We're all familiar with optical illusions, which our brain visually perceives in a way different from the actual reality. A kind of optical illusion may also happen in your mouth: Your teeth appear to have gotten "longer." They haven't actually grown—instead, the gums have shrunk back (or receded) to reveal more of the tooth.
Unfortunately, this isn't an amusing visual trick! Gum recession isn't healthy, and it could endanger your teeth.
Receding gums occur for a variety of reasons. Some people are simply more genetically disposed to recession because they've inherited thinner gum tissues from their parents. You can also damage your gums through over-aggressive brushing.
But the most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease, caused by bacteria inhabiting a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. The more plaque present on your teeth, the more plentiful the bacteria, which can sharply increase your risk of infection. Unless treated, gum disease can eventually weaken the gums' attachment to teeth that can then cause the gums to recede.
Normally, the gums cover and protect the tooth roots from bacteria and other hazards, similar to the way enamel protects the tooth's visible crown. But teeth lose this protection when the gums recede, exposing them to disease-causing bacteria and other oral hazards.
Fortunately, there is hope for receded gums. The primary way is to first treat the gum disease that caused it: If the recession has been mild, this may help the tissues regain their former coverage. More severe recession, however, may require highly technical grafting surgery with donor tissue to promote new tissue growth at the site.
But the best approach is to avoid recession in the first place by preventing gum disease. This requires removing bacterial plaque daily through brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental visits for more thorough cleanings. Dental visits are also important if you have a higher risk profile for gum recession like thinner gum tissues.
Gum recession isn't just an inconvenience. It can put your oral health at long-term risk. But you may be able to avoid its occurrence by practicing daily oral hygiene and seeing your dentist regularly.
If you would like more information on gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”
Hannah Bronfman, well-known DJ and founder of the health and beauty website HBFIT.com, took a tumble while biking a few years ago. After the initial pain and bruising subsided, all seemed well—until she started experiencing headaches, fatigue and unexplained weight gain. Her doctors finally located the source—a serious infection emanating from a tooth injured during the accident.
It's easy to think of the human body as a loose confederation of organs and tissues that by and large keep their problems to themselves. But we'd do better to consider the body as an organic whole—and that a seemingly isolated condition may actually disrupt other aspects of our health.
That can be the case with oral infections triggered by tooth decay or gum disease, or from trauma as in Bronfman's case. These infections, which can inflict severe damage on teeth and gums, may also contribute to health issues beyond the mouth. They can even worsen serious, life-threatening conditions like heart disease.
The bacteria that cause both tooth decay and gum disease could be the mechanism for these extended problems. It's possible for bacteria active during an oral infection to migrate to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. If that happens, they can spread infection elsewhere, as it appears happened with Bronfman.
But perhaps the more common way for a dental disease to impact general health is through chronic inflammation. Initially, this defensive response by the body is a good thing—it serves to isolate diseased or injured tissues from healthier tissues. But if it becomes chronic, inflammation can cause its own share of damage.
The inflammation associated with gum disease can lead to weakened gum tissues that lose their attachment to teeth. But clinical research over the last few years also points to another possibility—that periodontal inflammation could worsen the inflammation associated with diseases like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.
Because of this potential harm not only to your teeth and gums but also to the rest of your body, you shouldn't take an oral injury or infection lightly. If you've had an accident involving your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible for a complete examination. You should also make an appointment if you notice signs of infection like swollen or bleeding gums.
Prompt dental treatment can help you minimize potential damage to your teeth and gums. It could also protect the rest of your health.
If you would like more information about the effects of dental problems on the rest of the body, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart and Gum Diseases.”
"Trick or treat!" Chances are, you'll hear that cry from costumed children at your door this October 31st. Fortunately, you're unlikely to be in any danger of mischief should you fail to reward your trick or treaters. But there may be an unpleasant "trick" awaiting them—or, more specifically, their teeth: tooth decay.
The underlying factor for this occurrence is the candy they've eagerly collected on their spooky foray, over $2 billion worth nationwide for this one holiday alone. That's because all that candy your kids will fill up on post-Halloween is loaded with refined sugar.
But something else loves all that sweetness as much as your kids—decay-causing bacteria living in their mouths. Oral bacteria thrive—and multiply—on sugar—which means more acid, a by-product of their digestive process, which can erode tooth enamel, which then opens the door to tooth decay.
Now, we don't want to rain on anyone's parade, much less on a child's traditional night of fun in late October. The key, like many other of life's pleasures, is moderation. Here, then, are a few tips from the American Dental Association for having a more "dental-friendly" Halloween.
Provide alternative treats. Candy may be ubiquitous to Halloween, but it isn't the only thing you have to put in their sacks. Be sure you also include items like sealed, one-serving packages of pretzels, or peanut butter or cheese sandwich crackers.
Choose candy wisely. Considering dental health, the best candies are those that don't linger in the mouth long. Stay away, then, from sticky or chewy candies, which do just that. Also, try to avoid hard candies that might damage the teeth if bitten down on.
Don't keep it all. Before they dig in, have your child sort through their sack and choose a set number of pieces to keep and enjoy. Then, find a creative way to share the rest with others. This limits the number of sugary treats consumed after Halloween, while also encouraging sharing.
Restrict snacking. Continuous snacking on Halloween candy can be a problem—the constant presence of sugar in the mouth encourages bacterial growth. Instead, limit your child's snacking on Halloween treats to select times, preferably after meals when saliva (an acid neutralizer) is more active.
Brush and floss. Even with non-sugary foods and snacks, dental plaque can still build up on teeth. This thin biofilm provides a haven for bacteria that increases your child's chances for tooth decay. Be sure, then, that your kids brush and floss every day, especially around holidays.
Halloween can be the source for fond, childhood memories. Follow these tips to make sure tooth decay doesn't ultimately put a damper on your family's fun.
If you would like more information about protecting your children's teeth from tooth decay, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
At what age should you begin treating a poor bite? Many might say with braces around late childhood or early adolescence. But some bite problems could be addressed earlier—with the possibility of avoiding future orthodontic treatment.
A crossbite is a good example. In a normal bite, all of the upper teeth slightly cover the lower when the jaws are shut. But a crossbite occurs when some of the lower teeth, particularly in back, overlap the upper teeth. This situation often happens when the upper jaw develops too narrowly.
But one feature of a child's mouth structure provides an opportunity to intervene and alter jaw development. During a child's early years, the palate (roof of the mouth) consists of two bones next to each other with an open seam running between them. This seam, which runs through the center of the mouth from front to back, will fuse during puberty to form one continuous palatal bone.
An orthodontist can take advantage of this separation if the jaw isn't growing wide enough with a unique device called a palatal expander. This particular oral appliance consists of four, thin metal legs connected to a central mechanism. The orthodontist places the expander against the palate and then uses the mechanism to extend the legs firmly against the back of the teeth on both sides of the jaw.
The outward pressure exerted by the legs also widens the seam between the two palatal bones. The body will respond to this by adding new bone to the existing palatal bones to fill in the widened gap. At regular intervals, the patient or a caregiver will operate the mechanism with a key that will continue to widen the gap between the bones, causing more expansion of the palatal bones until the jaw has grown to a normal width.
The palatal expander is most effective when it's applied early enough to develop more bone before the seam closes. That's why it's important for children to undergo bite evaluation with an orthodontist around age 6. If it appears a bite problem is developing, early interventions like a palatal expander could slow or stop it before it gets worse.
If you would like more information on interceptive 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 “Palatal Expanders.”
After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
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