Posts for: October, 2013
Dental plaque (a film of bacteria that forms on your teeth) is known to be the main cause of periodontal (gum) disease. When the bacteria settle on your teeth they form a whitish film called biofilm. Those that are not removed cause formation of “pockets,” areas of separation between the teeth and their surrounding gums, in which plaque hardens into deposits known as calculus or tartar. The purpose of having your teeth cleaned regularly by a trained professional hygienist is to remove deposits of plaque and calculus. Removal of hard deposits on your teeth is called “scaling.” This can be done either by using hand-held scalers or by newer technology: ultrasonic power scalers.
Let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both types of instruments.
How they work: These instruments use the energy of ultrasonic vibration to crush and remove hard, calcified deposits of calculus. They also create shockwaves that disrupt bacterial cells. Use of these tools includes washing and flushing the pockets and any exposed root surfaces with water.
Pros: They are as effective as manual instruments for calculus removal in shallow gum pockets and significantly more effective in pockets greater than 4mm. They are very effective in removing calculus from root surfaces and from within periodontal pockets. Their small tips can penetrate deeper into periodontal pockets than manual instruments and are more comfortable to experience, and they are more effective for cleaning difficult nooks and crannies. Coolant sprays flush the area and remove bacteria and their by-products. They require less time than manual instruments.
Cons: A contaminated mist may form so that the hygienist needs to wear protective equipment. The vibration of the ultrasonic instruments may make it difficult to feel if the root surface is completely smooth and free of calculus. Power scalers affect some heart pacemakers.
Conventional Hand-held Scalers
How they work: These depend on the skill and knowledge of the hygienist to manipulate them and scrape away calculus (tartar) from teeth and within pockets.
Pros: They are equally effective for plaque and calculus removal from shallow gum pockets. They do not interfere with electronic equipment like heart pacemakers. They can be used more easily on teeth in which there are areas of demineralization (areas where minerals have been removed from the tooth's enamel, making it more vulnerable to decay). They are easier on the tooth's surface and are thus better for use with porcelain or composite restoration, or sensitive teeth.
Cons: They take longer to complete a cleaning. Sometimes they cause more discomfort than ultrasonic scalers.
In most cases the choice of scalers is not really an either/or situation. Most experts say that the best results come through using both types of instruments. As a result, cleanings can be done with effective and efficient outcomes and greater patient comfort.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about dental cleanings. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article, “Dental Cleanings Using Ultrasonic Scalers.”
If you have pain in your jaws or related headaches, you may have Temporo-mandibular Joint Disorder, TMD. You are probably wondering what this is — and how it can be treated. If this sounds like something you may have, read on for some answers.
What is TMD? TMD describes a group of disorders or diseases that have the same symptoms, but may have different causes, hence it is known as “The Great Imposter.” Pain in and around the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ), the jaw joint involved in opening and closing your mouth — is characterized by pain and soreness in the region of one or both joints, ears, jaw muscles and even the sinuses.
How does the temporo-mandibular joint work? You can feel your jaw joints working if you place your fingers in front of your ears and move your lower jaw up and down. On each side the joint is composed of an almond shaped structure at the end of the lower jaw, called the condyle, which fits neatly into a depression in the temporal bone (the bone on the side of your skull near your ear). A small disc between the two bones allows the lower jaw to move forward and sideways. The joints are stabilized by ligaments and moved by muscles, like all your joints.
What is the most common cause of TMD? Many people clench or grind their teeth as a reaction to stress. This is generally a subconscious habit, and can even occur during sleep. Continual tooth grinding habits can cause the muscles to go into spasm, which is the most common cause of TMD pain. Structures associated with the jaws — teeth, air sinuses, and even neck and back muscles — share nerves with the muscles in the joints, so the pain may be felt in those structures too, making the exact source of the pain difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of TMD may limit your ability to open your jaw and talk or eat normally.
What is the treatment for TMD? Treatment will depend on the cause, but generally the first step is to relieve pain and discomfort with heat, mild painkillers, muscle relaxants, a soft diet, and simple jaw exercises. A bite guard may be recommended, which should be custom made in our office; a rigid yet unobtrusive plastic appliance that fits over the biting surfaces of your upper teeth. Properly fitted and adjusted, it aids and causes jaw muscle relaxation by preventing clenching and grinding. It is worn during times of stress when oral habits tend to recur, and can also be worn at night.
If you are suffering from TMD — whether the pain is moderate or severe — schedule an appointment with us to have it evaluated and treated. You can learn more about TMD by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “TMD: Understanding the Great Imposter.”
In the early 1900s, a Colorado dentist noticed many of his patients had unusual brown staining on their teeth — and little to no tooth decay. What he unknowingly observed was the power of a chemical substance in his patients' drinking water — fluoride. While commonplace today, fluoride sparked a revolution — and some controversy — in dental care during the 20th Century.
