Posts for: October, 2015
Ah, the baby teeth: those cute little pearl buttons that start to appear in a child’s mouth at around 6 to 9 months of age. Like pacifiers and bedtime stories, they’ll be gone before you know it — the last usually disappear by age 10-13. So if the dentist tells you that your young child needs a root canal, you might wonder why — isn’t that tooth going to be lost anyway?
The answer is yes, it is — but while it’s here, it has some important roles to play in your child’s development. For one thing, baby teeth perform the same functions in kids as they do in adults: Namely, they enable us to chew, bite, and speak properly. The primary teeth also have a valuable social purpose: they allow us to smile properly. If a baby tooth is lost prematurely at age 6, the child may suffer detrimental effects for five years or more — and that’s a long time for someone so young!
Even more important, baby teeth have a critical function in the developing mouth and jaw: Each one holds a space open for the permanent tooth that will eventually replace it — and it doesn’t “let go” until the new tooth is ready to come in. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost too soon, other teeth adjacent to the opening may drift into the empty space. This often means that the permanent teeth may erupt (emerge above the gum line) in the wrong place — or sometimes, not at all.
The condition that occurs when teeth aren’t in their proper positions is called malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite). It can cause problems with eating and speaking, and often results in a less-than-perfect-looking smile. It’s the primary reason why kids get orthodontic treatment — which can be expensive and time-consuming. So it makes sense to try and save baby teeth whenever possible.
Procedures like a root canal — or the similar but less-invasive pulpotomy — are often effective at preserving a baby tooth that would otherwise be lost. But if it isn’t possible to save the tooth, an appliance called a space maintainer may help. This is a small metal appliance that is attached to one tooth; its purpose is to keep a space open where the permanent tooth can come in.
If your child is facing the premature loss of a primary tooth, we will be sure to discuss all the options with you. It may turn out that preserving the tooth is the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. If you have questions about your child’s baby teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
There’s only one way to effectively halt the progressive damage of periodontal (gum) disease — completely remove the bacterial plaque and hardened deposits (calculus) from above and below the gum line that are causing the infection. Although we can accomplish this in most cases with hand instruments called scalers, ultra-sonic equipment or both, some cases may require periodontal surgery to access and clean deeper “pockets” of infection.
As this damaging disease progresses, the supporting bone dissolves and the gum tissues will begin to detach from a tooth, leaving an open space known as a “periodontal pocket.” Besides plaque and calculus pus may also form as a result of the infection. All of this material must be removed from the pocket before healing and, hopefully, tissue reattachment can begin.
Shallow pockets near the gum line are usually accessed and cleaned with hand instruments. But deeper pockets (5 millimeters or greater in depth) may require a surgical procedure to completely clean the area also allowing for regenerative procedures to be done to regain attachment. This will reduce the depth of the periodontal pockets that will make them more accessible for future cleanings and maintenance. Flap surgery is a common type of such a procedure: a small opening (similar to the flap of a letter envelope) is surgically created in the gum tissue to expose the area of infection around the tooth root and bone.
There are also other types of periodontal surgery for repairing and stimulating regeneration of damaged gum tissues. Using grafts or other enhancements, these plastic surgical techniques are especially useful where gum tissues have receded above the natural gum line, leaving more of the underlying tooth below the enamel exposed to disease. These procedures have become more effective in recent years with the development of specialized technologies called “barrier membranes” and biologic growth factors. These materials have allowed bone grafts to be more successful as this technology is engineered for targeted tissue growth and repair, and then dissolve at an appropriate point in the regeneration process.
Periodontal surgery isn’t appropriate for every situation. Still, these procedures do play an important role for many patients to put a halt to the damage caused by gum disease.
If you would like more information on surgical procedures 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 “Periodontal Surgery: Where Art Meets Science.”
Semi-annual office cleanings are important for keeping teeth healthy and disease-free. If you’ve replaced some of your teeth with dental implants, though, you may be thinking they don’t need as much attention from your hygienist.
It’s quite the opposite — cleaning around implants is important, and actually requires additional attention. The reason for this relates to both how dental implants attach to the jaw and their constructive materials.
Natural teeth are held in place by the periodontal ligament with tiny fibers that attach to the teeth on one side of it and to the jawbone on the other. The ligaments and the gingival (gum) fibers (which are also attached to the tooth) provide some disease resistance to the teeth through its rich blood vessel and collagen network. Dental implants, on the other hand, anchor directly into the jawbone. The titanium integrates with the bone, which naturally attracts to the metal and grows around it, which provides the implant’s eventual attachment strength. The implant doesn’t attach to the gum tissue and won’t develop the same relationship with the periodontal ligament as natural teeth.
