Baby (primary) teeth look and function much like their permanent counterparts. Besides having a visible crown, they also have roots that maintain contact with the jawbone.
But there are some differences, the biggest one being the normal process whereby primary tooth roots dissolve or, in dental terms, resorb. Root resorption eventually leads to the tooth coming loose to make way for the permanent tooth.
Adult tooth roots can also resorb — but it's decidedly not normal. If adult root resorption isn't promptly treated, it could also lead to tooth loss — but there won't be an incoming tooth to take its place.
Although it can begin inside a tooth, adult root resorption usually begins on the outside. One type, external cervical resorption (ECR), begins around the neck-like area of the tooth not far below the gum line. Its initial signs are small pink spots where the tooth enamel has eroded; those pink cells within the space are doing the damage.
We don't fully understand the mechanism behind ECR, but there are some factors that often contribute. People with periodontal ligament damage or trauma, sometimes due to too much force applied during orthodontic treatment, have a high risk of ECR. Some bleaching techniques for staining inside a tooth may also be a factor.
The key to treating ECR is to detect it as early as possible before it does too much root damage. Regular checkups with x-rays play a pivotal role in early detection. Advanced stages of ECR might require more advanced diagnostics like a cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) scan to fully assess the damage.
If the lesion is small, we can surgically remove the cells causing the damage and fill the site with a tooth-colored filling. If ECR has spread toward the pulp, the tooth's inner nerve center, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment.
Either of these methods intends to save the tooth, but there is a point where the damage is too great and it's best to remove the tooth and replace it with a life-like dental implant or other restoration. That's why it requires vigilance through regular, semi-annual dental visits to detect the early signs of root resorption before it's too late.
If you would like more information on adult tooth root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption.”
If you suspect you have periodontal (gum) disease, it's important to get a correct diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment the better the long-term outcome.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that's most often triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces. Plaque buildup most often occurs when a person doesn't practice effective oral hygiene: daily brushing and flossing and professional cleanings at least twice a year.
The most common type of gum disease, gingivitis, can begin within days of not brushing and flossing. It won't always show itself, but you can have symptoms like swollen, red or bleeding gums, as well as bad taste and breath. You could also develop painful abscesses, which are localized pockets of infection within the gums.
If we don't stop the disease it will eventually weaken the gum attachment to the teeth, bone loss will occur and form deep pockets of infection between the teeth and bone. There's only one way to stop it: remove the offending plaque from all tooth surfaces, particularly below the gum line.
We usually remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) manually with special hand instruments called scalers. If the plaque and calculus have extended deeper, we may need to perform another procedure called root planing in which we shave or “plane” the plaque and calculus (tartar) from the root surfaces.
In many cases of early gum disease, your family dentist can perform plaque removal. If, however, your gum disease is more extensive, they may refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in the treatment and care of gums. Periodontists are trained and experienced in treating a full range of gum infections with advanced techniques, including gum surgery.
You can also see a periodontist on your own for treatment or for a second opinion — you don't necessarily need a referral order. If you have a systemic disease like diabetes it's highly advisable you see a periodontist first if you suspect gum disease.
If you think you might have gum disease, don't wait: the longer you do the more advanced and destructive the disease can become. Getting an early start on treatment is the best way to keep the treatment simple and keep gum disease from causing major harm to your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
Hopefully, you’ve developed a long-term care relationship with your family dentist. Better known as a general dentist, these professionals are the central players in maintaining your oral health, and your first stop when you have a problem with your teeth or gums.
But there are times when a particular dental situation calls for a specialist, a dentist with additional training (as much as three years or more in their area of specialty) and the equipment and advanced techniques for your particular need. Here, then, are some of the other kinds of dental professionals your general dentist may refer you to if you need specialized care.
Periodontist — From the Latin peri (“around”) and dont (“tooth”), this dentist cares for the supporting structures of the teeth, particularly the gums and bone. Besides treating advanced cases of periodontal (gum) disease, they’re also adept at reconstructive and cosmetic gum procedures or the placement of dental implants.
Orthodontist — Although known commonly as the “braces” doctor, orthodontists have a much wider concern: the interaction and alignment of teeth and jaws. With a keen understanding of growth and development, orthodontists can employ a number of treatments, including braces, to bring teeth into better positions that will improve function and appearance.
Endodontist — Teeth damaged from disease or injury may need treatments that involve the interior of the tooth — the pulp and root canals. While your general dentist can perform basic root canal treatments, an endodontist has the added knowledge and equipment to treat more difficult cases.
Prosthodontist — As with a prosthetic limb that replaces a lost arm or leg, prosthodontists specialize in replacing lost teeth (prostho means “artificial”). Prosthodontists can skillfully create functional, life-like dentures, as well as natural tooth and implant crowns to replace portions of visible teeth.
Oral Surgeon — These dentists are skilled in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions involving the head and neck (the “maxillo-facial” region). They often work in consultation with general dentists and other specialties for treating complex mouth conditions. Besides tooth extraction and other dental procedures, oral surgeons can also surgically correct jaw alignment or treat trauma to the face and neck area. They also place grafts to stimulate bone growth for future implants.
If you would like more information on how dental specialties can benefit your 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 “The Dental Universe.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
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