Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect your oral health, 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
There’s a lot to like about replacing a missing tooth with a dental implant. This state-of-the-art restoration is by far the most durable and life-like option available. And unlike other replacement options implants stimulate bone growth, a major concern after tooth loss.
For that reason we encourage getting an implant as soon as possible — for adults, that is. We don’t recommend implants for younger patients because even a teenager’s jaws haven’t yet reached full maturity. Because it attaches to the jaw differently, an implant can’t move with the growing jaw as real teeth do. It would eventually look as if it were sinking into the jaw below the gum line or being left behind as the rest of the jaw grows.
It’s best, then, to postpone placing an implant until the jaw fully matures, usually in a patient’s early twenties. In the meantime, there are some things we can do to prepare for a future implant while also restoring the tooth with a temporary replacement.
As previously mentioned, our biggest concern is bone health. Like other living tissue, bone has a growth cycle of older cells dissolving and newer ones forming in their place. The teeth transmit the pressure produced when we chew to the bone to stimulate this growth. With the absence of a tooth, the adjacent bone no longer receives this stimulation — the growth cycle slows and may eventually lead to bone loss.
We can help this situation by placing a bone graft in the missing tooth socket at the time of extraction. The graft serves as a scaffold that’s eventually taken over and replaced by new bone growth. We can also try to control how fast the graft is replaced by using grafting material that’s slowly removed and lasts longer — often a preferable situation if an implant is years away.
As for appearance, we can create a custom partial denture or even a type of bridge that bonds a prosthetic tooth to neighboring teeth without significantly altering them. If the patient undergoes orthodontic treatment it’s also possible to add prosthetic teeth to an orthodontic appliance.
Eventually, we’ll be able to provide the permanent solution of a dental implant. With careful planning and measures to preserve bone health, there’s a good chance the outcome will be worth the wait.
If you would like more information on treatments for lost teeth in children and teenagers, 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 “Dental Implants for Teenagers.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Losing teeth to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease is never easy. But with implant-supported bridgework, you can regain lost function and appearance with a restoration that could last for many years.
Don’t think, though, that dental disease woes are a thing of the past with your new implants. Although your restoration itself can’t be infected, the supporting gums and underlying bone can, often through bacterial plaque accumulating around the implants. The bone that supports the implants could deteriorate, dramatically increasing your chances of losing your restoration.
It’s essential, then, that you keep the area between the bridge and gums clean of plaque through daily hygiene. This definitely includes flossing around the implants.
Flossing with an implant-supported bridge will be different than with natural teeth: instead of flossing between teeth you’ll need to thread the floss between the bridge and gums. Although this is a bit more difficult, it can be done with the help of a floss threader, a device with a loop on one end and a long, thin plastic point on the other—similar to a sewing needle.
To use it, thread about 18” of floss through the loop and then pass the threader’s thin end first through the space between the bridge and gums toward the tongue until the floss threader pulls through. You can then take hold of one end of the floss and then pull the threader completely out from beneath the bridge. Then, you wrap the ends around your fingers as you would normally and thoroughly floss the implant surfaces you’re accessing. You then release one end of the floss, pull out the remainder, rethread it in the threader and repeat the process in the next space between implants.
You also have other hygiene tool options: prefabricated floss with stiffened ends that thread through the bridge-gum space that you can use very easily; or you can purchase an interproximal brush that resembles a pipe cleaner with thin plastic bristles to access the space and brush around the implants.
Some patients also find an oral irrigator, a handheld device that sprays a pressurized stream of water to loosen and flush away plaque, to be an effective way of keeping this important area clean. But that said, oral irrigators generally aren’t as effective removing dental plaque as are floss or interproximal brushes.
Whatever flossing method you choose, the important thing is to choose one and practice it every day. By keeping bacterial plaque from building up around your implants, you’ll help ensure you won’t lose your restoration to disease, so it can continue to serve you for many years to come.
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