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Anybody can contract periodontal (gum) disease if they don't brush and floss every day. Inadequate hygiene allows a thin film of disease-causing bacteria and food particles called plaque to build up.
But while we're all at risk for gum disease, some people are more so. This is especially true for those with diabetes, heart disease or other systemic conditions. The common denominator among all these conditions is inflammation, the body's defensive response to disease or injury.
When tissues become infected or damaged, the body causes swelling at the site to isolate the affected tissues, clear out diseased or dead cells and start tissue repair. Inflammation also produces redness, pain and, particularly with gum tissues, bleeding.
Inflammation is an important part of the body's ability to heal itself. It's possible, though, for the inflammatory response to become chronic. If that happens, it can actually begin doing more harm than good.
We're learning that chronic inflammation is a factor in many systemic diseases. For example, it can interfere with wound healing and other issues associated with diabetes. It also contributes to fatty deposit buildup in arterial blood vessels, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. And in gum disease, chronic inflammation can cause gum detachment, followed by bone and tooth loss.
We're also learning that inflammation can create connections between these various health conditions. If you have an inflammatory disease like heart disease or diabetes, your risk for gum disease not only increases but it may also be difficult to bring under control. Likewise, if you have persistent gum disease, the associated inflammation could aggravate or even increase your risk for other systemic diseases.
Researchers hope continued discoveries about the interrelationship of inflammation with various conditions will lead to better treatment strategies, including for gum disease. In the meantime, getting prompt treatment for any inflammatory condition, especially gum disease, could help your treatment prospects with other conditions.
If you would like more information on connections between dental disease and other health conditions, 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 Link between Heart & Gum Diseases.”
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into caviÂties. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods.Â Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Mention “bacteria” and people begin looking for the germicide. The truth is, though, only a few strains cause disease — the rest are benign or even play a beneficial role.
This may shock you, but your body both inside and out is home to around 100 trillion single-celled organisms, exceeding the number of your native cells by 10 to 1. You won't notice them, though: bacteria are so small they only make up 1 to 3% of your total body mass. And each of us has a unique “microbiome” of micro-organisms: they influence a variety of processes like digestion and metabolism, and some even “teach” our immune systems to distinguish between helpful and harmful bacteria.
Of the 10,000 or more species of bacteria that inhabit the body, perhaps the most studied and understood are in the mouth. We even have a database that catalogs the gene sequences of oral bacteria. And what we've learned has enlarged our understanding of dental disease and how to prevent or treat it.
This new knowledge, for example, confirms that many of our modern lifestyle habits adversely affect oral health. For example, researchers have found higher concentrations of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria most responsible for tooth decay, in current samples of biofilm than in those from preindustrial eras. The culprit seems to be the modern diet rich with carbohydrates like sugar that bacteria eat. Cigarette smoking can also make the mouth friendlier to disease-causing bacteria.
On the bright side, our growing knowledge of oral bacteria is helping us devise better prevention and treatment strategies. One example is the use of antibiotics to reduce the populations of disease-causing oral bacteria.
The broad, traditional approach kills not only malevolent bacteria, but beneficial strains as well. The approach may also be helping bad bacteria become resistant to common antibiotics. A newer approach targets specific bacteria with custom-designed antibiotics that won't kill other bacteria. There's also increased focus on ways to re-balance a person's normal microbiome if it's become skewed.
As we come to understand bacteria better — both good and bad species — these and other dental care efforts will benefit. With our increasing knowledge of these microorganisms that surround us the future looks bright for better oral health.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Shows Bacteria Essential to Health.”
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.
Although toothaches are common, not all tooth pain originates from the same source. But regardless of its cause, you need to take prompt action to find out and begin treatment.
Sensitive teeth, for example, usually cause a quick stab of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold or when you bite down. If the pain lasts only a second or two, you may have a small area of decay in a tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root. The latter often occurs either because of over-aggressive brushing or periodontal (gum) disease. In both cases, the gums may have shrunk back or receded to expose the root surface.
A sharp pain when biting down may be a sign of decay or a loose filling; it could also mean you have a fractured or cracked tooth. For any of those causes, you'll need treatment to repair the problem and relieve the pain.
You may also experience a lingering tooth pain ranging from dull to sharp, or localized to one tooth or seeming to radiate from a general area, such as above the upper jaw. There are a number of possible causes, but two prominent ones are an abscess (a localized area of infection that's become inflamed) or deep decay within the pulp, the heart of a tooth.
This usually calls for a root canal treatment for the affected tooth. In this procedure we drill an access hole into the pulp and clear it of infected and dead tissue. We then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole. Later, we bond a permanent artificial crown to the tooth to further protect it from re-infection.
Whether your pain is momentary or lingering, dull or sharp, you should see us as soon as possible to determine its cause. You should still see us even if sharp, lingering pain goes away — this could simply mean the infected nerves in the pulp have died but not the infection. The sooner you have the cause of your pain treated, the better your chances of a happy and less costly outcome.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what to do about it, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
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