Periodontal (gum) disease often involves more than gum inflammation. The real danger is what this bacterial infection may be doing to tissues beneath the gum line—including tooth roots and supporting bone.
Gum disease can do extensive damage to the forked areas where the roots separate from the main tooth body. If one of these areas, known as a furcation, becomes infected, the associated bone may begin to diminish. And you may not even know it's happening.
Fortunately, we may be able to detect a furcation involvement using x-rays and tactile (touch) probing. The findings from our examination will not only verify a furcation involvement exists, but also how extensive it is according to a formal classification system that dentists use for planning further treatment.
A Class I involvement under this system signifies the beginning of bone loss, usually a slight groove in the bone. Class II signifies two or more millimeters of bone loss. Class III, also called a “through and through,” represents bone loss that extends from one side of the root to the other.
The class of involvement will guide how we treat it. Obviously, the lower the class, the less extensive that treatment will be. That's why regular dental checkups or appointments at the first sign of gum problems are a must.
The first-line treatment for furcation involvements is much the same as for gum disease in general: We manually remove bacterial plaque, the main source of infection, from the root surfaces using hand instruments and ultrasonic equipment. This is often followed by localized antibiotics to further disinfect the area and stymie the further growth of the furcation involvement.
We also want to foster the regrowth of lost tissue, if at all possible. Classes II and III involvements may present a challenge in this regard, ultimately requiring grafting surgery to stimulate tissue regeneration.
The best approach by far is to prevent gum disease, the ultimate cause for a furcation involvement. You can reduce your chances of gum disease by brushing and flossing daily to remove disease-causing plaque. Regular dental cleanings and checkups, at least every six months, help round out this prevention strategy.
A furcation involvement could ultimately endanger a tooth's survival. We can stop that from happening—but we'll have to act promptly to achieve the best results.
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 “What are Furcations?”
An estimated 50,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed this year with some form of oral cancer. Five years from now, if current survival rates still apply (57%), a little more than half will still be alive. That's why the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to call attention to this serious disease, and what you can do to lower your risk of contracting it.
Oral cancer has one of the lowest survival rates among known cancers, mainly because it easily goes undetected until its later stages when known treatments aren't as effective. Patients don't always have overt symptoms or they mistake cancerous lesions for everyday mouth sores. On the other hand, early detection and treatment dramatically improve survivability.
Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk for oral cancer or improve your odds for early detection.
Don't use tobacco. If you're a smoker, you're five to nine times more likely to develop oral cancer than a non-smoker. Using smokeless snuff or chewing tobacco is also risky—four times the risk of non-users. And preliminary evidence suggests that e-cigarettes increase the risk of cancer as well.
Make better food choices. A diet heavy in processed foods, especially nitrites used in curing meats and other products, can damage cellular DNA and lead to cancer. On the other hand, natural foods like fresh fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that lower cancer risk. A nutritious diet also contributes to healthier teeth and gums.
Practice safer sex. While older adults have traditionally accounted for most oral cancer cases, there has been a recent, unsettling rise among younger people. Most researchers tie this to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV 16), which is sexually transmitted. You can reduce your risk for contracting HPV 16 and subsequent oral cancer by following safe sex practices.
Undergo oral cancer screenings. Your semi-annual dental visits to clean your teeth are also a prime opportunity to check for oral abnormalities, especially if you're older. During an oral cancer screening we visually inspect your face, neck, lips and the inside of your mouth for any suspicious sores or discolorations. Early detection leads to better outcomes.
You should also modify your alcohol consumption—moderate to heavy drinkers have three to nine times greater risk for oral cancer than light or non-drinkers. And, you can further lower your risk of lip cancers by limiting your exposure to the sun and wearing protective sunscreen.
Oral cancer is a dangerous condition that could threaten your life. Regular dental care and healthy lifestyle practices can help lower your risk for encountering this deadly disease.
Advanced tooth decay is a serious dental problem that can threaten an affected tooth's survival. But for decades now dentists have reliably used root canal treatment to better a decayed tooth's odds. This routine procedure performed with dental drill and special hand tools removes infected tissue inside a tooth and replaces the voids with a filling to prevent future infection.
But now there's a new way to perform a root canal—with a surgical laser. Lasers, amplified and focused light beams, aren't new to healthcare—they're an integral feature of many routine medical treatments and surgeries. But their use is relatively new to dentistry, and to endodontics (treating the interior of teeth) in particular.
Lasers can be used in root canal treatment to perform a number of tasks. They can remove diseased tissue and other debris from the innermost tooth pulp. They can be used to clean and shape root canal walls in preparation for filling. And they can also be used to soften and mold the filling material to fit more precisely within a tooth's particular root canal network.
Although laser-assisted root canal therapy isn't yet widespread, laser's limited use to date has given us a fair picture of both their advantages and disadvantages. As with other medical laser applications, lasers are very precise in removing diseased tissue without too much disruption of healthy tissue. There's less need for anesthesia than with dental drills, and lasers are a lot less noisy and jarring. Patients by and large experience less bleeding, as well as less discomfort or infection afterward.
But because laser light can only travel in a straight line, they're difficult to use in many tightly curved root canals. In these cases, the traditional methods are better suited, although a laser can be used in conjunction with other tasks. Temperature with lasers must also be carefully managed lest the high heat that's often generated damages natural tissues.
Although lasers won't be replacing traditional treatment methods for decayed teeth in the foreseeable future, there's hope they'll become more commonplace as technology and techniques continue to advance. Lasers can only improve what already is an effective means of saving teeth.
If you would like more information on treatments for advanced tooth decay, 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 “Laser-Assisted Root Canal Treatment.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
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