It’s likely you depend on your regular dentist for the lion’s share of your dental care. But in cases of advanced disease or trauma, you may need the services of a dental specialist.
This could be the case with periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces called dental plaque that isn’t adequately removed through daily oral hygiene practices. While your regular dentist can effectively treat many forms of gum disease, there are times when you should see a periodontist who specializes in the gum, supporting bone and connective tissues.
So, when should you see a periodontist for gum disease treatment? Here are 3 situations that may call for this important dental specialist.
If your dentist refers you. Your dentist may be quite proficient in treating gum disease, mainly by removing the dental plaque and tartar sustaining the infection. But if the infection has advanced deep within the gum tissues especially around the roots and bone, you may need more advanced measures, including surgery, performed by a periodontist.
If you’d like a second opinion. Of course, you don’t need a referral to see a periodontist. You can make an appointment with one for another opinion about your diagnosis and recommended treatment plan. If you choose to see a periodontist, make sure they have access to all your dental and medical records, as well as your past health history.
If you have other health issues. Gum disease often doesn’t occur in a vacuum – it may exist and even influence (or be influenced by) other inflammatory medical conditions. If you have such a condition like diabetes or cardiovascular disease, you may opt to see a periodontist first for a more comprehensive evaluation.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for the first signs of disease including red, swollen or bleeding gums (if you smoke, be aware smoking hides these signs of disease). And practice daily brushing and flossing as well as obtaining regular dental cleanings to keep plaque accumulation to minimum. Preventing gum disease and getting treatment as early as possible may help you avoid more invasive treatments later.
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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
After months of wearing braces it's time for the big reveal: your new and improved smile! Your once crooked teeth are now straight and uniform.
But a look in the mirror at your straighter teeth might still reveal something out of place: small chalky-white spots dotting the enamel. These are most likely white spot lesions (WSLs), points on the enamel that have incurred mineral loss. It happens because mouth acid shielded by your braces contacted the teeth at those points for too long.
Most mouth acid is the waste product of bacteria that thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up on tooth surfaces. High levels of acid are a definite sign that plaque hasn't been removed effectively through brushing and flossing.
But normal hygiene can be difficult while wearing braces: it's not easy to maneuver around brackets and wires to reach every area of tooth surface. Specialized tooth brushes can help, as well as floss threaders that help maneuver floss more easily through the wires. A water irrigator that uses pulsating water to remove plaque between teeth is another option.
However, if in spite of stepped-up hygiene efforts WSLs still develop, we can treat them when we've removed your braces. One way is to help re-mineralize the affected tooth surfaces through over-the-counter or prescription fluoride pastes or gels. It's also possible re-mineralization will occur naturally without external help.
While your teeth are sound, their appearance might be diminished by WSLs. We can improve this by injecting a liquid tooth-colored resin below the enamel surface. After hardening with a curing light, the spot will appear less opaque and more like a normal translucent tooth surface. In extreme cases we may need to consider porcelain veneers to cosmetically improve the tooth appearance.
In the meantime while wearing braces, practice thorough dental hygiene and keep up your regular cleaning visits with your general dentist. If you do notice any unusual white spots around your braces, be sure to see your dentist or orthodontist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care during orthodontic treatment, 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 “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the world, nearly as prevalent as the common cold. It’s also one of the two major dental diseases—the other being periodontal (gum) disease—most responsible for tooth and bone loss.
Tooth decay begins with high levels of acid, the byproduct of oral bacteria feeding on food remnants like sugar. Acid can erode tooth enamel, leading to a cavity that will require removal of decayed material around it and then a filling.
Sometimes, though, decay can spread deeper into the tooth reaching all the way to its core: the pulp with its bundle of nerves and blood vessels. From there it can travel through the root canals to the bone. The continuing damage could eventually lead to the loss of the infected tooth.
If decay reaches the tooth interior, the best course of action is usually a root canal treatment. In this procedure we access the pulp through the crown, the visible part of the tooth, to remove all of the diseased and dead tissue in the pulp chamber.
We then reshape it and the root canals to receive a filling. The filling is normally a substance called gutta percha that’s easily manipulated to conform to the shape of the root canals and pulp chamber. After filling we seal the access hole and later cap the tooth with a crown to protect it from re-infection.
Root canal treatments have literally saved millions of teeth. Unfortunately, they’ve gained an undeserved reputation for pain. But root canals don’t cause pain—they relieve the pain caused by tooth decay. More importantly, your tooth can gain a new lease on life.
But we’ll need to act promptly. If you experience any kind of tooth pain (even if it goes away) you should see us as soon as possible for an examination. Depending on the level of decay and the type of tooth involved, we may be able to perform the procedure in our office. Some cases, though, may have complications that require the skills, procedures and equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canal treatment.
So, don’t delay and allow tooth decay to go too far. Your tooth’s survival could hang in the balance.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
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.”
Along with the gums, your teeth’s roots help stabilize them. Without them your teeth couldn’t handle the normal biting forces you encounter every day. That’s why a rare condition called root resorption must be treated promptly: this gradual breakdown and dissolving of root structure could eventually cause you to lose your tooth.
Resorption is normal in primary (“baby”) teeth giving way for permanent teeth or sometimes during orthodontic treatment. But the form of resorption we’re referring to in permanent teeth isn’t normal, and is highly destructive.
The condition begins in most cases outside the tooth and works its way in, usually at the gum line around the cervical or “neck-like” region of the tooth (hence the term external cervical resorption or ECR). ECR produces pink spots on the teeth in its early stages: these are spots of weakened enamel filled with pink-colored cells that cause the actual damage. The cells create cavity-like areas that can continue to enlarge.
We don’t fully understand what causes ECR, but there seems to be links with excessive force during orthodontics, tooth trauma (especially to the gum ligaments), tooth grinding habits or internal bleaching procedures. However, most people with these problems don’t develop ECR, so the exact mechanism remains a bit of a mystery.
The good news, though, is that we can treat ECR effectively, provided we discover it before it inflicts too much damage. That’s why regular dental visits are important, coupled with your own observation of anything out of the ordinary and immediate dental follow-up.
If the affected area is relatively small, we may be able to remove the cells causing the damage and repair the area with a tooth-colored filling. If it appears the pulp (the tooth’s innermost layer) is involved, we may need to perform a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill the empty space with a special filling. You may also need other procedures to reduce the chances of gum recession around the affected tooth.
Proactive dental care is your best insurance against losing a tooth to root resorption. So keep an eye on your teeth and see your dentist regularly to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatments for root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
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