Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
If a pain you’ve been feeling goes away, you might believe the problem that caused it is gone too. But that doesn’t mean it has, especially with a tooth. An excruciating toothache that suddenly stops should still be examined. Here’s why.
Tooth decay often works its way into a tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp, which contains bundles of nerves and other tissue. The infection attacks the nerves, which send pain signals to the brain. As the infection persists, though, the nerves will eventually die and will no longer be capable of sending pain signals — hence the “mysterious” end of your toothache.
Although the pain has stopped, the infection is very much active in the tooth and will continue to work its way through the root canals to the jaw. And ultimately, the pain will return as the infection invades the bone.
But there’s good news: a tooth in this condition can be saved with a procedure known as root canal therapy. We drill a small hole in the tooth to access the pulp, usually through the biting surface of back teeth or in the rear in front teeth. Once inside the pulp chamber, we clean out the infected and dead tissue. We then fill the empty pulp chamber and the root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole. In a few weeks the tooth receives a life-like crown to further protect it from re-infection and fracture years later.
A straightforward root canal treatment can be performed by a general dentist. If there are complications like a complex root canal network, however, then the skills and specialized equipment of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals) may be needed.
A root canal treatment resolves the real cause of a toothache that suddenly stopped, as well as puts an end to future pain and infection related to the tooth. More importantly, it can save your tooth and add many more years to its life.
If you would like more information on tooth pain, 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 “A Severe Toothache.”
In real life he was a hard-charging basketball player through high school and college. In TV and the movies, he has gone head-to-head with serial killers, assorted bad guys… even mysterious paranormal forces. So would you believe that David Duchovny, who played Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files and starred in countless other large and small-screen productions, lost his front teeth… in an elevator accident?
“I was running for the elevator at my high school when the door shut on my arm,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had fainted, fallen on my face, and knocked out my two front teeth.” Looking at Duchovny now, you’d never know his front teeth weren’t natural. But that’s not “movie magic” — it’s the art and science of modern dentistry.
How do dentists go about replacing lost teeth with natural-looking prosthetics? Today, there are two widely used tooth replacement procedures: dental implants and bridgework. When a natural tooth can’t be saved — due to advanced decay, periodontal disease, or an accident like Duchovny’s — these methods offer good looking, fully functional replacements. So what’s the difference between the two? Essentially, it’s a matter of how the replacement teeth are supported.
With state-of-the-art dental implants, support for the replacement tooth (or teeth) comes from small titanium inserts, which are implanted directly into the bone of the jaw. In time these become fused with the bone itself, providing a solid anchorage. What’s more, they actually help prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs after tooth loss. The crowns — lifelike replacements for the visible part of the tooth — are securely attached to the implants via special connectors called abutments.
In traditional bridgework, the existing natural teeth on either side of a gap are used to support the replacement crowns that “bridge” the gap. Here’s how it works: A one-piece unit is custom-fabricated, consisting of prosthetic crowns to replace missing teeth, plus caps to cover the adjacent (abutment) teeth on each side. Those abutment teeth must be shaped so the caps can fit over them; this is done by carefully removing some of the outer tooth material. Then the whole bridge unit is securely cemented in place.
While both systems have been used successfully for decades, bridgework is now being gradually supplanted by implants. That’s because dental implants don’t have any negative impact on nearby healthy teeth, while bridgework requires that abutment teeth be shaped for crowns, and puts additional stresses on them. Dental implants also generally last far longer than bridges — the rest of your life, if given proper care. However, they are initially more expensive (though they may prove more economical in the long run), and not everyone is a candidate for the minor surgery they require.
Which method is best for you? Don’t try using paranormal powers to find out: Come in and talk to us. If you would like more information about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework,” and “Dental Implants.”
X-rays are such a routine part of dental care that it's easy to overlook how much this technology has revolutionized detecting and treating tooth decay. It's safe to say x-rays have helped save hundreds of millions of teeth over the last hundred years.
Thanks to its unique properties these invisible electro-magnetic waves give us precise images of the interior structure of teeth and gums. It's so precise that we can clearly detect even a small spot of softened, decayed tooth structure on an exposed x-ray film, often before it becomes visible to the naked eye. As a result, we can begin treating the decay earlier, minimizing the damage and increasing the chances for preserving the tooth.
There are a variety of ways we can utilize x-ray technology in diagnosing dental problems. The one, though, that's used the most is called the bitewing. The name comes from wing-like tabs extending out from a thin frame holding a segment of unexposed film. A technician places the frame inside the patient's mouth with the film on the tongue side of the teeth, and has them bite down on the tabs to hold the frame still. They then aim a camera at the patient's outer cheek, which then emits a very short burst of x-ray energy to expose the film.
Bitewings are popular because they give a full view of the back and side teeth, where decay is often hard to detect, with very little radiation exposure to the patient. And as x-ray technology has progressed over the years with digital processing and more efficient equipment, we can acquire sharper images with even less exposure. We've also developed standard protocols for when and how often we perform x-rays, so that we're getting the most diagnostic benefit for the least amount of exposure time.
Those few minutes getting an x-ray may seem routine, but the benefits to your dental health are truly amazing. The bitewing and other forms of x-rays play a huge role in helping us keep your teeth as healthy as they possibly can.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays.”
When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?
For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.
Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:
- It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
- A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
- Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!
Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!
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