While we often associate tooth decay with cavities forming in a tooth’s visible or biting surfaces, the occurrence of this all too common disease isn’t limited to those areas. Cavities can develop in any part of a tooth exposed to bacteria.
Gum recession, the shrinking back of the gums from the teeth, can cause such exposure in areas normally covered by the gums. Because these areas are usually more vulnerable to infection when exposed, cavities can develop at or right below the gum line. Because of their location it can be difficult to fill them or perform other treatments.
One way to make it less difficult is to perform a crown lengthening procedure. While the term sounds like we’re increasing the size of the tooth, we’re actually surgically altering the gums to access more of the affected tooth surface for treatment. It’s typically performed in a dental office with local anesthesia by a general dentist or a periodontist, a specialist in the gums.
During the procedure, the dentist starts by making small incisions in the gums to create a tissue “flap” that can be lifted out of the way. This exposes the underlying bone, which they then reshape to support the gum tissue once it’s re-situated in its new position. The dentist then sutures the gums back in place. Once the gums heal, the decayed area is ready for treatment.
Crown lengthening is also useful for other situations besides treating cavities. If a tooth has broken off at the gum line, for example, there may not be enough remaining structure to support a crown. Crown lengthening can make more of the underlying tooth available for the crown to “grab” onto. It’s also useful in some cases of “gummy smiles,” in which too much of the gum tissue is visible in proportion to the tooth size.
Because crown lengthening often involves removing some of the bone and is thus irreversible, you should discuss this procedure with your dentist in depth beforehand. It could be, though, this minor procedure might make it easier to preserve your teeth and even make them look more attractive.
If you press your tongue against your teeth, unless something is badly wrong they won't budge. In fact, your teeth are subjected to a fair amount of pressure each day as you chew and eat, and yet they remain firmly in place.
But there's a deeper reality—your teeth do move! No, it's not a paradox—the gum and bone tissues that hold your teeth in place allow for slight, imperceptible changes in the teeth's position. Their natural ability to move is also the basis for orthodontics. Here are 3 more facts you may not know about your teeth's natural ability to move.
Teeth are always on the move. Teeth are held firmly within the jawbone by an elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament and a thin layer of bony-like material called cementum. In response to pressure changes, though, the bone dissolves on the side of the teeth in the direction of pressure and then rebuilds behind it, solidifying the teeth's new position, a process that happens quite slowly and incrementally. And it will happen for most of us—some studies indicate more than 70% of people will see significant changes in their bite as they age.
Orthodontics works with the process. Orthodontic appliances like braces or clear aligners apply targeted pressure in the direction the orthodontist intends the teeth to move—the natural movement process does the rest. In the case of braces, a thin metal wire is laced through brackets bonded to the front of the teeth and then anchored, typically to the back teeth. The orthodontist incrementally tightens the wire against its anchors over time, encouraging tooth movement in response to the pressure. Clear aligners are a series of removable trays worn in succession that gradually accomplish the same outcome.
Watch out for the rebound. That nice, straight smile you've gained through orthodontics might not stay that way. That's because the same mechanism for tooth movement could cause the teeth to move back to their former positions, especially right after treatment. To avoid this outcome, patients need to wear a retainer, an appliance that holds or "retains" the teeth in their new positions. Depending on their individual situations and age, patients may have to wear a retainer for a few months, years or from then on.
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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
March is national nutrition month—a good time to look at the connection between diet and oral health. You probably know that sugar is a major culprit in dental problems. This is because bacteria feed on sugars and create acid that can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Avoiding sugary foods and drinks as much as possible is a good rule of thumb, but there are some food choices that actually benefit your oral health. Here are nutrition tips that will help keep your smile healthy for life:
Say cheese. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium and phosphorus to build teeth and strengthen the supporting bone. And cheese neutralizes acid in the mouth to help fight cavities and gum disease.
Choose lean proteins. Lean meats, poultry, fish, milk and eggs help strengthen teeth. They are rich in protein and phosphorous, which is essential for building strong bones and teeth.
Eat a rainbow. Fruits and vegetables provide many key nutrients, including vitamins necessary for healing, bone strength, and healthy gums. Besides being nutritious, fruits and veggies scrub your teeth while you chew and stimulate the production of saliva, which is necessary for neutralizing acid and rebuilding enamel.
Nibble on nuts. Nuts contain protein, fiber and healthy fats. They also contain essential vitamins and minerals to keep teeth strong and gums healthy. Further, chewing nuts stimulates saliva production, lowering the risk of tooth decay.
Go for the grains. Studies have shown that eating too many refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sweet bakery items can lead to chronic inflammation, which is a factor in gum disease, heart disease, stroke and other conditions. In contrast, eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains may reduce inflammation in the body.
What you put in your body can play a big role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease, so choose foods that provide the right building blocks for optimal dental and overall health.
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.”
You might not be aware how much force your jaws generate while you eat or chew. But you can become aware in a hurry when part of your inside cheek or lip gets in the way.
What may be even worse than the initial painful bite are the high odds you’ll bite the same spot again—and again. That’s because of a feature in the skin’s healing process.
As a surface wound heals, it often forms a cover of fibrous tissue consisting of the protein collagen. This traumatic fibroma, as it’s called, is similar to a protective callous that develops on other areas of damaged skin. In the process, though, it can become “taller” than the surrounding skin surface, which increases the chances of another bite.
This second bite often results in more fibrous tissue formation that rises even higher from the skin surface, which then becomes more likely to be bit again. After repeated cycles, the initial wound can become a noticeable, protruding lump.
These kinds of sores are typically not cancerous, especially if they’ve appeared to form slowly over time. But they can be a nuisance and the occasion of sharp pain with every subsequent bite. There is, though, an effective way to deal with it—simply have it removed.
While it involves a surgical procedure—an oral surgeon, periodontist or dentist with surgical training usually performs it—it’s fairly minor. After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, the dentist will then completely excise the lesion and close the resulting gap in the skin with two or three small sutures (it could also be removed with a laser). The wound should heal within a few days leaving you with a flat, flush skin surface.
The tissue removed is usually then biopsied. Although it’s highly unlikely it was more than an annoying sore, it’s still common procedure to examine excised tissues for cancer cells. If there appears to be an abnormality, your dentist will then see you to take the next step in your treatment.
More than likely, though, what you experienced was a fibroma. And with it now a thing of the past, you can chew with confidence knowing it won’t be there to get in the way.
If you would like more information on dealing with common mouth sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
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