A "toothy grin" might be endearing, but not necessarily healthy. More of the teeth showing may mean your gums have pulled back or receded from the teeth. If so, it's not just your smile that suffers—the parts of teeth protected by the gums could become more susceptible to disease.
There are a number of causes for gum recession. Some people are more likely to experience it because of genetically thinner gum tissues. Over-aggressive brushing could also contribute to recession. But the most common cause by far is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by dental plaque accumulating on teeth mainly as a result of inadequate hygiene.
There are some things we can do to help heal and restore recessed gums, most importantly treating gum disease. The number one goal of treatment is to uncover and remove all dental plaque from tooth and gum surfaces, which can take several sessions and sometimes minor surgery if the infection has reached the tooth roots. But removing plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) is necessary to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal.
For mild recession, this may be enough for the gums to regain normal coverage. But in more severe cases we may need to help rejuvenate new tissue with grafting surgery. In these highly meticulous procedures a surgeon uses microscopic techniques to position and attach donated tissue to the recession site. The graft serves as a scaffold on which new tissue growth can occur.
While these treatments can be effective for reversing gum recession, they often require time, skill and expense. It's much better to try to prevent gum recession—and gum disease—in the first place. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing to prevent plaque buildup, as well as regular dental visits for more thorough cleanings. Be on the lookout too for any signs of a beginning gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums and see your dentist as soon as possible to minimize any damage to your gums.
Caring for your gums is equally as important as caring for your teeth. Healthy gums equal a healthy mouth—and an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on preventing 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 “Gum Recession.”
Like other healthcare providers, your dentist keeps records of your ongoing care. These include not only their written notes but also x-ray imaging, frequency of visits and cleanings, and any medical information that could affect your care. What’s more, they have a legal obligation to maintain these records.
Your dental records help guide decisions about your care. In that regard, you should consider something else—you may need to change providers: your dentist retires or you move; your dentist isn’t in your new insurance network; or, unfortunately, you have an “irreconcilable” difference with your provider.
If that happens, it’s very important your dental records find their way to your new provider. Here are 3 reasons why.
Your individual dental history. Each person’s dental situation and needs are unique. Your past records help clue in your new dentist about your past history and current needs, which will help guide how they treat you.
Time and money. Your dental records contain x-rays or other diagnostic information about your oral condition, including preparations for any upcoming dental work. If you change dentists before completing that treatment, your new dentist may have to start over with new diagnostic tests if they don’t have this previous data. It could cost you more money and make you wait longer for a needed procedure.
Coordinating dental care with your general health. Your mouth isn’t isolated from the rest of your body, and some dental treatment measures could affect other health conditions (and vice-versa). If your new dentist knows other health issues you may have from your previous records, it can help ensure you’re getting dental treatment appropriate to your overall health.
For the most streamlined transition between providers, it’s important your dental records follow you. You’re entitled to having those records transferred, and, if you’re uncomfortable asking yourself, your new provider can obtain them for you. Just be sure to ask.
If you would like more information on your rights regarding your dental care records, 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 “Why Your Dental Records Should Follow You.”
We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical 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 Gels Reduce Decay.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Chronic pain can turn your life upside down. While there are a number of disorders that fit in this category, two of them—fibromyalgia and temporomandibular disorders (TMD)—can disrupt your quality of life to the extreme. And it may be the two conditions have more in common than similar symptoms—according to one study, three-fourths of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia show symptoms of TMD.
To understand why this is, let’s take a closer look at these two conditions.
Fibromyalgia presents as widespread pain, aching or stiffness in the muscles and joints. Patients may also have general fatigue, sleep problems, mood swings or memory failures. TMD is a group of conditions that often result in pain and impairment of the temporomandibular joints that join the jaw with the skull. TMD can make normal activities like chewing, speaking or even yawning painful and difficult to do.
Researchers are now focusing on what may, if anything, connect these two conditions. Fibromyalgia is now believed to be an impairment of the central nervous system within the brain rather than a problem with individual nerves. One theory holds that the body has imbalances in its neurotransmitters, which interfere with the brain’s pain processing.
Researchers have also found fibromyalgia patients with TMD have an increased sensitivity overall than those without the conditions. In the end, it may be influenced by genetics as more women than men are prone to have either of the conditions.
Treating these conditions is a matter of management. Although invasive techniques like jaw surgery for TMD are possible, the results (which are permanent) have been inconclusive in their effectiveness for relieving pain. We usually recommend patients try more conservative means first to lessen pain and difficulties, including soft foods, physical therapy, stretching exercises and muscle relaxant medication. Since stress is a major factor in both conditions, learning and practicing relaxation techniques may also be beneficial.
In similar ways, these techniques plus medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy that may influence neurotransmission can also help relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia. Be sure then that you consult with both your physician and dentist caring for both these diseases for the right approach for you to help relieve the effects of these two debilitating conditions.
If you would like more information on managing TMD or fibromyalgia, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”