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Posts for category: Oral Health

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
July 14, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: gum disease  
PeriodontalProbingCanTellUsaLotAbouttheSeverityofaGumInfection

The red and puffy gums that sometimes accompany the onset of periodontal (gum) disease don't always catch your attention. You may not even get any symptoms at all, in fact, until the disease has become well advanced.

That's why regular dental visits are so important for gum health: For while you may not notice anything abnormal about your gums, we have a simple procedure known as periodontal probing that can help diagnose the condition of your gums.

Gum disease is a common bacterial infection that affects millions of people worldwide. It most often begins with plaque, a filmy, bacterial buildup on teeth. These bacteria feed and multiply on the remnant food particles in the film, increasing the chances for an infection.

As it grows—as well as the inflammation the body initiates to fight it—the infection weakens the gum attachment to teeth. This can cause the miniscule gap between gums and teeth at the gum line to widen, forming a void called a periodontal pocket. The deeper and wider the pocket, the more advanced the gum infection.

We may be able to verify the presence of a periodontal pocket by using a long, thin probing instrument with millimeter gradations. We gently insert the probe at various locations around a tooth as far as it will comfortably go. We then record the depth by reading the gradation measures lined up with the top of the gums, as well as observing how snug or loose the probe feels within the gum space.

One to three millimeters signifies a healthy attachment between the tooth and gums—anything more than that usually indicates gum disease. Measurements of 5mm indicates a problem, the higher the number, the more advanced is the periodontal disease.

We use these probe readings and other factors to guide our treatment approach in individual cases of gum disease. With a less-advanced infection we may only need to remove plaque and calculus adhering to the crown and just below the gum line. More advanced gum disease infecting the root area may require surgical access through the gums.

All in all, keeping up with regular dental visits can increase the chances of early diagnosis, when the disease is still in its initial stages. And daily oral hygiene to remove harmful plaque may help you avoid gum disease altogether.

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 “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
June 24, 2021
Category: Oral Health
UntreatedGumDiseaseCouldCostYouYourImplant

Your teeth can take decades of daily biting and chewing and not miss a beat. But they do have a nemesis, dental disease, which can easily get the upper hand. As a result, millions of people lose teeth each year to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.

But while both the living tissue that makes up teeth and gums are susceptible to bacterial attack, the non-living materials in a life-like dental implant are impervious to disease. That being the case, you would think your implants wouldn't need as much hygiene as your other teeth.

But they still do. True, implants in themselves aren't affected by infection, but the bone and other tissues that support them can become diseased. This often happens with advanced cases of gum disease.

There is, in fact, a particular form of gum infection associated with implants called peri-implantitis ("peri"—around; "it is"—inflammation), which occurs in the gums around an implant. Once it starts, peri-implantitis can advance at a rapid pace.

This is because implants don't have the gum attachment of real teeth, which can fight and slow the advance of a gum infection. Because an implant doesn't have this attachment, any infection around it continues virtually unimpeded. If the bone supporting an implant becomes infected, it can weaken to the point that the implant fails.

But this dire scenario can be avoided with continuing hygiene and maintenance of the gum tissues surrounding the implant. You should brush and floss every day around implants to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease, just as you do with natural teeth.

It's also important to keep up regular dental visits for cleanings to remove lingering plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). Your dentist may also notice and clean away any residual cement from the restoration, which can also cause gum inflammation.

And, you should promptly see your dentist if you notice any telltale signs of a gum infection, such as swelling, redness or bleeding, especially around implants. The quicker we diagnose and treat a case of gum disease, particularly peri-implantitis, the less likely it will endanger your implant.

If you would like more information on maintaining dental implant restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
June 14, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tmj disorder  
YourToothacheMightActuallybeUnrelatedtoYourTeeth

When you see your dentist about mouth pain, you expect to hear that it's a decayed or fractured tooth, or maybe a gum infection. But you might be surprised if your dentist tells you there's nothing going on inside your mouth to cause the pain.

It's not that far-fetched: The pain could be originating elsewhere. This is known as referred pain, where pain radiates from its origin to another part of the body.

Unless there's an obvious oral cause for the pain, it's best not to undertake any treatment involving the mouth until we've pinpointed the actual cause. That said, the cause is usually not too far away.

Facial nerve disorders. The trigeminal nerve courses on either side of the face from the upper skull through the cheeks and ends around the lower jaw. But if portions of the nerve's protective sheathing become damaged, the slightest touch on the face could trigger prolonged pain. Because of its proximity to the jaw, the pain can often be misidentified as a toothache.

Jaw joint pain. When joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull become traumatized and inflamed, a condition known as Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), the pain can radiate toward the jaw. In some cases, the person may easily mistake the muscle pain and spasming for a toothache.