After decades of research and testing, most dentists now agree that fluoride reduces decay by interfering with the disease process. The optimum pH level for the mouth is neutral; however, this environment constantly changes as we eat, especially if we ingest foods or beverages high in acidity. A high acid level softens tooth enamel (a process called de-mineralization) and can lead to erosion if not neutralized. In addition, a thin layer of bacteria-rich plaque called biofilm that adheres to tooth surfaces is also acidic and is the cause of tooth decay, possibly more so in teeth made more susceptible from enamel erosion.
When fluoride is in “the right place” (present on the tooth surface and in our saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer), it helps inhibit de-mineralization and aids in the re-hardening of the enamel (re-mineralization).
Although fluoride needs to come into direct contact with tooth enamel for optimum effectiveness, ingesting it can also prove beneficial. The fluoride we ingest eventually becomes deposited in bone. As bone grows and changes it releases this reserved fluoride back into the bloodstream where it eventually becomes part of saliva; the saliva brings it into contact with tooth surfaces.
The two most prominent ways we encounter fluoride are through fluoridated drinking water and in toothpaste. There continues to be concerns about what constitutes safe levels of fluoride in drinking water and over possible side effects like teeth staining and changes in bone structure. However, extensive studies have conclusively shown that even minimal levels of water fluoridation and the use of fluoride toothpaste have reduced tooth decay.
As the Colorado dentist discovered over a hundred years ago, fluoride is truly remarkable as a cavity fighter. Whether you have access to fluoridated water or not, we encourage you to use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your teeth against decay.
If you would like more information on fluoride, 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 & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
You hardly notice the moist environment of your mouth — unless it becomes uncomfortably dry. Some instances of dry mouth are quite normal — when you first wake in the morning after reduced saliva flow during sleep, when you're stressed, or when you're dehydrated and need fluids. But some are not normal — millions of people, in fact, suffer from a chronic inadequacy of saliva production and flow.
Chronic dry mouth (or xerostomia) can have a greater effect on your oral health than discomfort. Saliva performs a number of tasks for the body: its enzymes help break down food before digestion; its antimicrobial properties help reduce harmful bacteria and its buffering ability helps neutralize acid, both of which reduce the risk of tooth decay.
There are a number of causes for chronic dry mouth. One of the most common arises as a side effect of over 500 medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. The major contributors to dry mouth fall into three main types: antihistamines, used to treat allergies; diuretics, prescribed to cardiac patients to drain excess fluid; and antidepressants. Diseases like Diabetes, Parkinson's disease, or AIDS can also cause dry mouth. Some treatments can too — persons undergoing head or neck radiation or chemotherapy may experience dry mouth.
If you've noticed dry mouth over several days, it's a good idea to visit us for an exam. Our first step is to try to determine the extent and cause of the condition. Depending on what we find, we can then recommend a treatment path that includes some changes in habit and prescribed medications. For example, if lack of hydration is contributing to dry mouth, we would recommend drinking an adequate amount of water, as well as cutting back on caffeinated or acidic beverages. We might also prescribe medication to stimulate saliva flow. Consuming foods that contain xylitol, a natural sugar substitute, may also do the same.
It's also important that you maintain a good oral hygiene regimen and regular dental checkups and cleanings. Good oral hygiene and the proper treatment for chronic dry mouth will greatly reduce your risk of tooth decay and other diseases.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
You have a toothache… or do you? That's not a facetious question — sometimes it's difficult to determine if it's your tooth that hurts, your gums or both. It's even difficult at times to pinpoint which tooth may be hurting.
This is because the pain can originate from a variety of causes. Determining the cause is the first step to not only alleviating the pain, but also treating the underlying condition. Those causes generally follow one of two paths: either the problem originates within a tooth and spreads to the gums and other tissue, or it begins with infected gum tissues and can spread to the teeth.
We refer to the first path as endodontic, meaning it originates from within a tooth. Most likely the tooth has decayed (also referred to as a cavity), which if untreated can progress, allowing bacteria to infect the tooth pulp (living tissue inside the tooth that contains nerve fibers). Pain results as the nerves become inflamed and sensitive, though often varying in quality (sharp or dull) or frequency (constant or intermittent); outside stimuli, like temperature or pressure, may also trigger pain.
Although likely originating with one tooth, it may be difficult to pinpoint which one is actually causing it; you might even feel pain in your sinus cavity radiating upward from the tooth. An untreated infection will continue to spread to surrounding soft tissue, or result in a painful abscess, an infected pocket of bacteria between the tooth and gums.
The other path is periodontal, meaning the infection originates in the gum tissues. A thin layer of dental plaque known as biofilm develops and sticks to teeth at the gum line, which can lead to infection of the gum tissue, which then becomes inflamed and painfully sensitive. The untreated infection can then progress along the tooth and invade the pulp through the accessory root canals.
Knowing the source of an ache will determine the best course of treatment, whether a root canal, root planing, or a combination of these or other procedures. It's also the best, most efficient way to relieve you of that unpleasant mouth pain.
If you would like more information on the various causes of tooth pain, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”