Bacterial plaque, the primary cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, can collect on an implant crown just as readily as on a natural tooth. Although the materials that make up an implant can’t be affected by a plaque-induced infection, the gum tissues and supporting bone around it can. In fact, because implants lack the disease resistance of the gingival fibers and the ligament attachment, an infection can turn rapidly into a condition known as peri-implantitis that could cause bone and tissue loss and lead to the loss of the implant.
Your hygienist understands the importance of removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from around your dental implant. This often calls for different instruments made of plastics or resins that won’t scratch the implant’s highly polished surface. Scratches provide a haven for bacteria to collect and make it more difficult to dislodge them. Likewise, if the hygienist uses ultrasonic equipment that loosens plaque through vibration, the hygienist will often use nylon or plastic tips to minimize damage to the implant.
And don’t forget your own personal hygiene habits — they’re just as important with dental implants as with natural teeth. Keeping plaque under control, both at home and with your dentist, is crucial to longevity for your dental implants.
If you would like more information on maintaining and cleaning dental implants, 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 Implant Maintenance.”
Gum recession is an all too common problem for millions of people that if left untreated could lead to tooth and bone loss. But the good news is not only can the process be stopped, much of the damage can also be repaired through periodontal plastic surgery.
Gum recession occurs when the gum tissue protecting the teeth detaches and draws back to expose the root surface. This exposure may result in a range of effects, from minor tooth sensitivity to eventual tooth loss. There are a number of causes for gum recession, including overaggressive brushing or flossing, biting habits or badly fitting dentures or appliances.
The most prominent cause, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by plaque buildup on tooth surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. Fortunately, early gum disease is highly treatable by thoroughly cleaning tooth, root and gum surfaces of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), along with possible antibiotic therapy, to reduce the infection and promote tissue healing.
Unfortunately, advanced cases of gum recession may have already resulted in extensive damage to the tissues themselves. While disease treatment can stimulate some re-growth, some cases may require reconstructive surgery to repair and further rebuild the tissues.
There are several techniques periodontists (specialists in gums, bone and other dental support structures) or dentists with advanced training can perform to “re-model” recessed gum tissues. One of the major areas is placing tissue grafts (either from the patient or a human donor) at the site to encourage further tissue growth. Properly affixing a graft requires a great deal of training, skill and experience, especially in cases where the graft may need to be connected with adjoining tissues to establish a viable blood supply for the graft.
In skilled hands, a periodontal surgical procedure is fairly predictable with minimal discomfort afterward. And the lasting effects are well-worth it — not only will your health benefit from restored gum tissue and greater protection for your teeth, you’ll also enjoy a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information the treatment of 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.”
You probably can’t remember a time without your teeth — and can’t imagine life without them. But now it’s a reality: one by one your teeth have become casualties in a long-standing war with dental disease until now they’re all lost.
Total tooth loss (edentulism) can be difficult in more ways than the loss of function — it can be psychologically traumatic as you must now transition from natural teeth to dentures or other restorations. To add to the stress, you probably won’t be able to obtain your permanent restoration immediately because the extraction sites must heal.
To help you with this transition and provide a means for you to have teeth during the healing period, we may fit you with an appliance known as an immediate denture. With these temporary teeth replacements, you can maintain your smile appearance, chew food and speak unimpaired.
Initially, immediate dentures should fit well, but over time your gums will tend to shrink as they heal. This can loosen the dentures’ fit and make them uncomfortable to wear. If the healing process is still ongoing and you still need to wear the immediate dentures, they can be relined with more denture material to fine-tune the fit.
At some point, though, we must consider creating a new, permanent set of dentures. When your mouth is fully healed, we can make a more accurate impression that we can then use to construct your new set. There are also other options, such as using dental implants to support a denture or a fixed bridge. This option will only be possible, however, if you have sufficient bone available to fully support it, which we might also be able to augment with grafting.
Immediate dentures serve a worthwhile purpose, but only for a temporary period. We’ll be happy to discuss all your options with you to help you find the right permanent solution that fits both your mouth’s condition and your financial ability.
If you would like more information on transitioning to 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 “Immediate Dentures.”