One of the most important revolutions in healthcare in recent decades is the increasing use of lasers. Now, laser technology is making a showing in dental care for the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Lasers (an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation") narrowly focus and amplify light within a small area. First developed in the early 1960s, laser technology rapidly advanced in the ensuing decades with more compact and precise devices that were eventually safe and effective for many types of medical procedures. Its remarkable features are now available for the primary focus of gum disease treatment—removing bacterial plaque.
Plaque is a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces that serves as a haven for the bacteria that cause gum disease. The continuing presence of plaque and calculus (tartar) enables the infection to thrive and advance within the gum tissues, ultimately damaging them along with supporting bone. As the tissues weaken and bone volume diminishes, the teeth are at greater risk for loss.
It's necessary, therefore, first and foremost to remove all detectable plaque and calculus to stop the infection. This is traditionally done with special hand tools called scalers used to manually remove plaque, or with ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose to be flushed away with water. These procedures can take numerous sessions and may result in some minor post-procedural discomfort and bleeding during the cleaning.
But lasers specifically designed for plaque removal can minimize tissue damage and resulting discomfort. Because the particular laser light used reacts only with plaque and diseased tissue, it can remove them without disturbing nearby healthy tissue usually more efficiently than traditional scaling. Dentists who've used the technology frequently report less bleeding and higher patient satisfaction.
But before lasers for gum disease treatment are widely adopted, the procedure must undergo further scrutiny. Reports from dentists notwithstanding, not enough research studies have been performed to date that meet the necessary scientific criteria. But if the evidence so far from the field holds up, it's quite possible lasers will one day become a regular part of dental practice for treating gum disease.
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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
Have you started orthodontic treatment recently? Are you having a little trouble getting used to your braces? If so, you are not alone: Everybody goes through an adjustment period during which they momentarily wonder if they’ll really ever get used to this. Don’t worry — you will! And we’ve never heard anyone say, on the day their braces come off and their new smile is revealed, that they aren’t glad they went the distance. Just ask Houston Rockets all-star center Dwight Howard, who discussed his own orthodontic treatment in a recent interview.
“I’m sure I was no different than anyone else who has ever had braces,” he told Mediaplanet. “At first I hated them so much… That changed once I got used to them and I actually grew to love them.” What’s Howard’s advice? “Do exactly what your orthodontist says and know that the outcome is well worth it in the end.” We couldn’t agree more! Here are some tips for wearing braces comfortably:
- Hard & Chewy Foods: If you love fresh fruits and vegetables, that’s great; there’s no reason to give them up, just the really hard ones. You don’t want to bite into an apple or carrot or any other hard foods like bagels and pizza that have any “size” to them. Small pieces may be ok as long as they can’t bend your wires. Chewy, sticky candy should really be avoided completely. Same with soda, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks because they contain acids that promote tooth decay and can cause a lot of damage around the braces.
- Effective Oral Hygiene: Keeping your teeth clean is more important than ever, but also more challenging than ever. It’s easy for food to get stuck under wires and around brackets, but failing to remove it can cause tooth decay, gum irritation and soreness. Therefore, the cleaner your teeth and your braces are, the healthier you will be. Use interdental cleaning brushes and/or a floss-threader to get behind your wires. A mouthrinse can also help strengthen teeth and keep bacteria in check. If you have any questions about how to clean between your teeth, please ask for a demonstration at your next visit.
- Pain Relief: Some soreness at the beginning of orthodontic treatment is normal. To relieve it, you can use an over-the-counter pain reliever and/or a warm washcloth or heating pad placed on the outside of the jaw. If brackets or wires are rubbing against the inside of your cheeks or lips, try applying wax to these areas of your braces. If this does not offer enough relief, we may be able to trim the end of a poking wire. Call us if you need help with this.
Our goal is to make your orthodontic treatment as comfortable as possible on the way to achieving your all-star smile. If you have questions about adjusting to braces, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
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 article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
A lot of time and effort goes into straightening your smile. But there’s a possibility it might not stay that way—and all that hard work could be lost. The same natural mechanism that enables your teeth to move with braces could cause them to revert to their old, undesirable positions.
So for a little while (or longer for some people) you’ll need to wear a retainer, an appliance designed to keep or “retain” your teeth where they are now. And while the removable type is perhaps the best known, there’s at least one other choice you might want to consider: a bonded retainer.
Just as its name implies, this retainer consists of a thin metal wire bonded to the back of the teeth with a composite material. Unlike the removable appliance, a bonded retainer is fixed and can only be removed by an orthodontist.
Bonded retainers have several advantages. Perhaps the most important one is cosmetic—unlike the removable version, others can’t see a bonded retainer since it’s hidden behind the teeth. There’s also no keeping up with it—or losing it—since it’s fixed in place, which might be helpful with some younger patients who need reminding about keeping their retainer in their mouth.
There are, however, a few disadvantages. It’s much harder to floss with a bonded retainer, which could increase the risks of dental disease. It’s also possible for it to break, in which case it will need to be repaired by an orthodontist and as soon as possible. Without it in place for any length of time the teeth could move out of alignment.
If you or a family member is about to have braces removed, you’ll soon need to make a decision on which retainer to use. We’ll discuss these options with you and help you choose the one—removable or bonded—that’s right for you.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Bonded Retainers: What are the Pros and Cons?”
There are usually two moments when primary (“baby”) teeth generate excitement in your family: when you first notice them in your child’s mouth, and when they come out (and are headed for a rendezvous with the “tooth fairy”!).
Between these two moments, you might not give them much thought. But you should—although primary teeth don’t last long, they play a pivotal role in the replacing permanent teeth’s long-term health.
This is because a primary tooth is a kind of guide for the permanent one under development in the gums. It serves first as a “space saver,” preventing nearby teeth from drifting into where the permanent tooth would properly erupt; and, it provides a pathway for the permanent tooth to travel during eruption. If it’s lost prematurely (from injury or, more likely, disease) the permanent tooth may erupt out of position because the other teeth have crowded the space.
That’s why we try to make every reasonable effort to save a problem primary tooth. If decay, for example, has advanced deep within the tooth pulp, we may perform a modified root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and seal the remaining pulp from further infection. In some circumstances we may cap the tooth with a stainless steel crown (or possibly a white crown alternative) to protect the remaining structure of the tooth.
Of course, even the best efforts can fall short. If the tooth must be removed, we would then consider preserving the empty space with a space maintainer. This orthodontic device usually takes the form of a metal band that’s cemented to a tooth on one side of the empty space with a stiff wire loop soldered to it that crosses the space to rest against the tooth on the other side. The wire loop prevents other teeth from crowding in, effectively “maintaining” the space for the permanent tooth.
Regular dental visits, plus your child’s daily brushing and flossing, are also crucial in preventing primary teeth from an “early departure.” Keeping them for their full lifespan will help prevent problems that could impact your child’s dental health future.
If you would like more information on the right care approach for primary teeth, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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