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.”
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.”
Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the world, nearly as prevalent as the common cold. It’s also one of the two major dental diseases—the other being periodontal (gum) disease—most responsible for tooth and bone loss.
Tooth decay begins with high levels of acid, the byproduct of oral bacteria feeding on food remnants like sugar. Acid can erode tooth enamel, leading to a cavity that will require removal of decayed material around it and then a filling.
Sometimes, though, decay can spread deeper into the tooth reaching all the way to its core: the pulp with its bundle of nerves and blood vessels. From there it can travel through the root canals to the bone. The continuing damage could eventually lead to the loss of the infected tooth.
If decay reaches the tooth interior, the best course of action is usually a root canal treatment. In this procedure we access the pulp through the crown, the visible part of the tooth, to remove all of the diseased and dead tissue in the pulp chamber.
We then reshape it and the root canals to receive a filling. The filling is normally a substance called gutta percha that’s easily manipulated to conform to the shape of the root canals and pulp chamber. After filling we seal the access hole and later cap the tooth with a crown to protect it from re-infection.
Root canal treatments have literally saved millions of teeth. Unfortunately, they’ve gained an undeserved reputation for pain. But root canals don’t cause pain—they relieve the pain caused by tooth decay. More importantly, your tooth can gain a new lease on life.
But we’ll need to act promptly. If you experience any kind of tooth pain (even if it goes away) you should see us as soon as possible for an examination. Depending on the level of decay and the type of tooth involved, we may be able to perform the procedure in our office. Some cases, though, may have complications that require the skills, procedures and equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canal treatment.
So, don’t delay and allow tooth decay to go too far. Your tooth’s survival could hang in the balance.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
It’s a common sight to see someone wearing braces—and not just teens or pre-teens. In the last few decades, people in their adult years (even late in life) are transforming their smiles through orthodontics.
If you’re an adult considering treatment to straighten your teeth, this particular dental specialty might be an unfamiliar world to you. Here are 3 things you may not know about orthodontics.
Orthodontic treatment cooperates with nature. There would be no orthodontics if teeth couldn’t move naturally. Teeth are actually held in place by an elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament that lies between the teeth and bone. Small fibers from the ligament tightly attach to the teeth on one side and to the bone on the other. Although it feels like the teeth are rigidly in place, the ligament allows for micro-movements in response to changes in the mouth. One such change is the force applied by orthodontic appliances like braces, which causes the bone to remodel in the direction of the desired position.
Treatment achieves more than an attractive smile. While turning your misaligned teeth into a beautiful, confident smile is an obvious benefit, it isn’t the only one. Teeth in proper positions function better during chewing and eating, which can impact digestion and other aspects of health. Misaligned teeth are also more difficult to keep clean of bacterial plaque, so straightening them could help reduce your risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Possible complications can be overcome. Some problems can develop while wearing braces. Too much applied force could lead to the roots dissolving (root resorption), which could make a tooth shorter and endanger its viability. Braces can also contribute to a loss of calcium in small areas of tooth enamel, which can make the teeth more vulnerable to oral acid attack. However, both these scenarios can be anticipated: the orthodontist will watch for and monitor signs of root resorption and adjust the tension on the braces accordingly; and diligent oral hygiene plus regular dental cleanings will help prevent damage to the tooth enamel.
If you’re dreaming of a straighter and healthier smile, see us for a full examination. We’ll then be able to discuss with you your options for transforming your smile and your life.
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 article “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”
If you smoke, you know better than anyone how a hard a habit it is to kick. If you want to quit, it helps to have a motivating reason—like lowering your risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease or similar conditions.
Here’s another reason for quitting tobacco: it could be making your teeth and gums less healthy. And, if you’re facing a restoration like dental implants, smoking can make that process harder or even increase the risk of failure.
So, to give your willpower some needed pep talk material, here are 3 reasons why smoking doesn’t mix with dental implants.
Inhaled smoke damages mouth tissues. Though you may not realize it, the smoke from your cigarette or cigar is hot enough to burn the top layer of skin cells in your mouth, which then thickens them. This could affect your salivary glands causing them to produce less saliva, which in turn could set off a chain of events that increases your risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result might be bone loss, which could make installing dental implants difficult if not impossible.
Nicotine restricts healthy blood flow. Nicotine, the chemical tobacco users crave, can restrict blood flow in the tiny vessels that course through the mouth membranes and gums. With less blood flow, these tissues may not receive enough antibodies to fight infection and fully facilitate healing, which could interfere with the integration of bone and implants that create their durable hold. Slower healing, as well as the increased chances of infection, could interrupt this integration process.
Smoking contributes to other diseases that impact oral health. Smoking’s direct effect on the mouth isn’t the only impact it could have on your oral health. As is well known, tobacco use can increase the risk of systemic conditions like cardiovascular and lung disease, and cancer. These conditions may also trigger inflammation—and a number of studies are showing this triggered inflammatory response could also affect your body’s ability to fight bacterial infections in the mouth. Less healthy teeth, gums and underlying bone work against your chances of long-term success with implants.
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 “Dental Implants & Smoking: What are the Risks?”
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