Ear infection. As with TMD, your "toothache" may actually stem from an ear infection or congestion radiating pain into the jaw. It can also happen in the opposite direction—ear pain could actually be the referred pain of an infected back tooth—emphasizing the importance of precisely determining the originating source of any pain in the jaws or face.

Sinus pain. The large maxillary sinuses are located on either side of the face just above the back of the upper jaw. Because of its proximity, pain from a sinus infection can seem to be coming from one of the back molars. And as with ear infections, frequent sinus infections could in fact be caused by an infected tooth penetrating through the sinus floor.

These and other examples of possible referred pain illustrate how "tricky" a presumed toothache can be. Finding the true source of oral or facial pain will ensure you receive the proper treatment for lasting relief.

If you would like more information on oral or facial pain diagnosis and treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
May 15, 2021
Category: Oral Health
WhatToDoAboutWhiteSpotsonTeethAfterWearingBraces

The big day finally arrives when your braces come off. And there it is—your new, beautiful, straight smile! But on closer inspection you notice something else: tiny white spots on your teeth.

Those pale, chalky spots are called white spot lesions (WSLs). They occur when acid has contacted the tooth enamel for too long, dissolving essential minerals like calcium in those particular areas. The occurrences of WSLs during and after braces highlights a major challenge during orthodontic treatment—keeping your teeth clean.

Braces' wires and brackets tend to get in the way of brushing and flossing, making it easier to miss plaque—the bacterial film that produces acid—on tooth areas around the hardware. Those missed areas could in time lead to WSLs.

The main objective with WSLs is prevent them from occurring during braces wear as much as possible. To do this, you'll need to increase your time and effort brushing and flossing, especially around orthodontic hardware. You can make it easier, though, by using a few tools that often work better than regular toothbrushes and floss like interproximal toothbrushes, power brushes, floss threaders or water flossers.

You can also help lower your mouth's acidity by avoiding or limiting acidic foods and beverages, including juices, sodas, sports and energy drinks. And, by all means, keep up your regular dental cleaning schedule with your general dentist.

Should WSLs develop while you're wearing braces, don't panic. It's possible they'll diminish on their own, or at least not worsen. We can also foster re-mineralization of the enamel with applied fluoride, short bursts of laser light or a procedure called microabrasion that restores damaged areas below the enamel surface.

For more resistant WSLs, we can also inject a liquid tooth-colored resin into them that when hardened by a curing light can make those areas look translucent like normal enamel. We can also use other cosmetic solutions like bonding or veneers to improve your teeth's appearance.

Like other dental problems, dealing with a WSL is usually more successful if caught and treated early. So, check your teeth often while wearing braces, and if you notice anything unusual don't hesitate to call your dentist.

If you would like more information on oral 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
May 05, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
3SeasonsofaWomansLifeThatCouldPresentNewOralHealthChallenges

May 9-15 is National Women's Health Week, which begins each year on Mother's Day. It's an important opportunity to focus on the unique health challenges women face, and ways to better meet those challenges. Among the many health aspects that deserve attention, one of the most important is the health of a woman's teeth and gums over the course of her life.

Although preventing and treating dental disease remains a primary focus throughout life, women do face a number of different situations during various life stages that often require additional attention. Here are 3 such life moments for a woman that may give rise to oral and dental problems.

Adolescence. The changes that occur in their physical bodies as girls enter puberty may make their gums more sensitive to bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that forms on teeth. This can cause painful swelling, a condition that may become even more acute if they wear braces. To counteract this, it's important for girls in their teens to not neglect daily brushing and flossing to remove excess plaque, and to make regular dental visits at least every six months.

Pregnancy. Each of the estimated 40 million U.S. women who have given birth share a common experience—they've all undergone the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Such changes can adversely affect dental health: The hormonal shifts, and the sugar cravings that often accompany them, increase the risk for dental disease, especially gum infections. As with adolescence, daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits (as well as a healthy diet) are important for staying a step ahead of possible tooth decay or gum disease.

Menopause. Women in menopause or who have passed through it can encounter new oral problems. Persistent dry mouth caused by a lack of adequate saliva flow, for example, can cause irritation and significantly increase the risk of dental disease. Osteoporosis and some medications for its treatment could also interfere with dental care. Besides daily oral hygiene, older women can ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters or drinking more water. They should also work with their physicians to minimize any oral effects from their medications.

Many aspects of dental care remain constant regardless of a woman's season of life. Daily oral hygiene should be a lifetime habit, as well as seeing a dentist at least twice a year. But there are times when a unique stage of life requires something more—and it's always better to be proactive rather than reactive in meeting new challenges to oral health.

If you would like more information about women's oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”