Half of adults over age 30, and an astounding 70% over 65, have had some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Unchecked, a bacterial gum infection can spread into the supporting bone and destroy attachments between the teeth and gums. Because of its rapidity and aggressiveness, gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults.
But there may be even more harm caused by gum disease beyond losing teeth: There's growing evidence gum disease may worsen other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with gum disease are also more likely to suffer from one or more of these systemic conditions.
The link between gum disease and these other diseases appears to be inflammation. When tissue becomes injured or diseased, swelling (inflammation) occurs to isolate these tissues from the rest of the body. Under normal circumstances, this is a critical defense mechanism to protect the body overall.
But this response is a temporary measure—if it becomes chronic, it can actually damage the tissues it's trying to protect. This often happens with gum disease as inflammation can't overcome the gum infection, and both sides settle into a kind of trench warfare. The same story plays out with other diseases with an inflammatory response. And if the body is waging war with a gum infection, it can worsen these other conditions.
It's important then to take care of your gums and the rest of the body to minimize chronic inflammation. You can help prevent a gum infection by brushing and flossing every day and getting your teeth cleaned professionally at least every six months. You should also see your dentist if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, often the first signs of gum disease.
It can also benefit your gums if you're addressing other inflammatory issues in your body. Besides regular medical care, you can reduce your risk for other systemic diseases by eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight at an optimum level and avoiding smoking.
The individual parts of your body aren't isolated islands: Diseases that affect one can eventually affect all. By preventing or treating gum disease as early as possible, you'll also help reduce the effects of other systemic diseases.
Although we've known for some time how tooth decay forms, it's still prevalent across the population—even more so than cancer or heart disease. Along with gum disease, it's a leading cause of tooth loss.
Fortunately, our knowledge about tooth decay has grown considerably, to the point that we now recognize a number of risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop this disease. By first identifying them in individual patients, we can take steps to address them specifically to reduce the chances of this destructive disease.
Genetics. Researchers have identified around 40 to 50 genes that can influence cavity development. The best way to assess your genetic risk is through family history—if numerous close family members contend with tooth decay, your risk may be high. If so, it's important to be extra vigilant with addressing other areas over which you have more control.
Saliva. Cavities are directly caused by oral acid, a byproduct of bacteria, that can erode tooth enamel over prolonged contact. This is minimized, though, through a normal saliva flow that neutralizes acid and helps remineralize enamel. But poor saliva production can slow acid neutralization. You can improve your saliva flow by drinking more water, changing medications or using saliva-boosting products.
Oral hygiene. You can reduce bacteria (and thus acid) by removing their "room and board"—dental plaque. This accumulating film of food particles harbors the bacteria that feed on it. Daily brushing and flossing, accompanied by regular dental cleanings, effectively removes dental plaque, which in turn lowers the levels of oral bacteria and acid.
Dental-friendly diet. Even if you diligently address the previous risk factors, your diet may fight against your efforts. Diets high in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, provide abundant food sources for bacteria. On the other hand, a diet primarily of whole foods rich in vitamins (especially D) and minerals like calcium and phosphorous strengthen teeth against decay.
Preventing tooth decay isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach. By identifying your own particular risk, we can craft a care strategy that can be your best defense against this destructive dental disease.
Dorit Kemsley isn't shy. Best known to fans as an outspoken and sometimes outrageous cast member of the reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kemsley is never reticent about “mixing it up” with fellow castmates or their significant others. Recently, though, she confessed to something that left her less than confident: her smile.
Kemsley has been self-conscious about her smile because her teeth looked noticeably short, worn down from an unconscious habit of grinding her teeth. Although teeth grinding is more common among children (who normally grow out of it by adolescence), it can persist into adulthood, usually from difficulties managing high stress (a likely component in the fashion designer/reality show star's busy life).
Stress-induced teeth grinding can occur during waking hours or, more likely, during deep sleep. The accumulating, long-term effects from the habit can lead not only to worn teeth but to weakened gum support, a high risk of tooth fracture or jaw pain and dysfunction.
So, how do you know if you grind your teeth, especially if it's only happening at night? Typical signs include sore jaws after awaking from sleep, increased tooth pain or sensitivity or, like Kemsley, a noticeable difference in your tooth length. Your family or sleeping partner may also complain about the “skin-crawling” noise you make during the night.
