. But there’s another reason—the possible effect the infection may have on the rest of the body, especially if you have one or more systemic health issues. It may be possible for bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the diseased gum tissues to affect other parts of the body or possibly make other inflammatory conditions worse.
One such condition is diabetes, a disease which affects nearly one person in ten. Normally the hormone insulin helps turn dietary sugars into energy for the body’s cells. But with diabetes either the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the available insulin can’t metabolize sugar effectively. The disease can cause or complicate many other serious health situations.
There appears to be some links between diabetes and gum disease, including that they both fuel chronic inflammation. This may explain why diabetics with uncontrolled gum disease also often have poor blood sugar levels. Conversely, diabetics often have an exaggerated inflammatory response to gum disease bacteria compared to someone without diabetes.
The good news, though, is that bringing systemic diseases like diabetes under control may have a positive effect on the treatment of gum disease. It may also mean that properly treating gum disease could also help you manage not only diabetes, but also other conditions like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, or rheumatoid arthritis. Taking care of your teeth and gums may not only bring greater health to your mouth, but to the rest of your body as well.
If you would like more information on treating dental diseases like 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
“To gain something, sometimes you have to give up something else.”
No, that isn't the latest viral meme on the Internet. It's actually a practical consideration that could arise in orthodontics.
In this case, the “something” to gain is a straighter, more attractive smile; the “something” you may have to part with is a few teeth. This may be necessary if there are too many teeth on a dental arch for its capacity, a situation called crowding. A lack of space is the main reason teeth come in misaligned.
Before we can correct this, we'll need to free up space to allow for tooth movement by removing one or more of the existing teeth. The ideal candidates are those that are near to the teeth we wish to move but not highly visible. The first bicuspids are the most frequent choices for removal: they're located behind the cuspids or eyeteeth (the pointed teeth right under the eyes).
Ideally, we'll remove the target teeth some time before we apply braces to give the gums a chance to heal. At the same time we want to preserve the bone that once supported the teeth we've extracted. This is because when we chew the forces generated by the teeth stimulates bone replacement growth. When a tooth is no longer there the supporting bone doesn't receive this stimulation and may ultimately reduce in volume.
We may try to prevent this by placing a bone graft in the empty socket immediately after removing the tooth. The graft serves as a scaffold to encourage new bone to grow. Hopefully when we're ready to apply braces, the bone will be strong and healthy to handle the movement of the teeth.
As the teeth move under the influence of braces, they'll begin to fill up the space created by tooth removal. Once it's completed, the extracted teeth won't be missed — the other teeth now straightened will completely fill out the smile.
The different steps in this process must be carefully planned and executed precisely, and it will take months or even years to complete. In the end, though, this complicated bite problem can be corrected and replaced with an attractive, straight smile.
If you would like more information on correcting a poor bite, 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 “Tooth Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”
If you’ve had issues with periodontal (gum) disease, no doubt a few things have changed for you. You may be seeing us for dental cleanings and checkups more frequently and you have to be extra diligent about your daily brushing and flossing.
There’s one other thing you may need to do: change your diet. Some of the foods you may be eating could work against you in your fight against gum disease. At the same time, increasing your intake of certain foods could boost your overall oral health.
The biggest culprits in the first category are carbohydrates, which make up almost half the average diet in the Western world, mainly as added sugar. Although carbohydrates help fuel the body, too much can increase inflammation—which also happens to be a primary cause of tissue damage related to gum disease.
Of course, we can’t paint too broad a brush because not all carbohydrates have the same effect on the body. Carbohydrates like sugar or processed items like bakery goods, white rice or mashed potatoes quickly convert to glucose (the actual sugar used by the body for energy) in the bloodstream and increase insulin levels, which can then lead to chronic inflammation. Complex or unprocessed carbohydrates like vegetables, nuts or whole grains take longer to digest and so convert to glucose slowly—a process which can actually hinder inflammation.
Eating less of the higher glycemic (the rate of glucose conversion entering the bloodstream) carbohydrates and more low glycemic foods will help reduce inflammation. And that’s good news for your gums. You should also add foods rich in vitamins C and D (cheese and other dairy products, for instance) and antioxidants to further protect your oral health.
