Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.
But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.
For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.
The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.
So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.
It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.
If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.
Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.
As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.
Losing teeth can make it more difficult to eat, not to mention the effect it can have on your smile. But that could be just the beginning of your problems. Missing teeth can contribute to extensive bone loss within your jaws and face. Here's why.
Bone is like any other living tissue—cells develop, function and eventually die, and new cells take their place. Forces generated during chewing stimulate this new growth, helping the jawbone maintain its normal volume and density.
But you lose this stimulus when you lose teeth. This can cause a slowdown in bone cell regrowth that can eventually diminish bone volume. And it can happen relatively quickly: you could lose a quarter or more of jawbone width around a missing tooth within a year.
As this loss continues, especially in cases of multiple missing teeth, the bone can eventually erode to its base level. This loss of dental function can make chewing more difficult, place more pressure on the remaining teeth and adversely affect facial appearance. It could also prevent an implant restoration to replace missing teeth.
Dentures and other forms of dental restoration can replace missing teeth, but not the chewing stimulus. Dentures in particular will accelerate bone loss, because they can irritate the bony gum ridges they rest upon.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can slow or even stop bone loss. Implants consist of a metal post, typically made of titanium, imbedded into the jawbone at the site of the missing tooth with a life-like crown attached. Titanium also has a strong affinity with bone so that bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the implant's surface. This can produce enough growth to slow, stop or even reverse bone loss.
This effect may also work when implants are combined with other restorations, including dentures. These enhanced dentures no longer rest on the gums, but connect to implants. This adds support and takes the pressure off of the bony ridge, as well as contributes to better bone health.
If you've lost a tooth, it's important to either replace it promptly or have a bone graft installed to help forestall any bone loss in the interim. And when it's time to replace those missing teeth, dental implants could provide you not only a life-like solution, but a way to protect your bone health.
If you would like more information on 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.
With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”
That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.
Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.
Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.
But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.
This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.
Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.
Forty years have passed since the first reported case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and it and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it are still with us. About 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with HIV, with 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
The emergence of antiretroviral drugs, though, has made it possible for many with HIV to live normal lives. Even so, the virus can still have a profound effect on health, including the teeth and gums. Because of its effect on the immune system, HIV+ patients are at greater risk for a number of oral conditions, like a fungal infection called candidiasis ("thrush").
Another common problem is chronic dry mouth (xerostomia), caused by a lack of saliva production. Not only does this create an unpleasant mouth feel, but the absence of saliva also increases the risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
The latter can be a serious malady among HIV patients, particularly a severe form of gum disease known as Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis (NUP). With NUP, the gums develop ulcerations and an unpleasant odor arising from dead gum tissue.
Besides plaque removal (a regular part of gum disease treatment), NUP may also require antibiotics, antibacterial mouthrinses and pain management. NUP may also be a sign that the immune system has taken a turn for the worse, which could indicate a transition to the AIDS disease. Dentists often refer patients with NUP to a primary care provider for further diagnosis and treatment.
Besides daily brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings are a necessary part of a HIV+ patient's health maintenance. These visits are also important for monitoring dental health, which, as previously noted, could provide early signs that the infection may be entering a new disease stage.
It's also important for HIV+ patients to see their dentist at the first sign of inflamed, red or bleeding gums, mouth lesions or loose teeth. Early treatment, especially of emerging gum disease, can prevent more serious problems from developing later.
Living with HIV-AIDS isn't easy. But proper health management, including for the teeth and gums, can help make life as normal as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care and HIV-AIDS, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
If you like conundrums like "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?", then you may enjoy this one: "Which should you do first, brush or floss?"
Both of these oral hygiene tasks are equally important for removing dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that forms on teeth after eating. Removing plaque on a daily basis minimizes your risk for developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the top causes for tooth loss. Brushing removes plaque from broad tooth surfaces, while flossing removes it from between teeth where brushing can't reach.
There is wide consensus that you need both brushing and flossing to thoroughly remove plaque. But there is a debate over which of these two tasks you should do first for the most effective outcome. Those debates are more or less good-natured, but there are proponents on both sides on which task should come first.
Those on the "Brush First" side say brushing initially gets the bulk of accumulated plaque out of the way. If you floss first, you may be plowing through a lot of soft plaque, which can quickly turn your floss into a gunky mess. More importantly, you may only be moving plaque around with the floss, not actually removing it. By brushing first, there's less plaque to deal with when flossing.
"Floss First" folks, though, say flossing before you brush loosens plaque stuck between teeth that can be more easily brushed away. But perhaps a more important reason is psychological: People don't really like flossing as much as brushing. Because of this, putting it off to the end may mean it doesn't happen; doing it first will help ensure it actually gets done.
In the end, though, the order you perform these tasks comes down to personal preference. You can try both ways to see which one suits you best. The important thing, however, is that you do both tasks—if you do, you can greatly lower your risk of dental disease that could rob you of your teeth.
If you would like more information on effective oral hygiene, 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 “Brushing and flossing: Which Should Be Done First?”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.