Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
So, you're about to have a tooth capped with a crown. Do you know what you need to know before you undergo this common dental procedure?
Here's a short true or false quiz to test your knowledge of dental crowns.
All crowns are the same. False — while all crowns have the same basic design — a life-like prosthetic tooth fitted over and bonded or cemented to a natural tooth — their compositions can vary greatly. Early metal crowns consisted mainly of gold or silver and are still used today. Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns — a metal interior for strength overlaid by a porcelain exterior for appearance — became popular in the latter 20th Century. Although still widely used, PFMs have been largely surpassed by newer all-ceramic materials that are stronger than past versions.
Crowns can differ in their artistic quality. True — all crowns are designed to replicate a natural tooth's function — in other words, enable the tooth to effectively chew again. But a crown's appearance can be a different story, depending on how much attention to detail and artistry goes into it. The higher the individual craftsmanship, the more lifelike it will appear — and the more expensive it can be.
With digital milling equipment, dental labs are obsolete. False — although technology exists that allows dentists to produce their own crowns, the equipment is not yet in widespread use. Â The vast majority of crowns are still produced by a trained technician in a dental laboratory. And just as you base your choice of a dentist on your confidence in and respect for them, dentists look for the same thing in a dental lab — good, reliable and consistent results.
Your insurance may not cover what your dentist recommends. True — dental insurance will typically pay for a basic, functional crown. Aesthetics — how it will look — is a secondary consideration. As a result, your policy may not cover the crown your dentist recommends to function properly and look attractive. A new crown, however, is a long-term investment in both your dental function and your smile. It may be well worth supplementing out of pocket your insurance benefit to get the crown that suits you on both counts.
When you’re among the top players in your field, you need every advantage to help you stay competitive: Not just the best equipment, but anything else that relieves pain and stress, and allows you to play better. For top-seeded Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic, that extra help came in a somewhat unexpected form: a custom made mouthguard that he wears on the court and off. “[It helps] to not grind my teeth while I play,” said the 25-year-old up-and-coming ace. “It just causes stress and headaches sometimes.”
Mouthguards are often worn by athletes engaged in sports that carry the risk of dental injury — such as basketball, football, hockey, and some two dozen others; wearing one is a great way to keep your teeth from being seriously injured. But Raonic’s mouthguard isn’t primarily for safety; it’s actually designed to help him solve the problem of teeth grinding, or bruxism. This habitual behavior causes him to unconsciously tense up his jaw, potentially leading to problems with muscles and teeth.
Bruxism is a common issue that’s often caused or aggravated by stress. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to suffer from this condition: Everyday anxieties can have the same effect. The behavior is often worsened when you consume stimulating substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs.
While bruxism affects thousands of people, some don’t even suspect they have it. That’s because it may occur at any time — even while you’re asleep! The powerful jaw muscles that clench and grind teeth together can wear down tooth enamel, and damage both natural teeth and dental work. They can even cause loose teeth! What’s more, a clenching and grinding habit can result in pain, headaches and muscle soreness… which can really put you off your game.
There are several ways to relieve the problem of bruxism. Stress reduction is one approach that works in some cases. When it’s not enough, a custom made occlusal guard (also called a night guard or mouthguard) provided by our office can make a big difference. “When I don’t sleep with it for a night,” Raonic said “I can feel my jaw muscles just tense up the next day. I don’t sense myself grinding but I can sort of feel that difference the next day.”
Â An occlusal guard is made from an exact model of your own mouth. It helps to keep your teeth in better alignment and prevent them from coming into contact, so they can’t damage each other. It also protects your jaw joints from being stressed by excessive force. Plus, it’s secure and comfortable to wear. “I wear it all the time other than when I’m eating, so I got used to it pretty quickly,” said Raonic.
Teeth grinding can be a big problem — whether you put on your game face on the court… or at home. If you would like more information about bruxism, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
Biting the inside of your cheek is high on the list of minor but painfully irritating occurrences like paper cuts or tongue scalding from hot coffee. A mouth bite, though, has an additional tormenting feature — there's a good chance you'll bite the same spot again.
This kind of repeated mouth injury results in an enlargement of the soft tissue that has been traumatized. They're often diagnosed and referred to as a traumatic fibroma. When you bite your cheek, lips or tongue, you create a small wound that usually heals quickly. This healing process, though, can be interrupted if you bite the area again, which can then cause excess scar tissue to form.
The fibrous scar tissue, made up of a protein called collagen, is similar to a callous. You can often feel it with your tongue — a knot of tough skin that protrudes from the otherwise flat cheek wall. Because of this prominence, it tends to get in the “line of fire” during eating or biting, so you'll bite it again — and again. If this cycle continues, then even a more prominent scar tissue forms that you're more likely to bite again.
The wound will heal most of the time, unless you continually bite it. If it becomes a nagging problem, we can surgically remove the lump. After numbing the area with local anesthesia, we'll either use a laser or scalpel to remove it. The area is easy to fix and will flatten out the cheek surface. The entire procedure takes fifteen minutes or less and in a few days to a week you won't even notice it had been there.
While the vast majority of these lesions are harmless, it's still standard protocol to biopsy the removed tissue: a pathologist examines it under a microscope for cancer cells. This is a routine part of any medical practice and not a cause for alarm.
If you've had a lump for awhile that you always seem to be biting, see us for an examination. With a simple procedure, we may be able to remove that irritation once and for all.
If you would like more information on treating mouth lumps and other sores, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
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