If you’ve just received a dental implant restoration, congratulations! This proven smile-changer is not only life-like, it’s also durable: more than 95% of implants survive at least 10 years. But beware: periodontal (gum) disease could derail that longevity.
Gum disease is triggered by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on teeth. Left untreated the infection weakens gum attachment to teeth and causes supporting bone loss, eventually leading to possible tooth loss. Something similar holds true for an implant: although the implant itself can’t be affected by disease, the gums and bone that support it can. And just as a tooth can be lost, so can an implant.
Gum disease affecting an implant is called peri-implantitis (“peri”–around; implant “itis”–inflammation). Usually beginning with the surface tissues, the infection can advance (quite rapidly) below the gum line to eventually weaken the bone in which the implant has become integrated (a process known as osseointegration). As the bone deteriorates, the implant loses the secure hold created through osseointegration and may eventually give way.
As in other cases of gum disease, the sooner we detect peri-implantitis the better our chances of preserving the implant. That’s why at the first signs of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—you should contact us at once for an appointment.
If you indeed have peri-implantitis, we’ll manually identify and remove all plaque and calculus (tartar) fueling the infection, which might also require surgical access to deeper plaque deposits. We may also need to decontaminate microscopic ridges found on the implant surface. These are typically added by the implant manufacturer to boost osseointegration, but in the face of a gum infection they can become havens for disease-causing bacteria to grow and hide.
Of course, the best way to treat peri-implantitis is to attempt to prevent it through daily brushing and flossing, and at least twice a year (or more, if we recommend it) dental visits for thorough cleanings and checkups. Keeping its supporting tissues disease-free will boost your implant’s chances for a long and useful life.
If you would like more information on caring for your 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 “Gum Disease can Cause Dental Implant Failure.”
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.”
Wearing braces is all about the future: you undergo many months of treatment to gain a lifetime of better mouth function and a more attractive smile.
In the meantime, though, you'll have to deal with a few new realities during treatment: restrictions on foods, limitations with mouth function, and (perhaps) embarrassment over your new “metallic” smile.
There's one reality, though, that trumps all others in importance: your risk for developing dental disease increases significantly during orthodontic treatment. The brackets and wires of your braces make it more difficult to remove bacterial plaque, the main cause of dental disease, which allows places for disease-causing bacteria to thrive. To combat this, you'll need to step up your hygiene efforts to remove daily plaque.
One sign your efforts might not be getting the job done is red, swollen or bleeding gums. Although gums can swell in reaction to the braces themselves, it's often because plaque-induced periodontal (gum) disease has infected the gum tissues.
Gum disease is an aggressive infection. If it isn't stopped it can damage the gums and underlying bone that support your teeth — damage that could eventually lead to tooth loss. To stop it, we must remove plaque from all tooth and gum surfaces, even below the gum line. In some advanced cases it may even be necessary to remove the braces to better treat the disease.
That's why preventing gum disease through effective hygiene is so important. Besides continuing routine visits with your family dentist, you should also brush and floss every day to remove plaque. Be sure you're brushing above and below the braces. It may be helpful to use an interproximal brush specifically designed to maneuver around these tight spaces. You can also use a floss threader or a water irrigator to make the job of flossing easier.
If you do notice gum redness, swelling or bleeding, don't delay — call your dentist at once. An examination will determine if you have gum disease and to what degree, which will guide treatment. The sooner this happens, the less the impact on your dental health and your orthodontic treatment.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Lots of people don’t know that April is National Stress Awareness Month; don’t fret if you’re one of them. For many, stress is already a common feature of everyday life. According to the American Psychological Association, 62% of Americans are stressed at their jobs, and stress has been estimated to cause the loss of some 275 million working days every year.
In addition to its other negative physical and mental consequences, stress can also spell trouble for your oral health. It may lead to the problems of teeth clenching and grinding, which dentists call bruxism. A habitual behavior that can occur in the daytime or at night, bruxism is thought to affect perhaps one in ten adults. While the evidence that stress causes bruxism is not conclusive, there’s a strong case for the linkage.
Bruxism sometimes causes symptoms like headaches, soreness or pain in the jaw muscles or joints, and problems with fully opening the mouth. It can be detected in the dental office by excessive tooth wear, and/or damage to tooth surfaces or dental work. Grinding or tapping noises heard at night may indicate that someone is grinding their teeth while sleeping. In children, nighttime bruxism is common and not necessarily a reason for concern; in adults, it may be more troubling.
So what can you do if you’re experiencing this problem? If you find yourself clenching and grinding during the daytime, simply becoming more aware of the behavior and trying to limit it can help. A bit of clenching during times of stress isn’t abnormal, but excessive grinding may be reason for concern. Many of the same techniques used to relieve stress in other situations—such as taking a step back, talking out your issues, and creating a calmer and more soothing environment—may prove helpful here as well.
Occasionally, prescription drugs may cause bruxism as an unwanted side effect; in this case, a medical professional may recommend changing your medication. The use of stimulants like coffee and mood altering substances like alcohol and illicit drugs have also been associated with teeth grinding—so if you’re having this issue, consider foregoing these substances and making healthier lifestyle choices.
There are also a number of dental treatments that can help protect your teeth from excessive grinding. The most common is an occlusal guard or “night guard.” This is a custom-fabricated appliance made of plastic that fits comfortably over your teeth. Usually worn at night, it keeps your teeth from actually coming into contact with each other and being damaged. Occasionally, additional treatments such as bite adjustment or orthodontics may be recommended to help solve the problem.
If you would like more information about teeth clenching and grinding, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
The arrival of spring often serves as inspiration to clean house and create an environment that’s bright and fresh. Here at the dental office, we can do the same for your mouth as well! Having clean teeth, healthy gums and fresh breath helps you look and feel your best. Here are some ways we can help you freshen up your smile:
Dental Exam. The best place to start is with a dental exam. Finding and treating tooth decay in its earliest stages will help you avoid more costly and invasive dental treatments later on. It could even save a tooth that might otherwise be lost! Plus, oral cancer screenings are important for everyone—even young, non-smokers. Regular dental exams also give you a chance to bring up any issues you may be concerned about, and to ask for pointers on hygiene.
Professional Cleaning. Having a good oral hygiene routine at home goes a long way towards keeping your mouth healthy. But routine professional cleanings are still very important. Your dental hygienist uses specially designed tools to reach into places where your brush and floss can’t, and remove disease-causing dental plaque and tartar. A polishing provides the finishing touch for a squeaky-clean feeling.
Teeth Whitening. Teeth tend to get duller with age; that’s why teeth whitening treatments can give you a more youthful appearance. Bleaching your teeth is safest when supervised by a dental professional. We recommend two methods: either a professional treatment at the dental office, or a take-home kit we can provide, which includes custom-fitted bleaching trays. The first way will give you the fastest results, while the second is more economical.
Smile Makeover. Sometimes whitening alone is not enough to fix what’s keeping you from flashing a big, bright smile. For example, maybe your teeth aren’t straight, or they have been worn down over the years. Perhaps a tooth is chipped or is missing entirely. Or maybe there are multiple cosmetic issues. If this is the case, we can help you figure out what’s really bothering you about your teeth and how you can achieve the smile of your dreams.
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