ProtectYourSmile-NationalFacialProtectionMonth

Dental injuries result in thousands of visits to the emergency room every year, and many of these injuries occur while engaging in sports and recreational activities. Whether playing on an organized team or joining a spontaneous game with friends, athletes are much more likely to suffer a dental injury when not wearing a mouthguard. Five national dental organizations have joined together for National Facial Protection Month to urge athletes to use a mouthguard during both practice and games.

The American Dental Association and the Academy for Sports Dentistry recommend using mouthguards for over 30 sporting activities. While it comes as no surprise that mouthguards are recommended for football, hockey and basketball, the list also includes many activities that may not immediately come to mind—among them, surfing, ultimate frisbee, skateboarding, volleyball, skiing and bicycle riding.

In short, it’s wise to protect your smile while participating in any activity where your teeth may make contact with a hard surface. A properly fitted mouthguard can prevent injuries to the teeth, mouth and jaw, and may even help protect against head and neck injuries. Even those who participate in casual recreational activities should consider a mouthguard as an insurance policy against future pain and expense.

There are three types of mouthguards: a stock mouthguard that is bought ready to use from your neighborhood store, the “boil-and-bite” type that is formed to the mouth after being softened in hot water, and a custom-made mouthguard that is available from the dental office. Although any mouthguard is better than no protection at all, the best protection and most comfortable fit comes from a mouthguard that is custom-made by your dentist.

If you have questions about preventing dental injuries, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”

IfYoureConsideringBracesHeresHowTheyWork

If you or a family member has problems with teeth alignment or your bite, you may be considering braces. This tried and true method can straighten out most smiles — but there's more to braces than you may realize.

For one thing, orthodontic treatment wouldn't work if it weren't for the natural mechanism for tooth movement that already exists in the mouth. It may seem your teeth are rigidly set in the jawbone but that's not how they maintain their attachment: that's the job of an elastic connective tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. The ligament has tiny fibers that attach to the tooth on one side and to the bone on the other to actually hold the teeth in place, much like a hammock secured between two posts.

The ligament attachment also allows the teeth to move incrementally in response to environmental factors or the aging process. We harness this natural movement ability with braces to move teeth to a more desirable position. We first attach small brackets to the front crowns of the teeth (the visible portion) and then string arch wires through them. We then attach the wires to anchor points where we can adjust the amount of tension they're exerting through the brackets against the teeth. By gradually increasing that tension, the teeth respond as they would when any force is applied against them and begin to move.

By precisely controlling that movement we can transform a patient's smile. But we believe the advantages are more than cosmetic: the teeth will function better and will be easier to care for and keep clean. These benefits, though, have to be balanced with heightened risks for root resorption (something that occurs only about 10% of the time) in which the ends of the roots can shrink, or loss of mineral content in teeth enamel where the hardware makes it more difficult to remove bacterial plaque. These risks can be reduced by closely monitoring dental health during the entire treatment process and through stepped up efforts in daily oral hygiene.

The starting point for deciding on an orthodontic treatment is a thorough dental examination with x-rays or CT scan imaging. Once we have a complete picture of your misalignment problems and any other extenuating circumstances, we can recommend a treatment plan just for you.

If you would like more information on 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”

AreLasersforGumDiseaseTreatmentinOurFuture

One of the most important revolutions in healthcare in recent decades is the increasing use of lasers. Now, laser technology is making a showing in dental care for the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.

Lasers (an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation") narrowly focus and amplify light within a small area. First developed in the early 1960s, laser technology rapidly advanced in the ensuing decades with more compact and precise devices that were eventually safe and effective for many types of medical procedures. Its remarkable features are now available for the primary focus of gum disease treatment—removing bacterial plaque.

Plaque is a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces that serves as a haven for the bacteria that cause gum disease. The continuing presence of plaque and calculus (tartar) enables the infection to thrive and advance within the gum tissues, ultimately damaging them along with supporting bone. As the tissues weaken and bone volume diminishes, the teeth are at greater risk for loss.

It's necessary, therefore, first and foremost to remove all detectable plaque and calculus to stop the infection. This is traditionally done with special hand tools called scalers used to manually remove plaque, or with ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose to be flushed away with water. These procedures can take numerous sessions and may result in some minor post-procedural discomfort and bleeding during the cleaning.

But lasers specifically designed for plaque removal can minimize tissue damage and resulting discomfort. Because the particular laser light used reacts only with plaque and diseased tissue, it can remove them without disturbing nearby healthy tissue usually more efficiently than traditional scaling. Dentists who've used the technology frequently report less bleeding and higher patient satisfaction.

But before lasers for gum disease treatment are widely adopted, the procedure must undergo further scrutiny. Reports from dentists notwithstanding, not enough research studies have been performed to date that meet the necessary scientific criteria. But if the evidence so far from the field holds up, it's quite possible lasers will one day become a regular part of dental practice for treating gum disease.

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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”

SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

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.”

PromptTreatmentforGumDiseaseCouldUltimatelySaveYourTeeth

Your smile isn’t the same without healthy gums—neither are your teeth, for that matter. So, maintaining your gums by protecting them from periodontal (gum) disease is a top priority.

Gum disease is caused by bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that collects on teeth and is not removed due to poor oral hygiene practices. Infected gums become chronically inflamed and begin to weaken, ultimately losing their firm attachment to the teeth. This can result in increasing voids called periodontal pockets that fill with infection. The gums can also shrink back (recede), exposing the tooth roots to further infection.

Although gum disease treatment techniques vary, the overall goal is the same: remove the bacterial plaque fueling the infection. This most often involves a procedure called scaling with special hand instruments to manually remove plaque and calculus (tartar). If the infection has spread below the gum line we may need to use a procedure called root planing in which we scrape or “plane” plaque and calculus from the root surfaces.

As we remove plaque, the gums become less inflamed. As the inflammation subsides we often discover more plaque and calculus, requiring more treatment sessions. Hopefully, our efforts bring the disease under control and restorative healing to the gums.

But while gum tissue can regenerate on its own, it may need some assistance if the recession was severe. This assistance can be provided through surgical procedures that graft donor tissues to the recession site. There are a number of microsurgical approaches that are all quite intricate to perform, and will usually require a periodontist (a specialist in gum structures) to achieve the most functional and attractive result.

While we have the advanced techniques and equipment to treat and repair gum disease damage, the best approach is to try to prevent the disease from occurring at all. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing, and continues with regular dental cleanings and checkups.

And if you do notice potential signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, call us promptly for an examination. The sooner we diagnose and begin treatment the less damage this progressive disease can do to your gums—and your smile.

If you would like more information on protecting your gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”





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