Studies have shown that changing to a low-carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory diet can significantly reduce chronic inflammation in the body and improve gum health. Coupled with your other efforts at prevention, a better diet can go a long way in keeping gum disease at bay.
If you would like more information on the role of diet in dental health, 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
Gum recession — when the gum tissue covering teeth wears away — is a serious matter. If the roots become exposed you'll not only have increased sensitivity and possible discomfort, your teeth can become more susceptible to decay.
There are a number of reasons for gum recession, including overaggressive brushing and flossing, poor fitting appliances like dentures or braces, or genetics (inheriting a thin gum tissue type or poor tooth position). Perhaps the most common reason, though, is periodontal (gum) disease. Caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces, the disease weakens the gum tissues around teeth, causing them ultimately to detach and “roll up” toward the roots.
Treating the gum infection by removing the built-up plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) will help stop recession or even reverse it. Â As we remove plaque the infection subsides and the gums cease to be inflamed. If they haven't receded too far they may re-grow and renew their attachment to the teeth.
In other cases, though, the recession may have progressed too far and too rapidly toward root exposure. Gums in this condition may require tissue grafts to the recessed area to create or regenerate new tissue.
Most grafting techniques fall into one of two categories. The first is known as free gingival grafting where a thin layer of skin is removed or "freed" from the roof of the patient's mouth (the palate), shaped and then stitched to the recession site.
The second category is called connective tissue grafting, most often used to cover exposed roots. In this case the donor material is transplanted from the donor site to the recipient site, but the recipient site's tissue covers the donor connective tissue graft as it still maintains a physical attachment to the original location. The recipient site can thus maintain a blood supply, which can result in quicker, more comfortable healing than with free gingival grafting.
Connective tissue grafting does, however, require sophisticated microsurgical techniques, along with the surgeon's in-depth skill and art, to prepare both the donor and recipient sites. Allografts (donor skin from another person) may also be used as a donor tissue and placed beneath the recipient site tissue thereby avoiding a second surgical site.
Gum tissue grafting can be an intense undertaking, but the results can be astounding. Not only will restoring recessed gum tissues give your teeth a new lease on life, it will revitalize your smile.
If you would like more information on treatment for gum recession, 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.”
A lot happens in your child’s mouth from infancy to early adulthood. Not surprisingly, it’s the most active period for development of teeth, gums and jaw structure. Our primary goal as care providers is to keep that development on track.
One of our main concerns, therefore, is to protect their teeth as much as possible from tooth decay. This includes their primary (“baby”) teeth: although your child will eventually lose them, a premature loss of a primary tooth to decay could cause the incoming permanent tooth to erupt out of proper position. And we of course want to protect permanent teeth from decay during these developmental years as well.
That’s why we may recommend applying topical fluoride to your child’s teeth. A naturally occurring chemical, fluoride helps strengthen the mineral content of enamel. While fluoride can help prevent tooth decay all through life, it’s especially important to enamel during this growth period.
Although your child may be receiving fluoride through toothpaste or drinking water, in that form it first passes through the digestive system into the bloodstream and then to the teeth. A topical application is more direct and allows greater absorption into the enamel.
We’ll typically apply fluoride in a gel, foam or varnish form right after a professional cleaning. The fluoride is a much higher dose than what your child may encounter in toothpaste and although not dangerous it can cause temporary vomiting, headache or stomach pain if accidentally swallowed. That’s why we take extra precautions such as a mouth tray (similar to a mouth guard) to catch excess solution.
The benefits, though, outweigh this risk of unpleasant side effects, especially for children six years or older. Several studies over the years with thousands of young patients have shown an average 28% reduction in decayed, missing or filled teeth in children who received a fluoride application.
Topical fluoride, along with a comprehensive dental care program, can make a big difference in your child’s dental care. Not only is it possible for them to enjoy healthier teeth and gums now, but it could also help ensure their future dental health.
If you would like more information on topical fluoride and other dental disease prevention measures, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
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