There are ways to lessen the effects of teeth grinding. The first step is to have us verify the underlying cause for the habit. If it's tension from stress, then you might reduce the habit's occurrences by learning better stress management or relaxation techniques through individual counseling, group support or biofeedback therapy. We can also fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night or through the day that reduces the force generated during teeth grinding.
And if you've already experienced accelerated tooth wear like Kemsley with a resultant “small teeth” smile, you might pursue the same solution as the RHOBH star: dental veneers. These thin, life-like wafers of porcelain are custom-made to mask imperfections like chips, staining, slight tooth gaps and, yes, worn teeth.
Veneers are often less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic techniques, yet they can have a transformative effect, as Kemsley's Instagram followers have seen. In conjunction with other dental treatments needed to repair any underlying damage caused by a grinding habit, veneers are an effective fix for the smile you present to the world.
If you suspect you may have a grinding habit, see us for a complete examination. From there, we'll help you protect your teeth and your smile.
Along with tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease is a primary enemy of oral health. If not caught and treated, a gum infection could spread and eventually cause tooth loss.
But although prevalent among the general population, one demographic in particular is highly susceptible to gum disease—smokers and tobacco users in general. It's estimated over 60 percent of all smokers will contend with a gum infection at some point during their lifetimes. Smokers are also twice as likely as non-smokers to develop advanced gum disease that could lead to serious dental damage.
The high rate of gum disease among smokers (and to some extent, all tobacco users) is connected to the effect that tobacco has on oral health in general. Studies show that nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, which in turn reduces their delivery of antibodies to fight disease-causing bacteria. As a result, smokers have more harmful bacteria in their mouths than non-smokers, which increases their risk of dental disease.
Smokers are also less likely than non-smokers to display inflammation or redness, the initial signs of a burgeoning gum infection. This too has to do with the constricted blood vessels in the gums that can't deliver adequate oxygen and nutrients to these tissues. As a result, the gums can appear pink and healthy, yet still be infected. This could delay diagnosis of gum disease, allowing the infection to become more advanced.
Finally, smoking can interfere with the treatment of gum disease. Because of nicotine, a tobacco users' infections and wounds are often slower to heal. Combined with late diagnoses of gum disease, this slower healing creates an environment where smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to lose teeth from gum disease.
If you do smoke, it's important to let your dentist know how much and for how long you've smoked, which could be relevant to any dental care or treatment. Better yet, quitting the habit could improve your oral health and lower your risk for teeth-destroying gum disease.
If you would like more information on the effects of smoking on 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
After a year of lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions, people are itching this summer to get back out into the great outdoors. The good news is that quite a number of national and state parks are open. But there may still be some restrictions, and you might need reservations in busier parks. The key is to plan ahead—and that includes for normal contingencies like dental emergencies.
Anyone who's physically active can encounter brunt force to the face and jaws. A tumble on a hike or a mishap with a rental bike could injure your teeth and gums, sometimes severely. But if you're already prepared, you might be able to lessen the damage yourself.
Here's a guide for protecting your family's teeth during that long-awaited summer vacation.
Locate dental and medical care. If you're heading away from home, be sure you identify healthcare providers (like hospitals or emergency rooms and clinics) in close proximity to your vacation site. Be sure your list of emergency providers also includes a dentist. Besides online searches, your family dentist may also be able to make recommendations.
Wear protective mouth gear. If your vacation involves physical activity or sports participation, a mouthguard could save you a world of trouble. Mouthguards, especially custom-made and fitted by a dentist, protect the teeth, gums and jaws from sudden blows to the face. They're a must for any activity or sport with a risk of blunt force trauma to the face and jaws, and just as important as helmets, pads or other protective gear.
Know what to do for a dental injury. Outdoor activities do carry a risk for oral and dental injuries. Knowing what to do if an accident does occur can ease discomfort and may reduce long-term consequences. For example, quickly placing a knocked out tooth back into its socket (cleaned off and handled by the crown only) could save the tooth. To make dental first aid easier, here's a handy dental injury pocket guide (//www.deardoctor.com/dental-injuries/) to print and carry with you.
And regardless of the injury, it's best to see a dentist as soon as possible after an accident. Following up with a dentist is necessary to tidy up any initial first aid, or to check the extent of an injury. This post-injury dental follow-up will help reduce the chances of adverse long-term consequences to the teeth and gums.
Your family deserves to recharge after this tumultuous year with a happy and restful summer. Just be sure you're ready for a dental injury that could put a damper on your outdoor vacation.
If you would like more information about preventing or treating dental injuries, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
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