Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
Starting college is one of life’s biggest transition moments, the first time many young people can truly say they’re on their own. Their freshman year can be both exhilarating and frightening.
The reason for this seeming dichotomy is that both exciting opportunities and harmful pitfalls abound in college life. One such pitfall that’s often overlooked involves dental health: it’s all too easy to neglect good habits and adopt bad ones. But while it may not seem as harmful as other dangers, inattention to your dental health could create consequences that plague you long after graduation.
But being diligent about dental care can help you avoid serious problems now and in the future. At the top of the list: brush and floss your teeth daily and continue seeing a dentist at least twice a year. Hopefully, your parents or guardians have trained you in these vital habits—and they’re definitely habits you should continue for the rest of your life.
Close in importance to good oral hygiene is a healthy diet. Besides eating primarily “natural” food—fresh fruits and vegetables and less-processed foods—you should also set limits on your sugar consumption. This carbohydrate is a primary food for disease-causing bacteria, so limiting as much as possible the sugar you eat to just meal times will lower your risk for tooth decay.
Another area in which you should tread wisely is alcohol consumption. Besides the obvious consequences of alcohol abuse, immoderate drinking can also cause dental problems. Alcohol (and smoking) tends to dry out the mouth, which can increase the levels of oral bacteria and in turn increase your risk of both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, avoid getting piercings involving the lips, mouth or tongue even if it’s the thing to do. Piercing hardware can chip teeth and contribute to the shrinking back of the gums (recession). And be sure you practice safe sex: unprotected sexual activity could expose you to viral infections that cause oral problems including cancer.
Your college years should be an exciting and memorable experience. By practicing these and other common sense dental habits, you’ll be sure to remember these years fondly.
If you would like more information on dental care during college, 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
If you’re about to undergo orthodontic treatment, you’re going to face a challenge keeping your teeth and gums clean wearing braces. That in turn could increase your chances for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which could diminish your future dental health and disrupt your current orthodontic treatment.
The main hygiene tasks of brushing and flossing are more difficult with braces because of the fixed hardware on the teeth. Your toothbrush or floss can’t always easily maneuver around the wires and brackets, increasing the chances you’ll miss some areas. These neglected areas can then accumulate dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that’s most responsible for disease.
But although difficult, effective oral hygiene isn’t impossible. First and foremost, you’ll need to take more time to be thorough with brushing and flossing than you might normally without braces.
Second, there are some specialized hygiene tools to make the job easier. Instead of a regular toothbrush try an interproximal brush. This special brush has a long and thin bristled head (resembling a pipe cleaner) that can maneuver in and around orthodontic hardware much easier than a regular brush.
For flossing, use a floss threader, a device through which you thread floss on one end and then pass the other sharper end between your teeth. Once through, you release the floss from it and floss as usual, repeating the process with the threader for each tooth. Another option is an oral irrigator, a device that emits a pressurized spray of water between teeth to loosen plaque and flush it away. Many orthodontic patients have found this latter option to be quite effective.
Finally, continue seeing your regular dentist for regular appointments in addition to your orthodontist. Besides cleaning those hard to reach areas, your dentist can also provide other preventive measures like topical fluoride for strengthening enamel and prescription mouth rinses that inhibit bacterial growth. You should also see your dentist immediately if you notice signs of disease like spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums.
Keeping your teeth clean while wearing braces is a top priority. Doing so will help ensure your new smile after braces is both an attractive and healthy one.
If you would like more information on dental care during orthodontics, 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 “Caring for Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
Back-to-school season can be an exciting time for kids—and parents too! As summer starts giving way to fall, your to-do list begins to fill up: there are clothes to buy, supplies to gather, and get-togethers with friends both old and new. Here are a few do’s (and don’ts) that can help keep your kids oral health in tip-top shape through this busy season…and all year long.
Do pack kids a healthy lunch
In addition to a protein like lean meat, eggs or peanut butter, a healthy lunch may include crunchy vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks, dairy like cheese or yogurt, and fresh fruits. Add a bottle of water and your kids will be all set to go!
Don’t include soda or sugary snacks
Foods with a lot of sugar—like soda, processed foods and sweet treats—aren’t a healthy choice. In addition to promoting obesity, sugar provides food for the harmful oral bacteria that can cause cavities. Even 100% juices have loads of sugar—so go easy on the sweets for better checkups!
Do be sure kids brush and floss regularly
That means brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and flossing once a day—every day! Brushing and flossing daily is the most effective way to fight cavities at home. If your kids need help, take time to show them how…and if you need to “brush up” on the proper techniques yourself, just ask us to demonstrate.
Don’t let kids chew on pencils or fingernails
Fidgety kids often develop habits like these to help themselves feel calmer. But chewing on things that don’t belong in the mouth is a recipe for dental problems—like chipped or broken teeth. Try giving them sugarless gum instead; if the problem persists, ask us for help.
Do ask about a mouthguard if they play sports
It’s not just for football or hockey—baseball, basketball and many other schoolyard sports have the potential to damage teeth and gums. A custom-made mouthguard from our office is comfortable enough to wear every day, and offers superior protection.
Don’t forget to schedule routine dental visits
With the hustle and bustle of a new school year it’s easy to let things slide. But don’t put off your kids’ regular dental checkups! Professional cleanings and dental exams can help keep those young smiles bright, and prevent little problems from getting bigger.
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