One of the most important revolutions in healthcare in recent decades is the increasing use of lasers. Now, laser technology is making a showing in dental care for the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Lasers (an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation") narrowly focus and amplify light within a small area. First developed in the early 1960s, laser technology rapidly advanced in the ensuing decades with more compact and precise devices that were eventually safe and effective for many types of medical procedures. Its remarkable features are now available for the primary focus of gum disease treatment—removing bacterial plaque.
Plaque is a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces that serves as a haven for the bacteria that cause gum disease. The continuing presence of plaque and calculus (tartar) enables the infection to thrive and advance within the gum tissues, ultimately damaging them along with supporting bone. As the tissues weaken and bone volume diminishes, the teeth are at greater risk for loss.
It's necessary, therefore, first and foremost to remove all detectable plaque and calculus to stop the infection. This is traditionally done with special hand tools called scalers used to manually remove plaque, or with ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose to be flushed away with water. These procedures can take numerous sessions and may result in some minor post-procedural discomfort and bleeding during the cleaning.
But lasers specifically designed for plaque removal can minimize tissue damage and resulting discomfort. Because the particular laser light used reacts only with plaque and diseased tissue, it can remove them without disturbing nearby healthy tissue usually more efficiently than traditional scaling. Dentists who've used the technology frequently report less bleeding and higher patient satisfaction.
But before lasers for gum disease treatment are widely adopted, the procedure must undergo further scrutiny. Reports from dentists notwithstanding, not enough research studies have been performed to date that meet the necessary scientific criteria. But if the evidence so far from the field holds up, it's quite possible lasers will one day become a regular part of dental practice for treating gum disease.
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 magazine article “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
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.”
Porcelain veneers are one of the best ways to transform your teeth’s appearance with only a small amount of tooth preparation. But even that small amount could leave a veneered tooth permanently altered.
As the name implies, veneers are thin layers of custom-designed porcelain bonded to the outside of a tooth to cover defects. They’re usually ideal for minor chipping, staining or even slight tooth misalignments. But although they’re thin—often just a millimeter or so in thickness—they can still make a tooth appear or feel bulky.
To reduce this extra width, we usually need to remove some of the tooth’s surface enamel. Since enamel doesn’t replenish itself, this alteration could mean the tooth will require a restoration from then on.
But now, you may be able to take advantage of new advances in this popular restoration: No-Prep or Minimal Prep veneers that involve little to no tooth alteration. In most cases they’re simply bonded to the teeth with only slight enamel reshaping.
Because of their ultra-thinness, No-Prep veneers (usually between 0.3 to 0.5 mm, as thin as a contact lens) are bonded directly to teeth that are practically untouched beforehand. A Minimal Prep veneer usually requires only enamel reshaping with an abrasive tool before it’s placed. And unlike traditional veneers, they can often be removed if needed to return the teeth to their original form without another restoration.
These new veneers are best for people with small teeth, often from wear due to teeth grinding, narrow smiles (the side teeth aren’t visible while smiling), or slightly misshapen teeth like underdeveloped teeth that can appear peg-shaped. But people with oversized teeth, some malocclusions (bad bites) or similar dental situations may still require enamel removal to avoid bulkiness even with ultra-thin veneers.
If you don’t have those kinds of issues and your teeth are reasonably healthy, we can apply No-Prep or Minimal Prep veneers in as few as two appointments. The result could be life-changing as you gain a new smile you’re more than happy to share.
If you would like more information on no-prep veneers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Twenty-six percent of American adults between 65 and 74 have lost all their teeth to dental disease. This isn’t an appearance problem only—lack of teeth can also harm nutrition and physical well-being.
Fortunately, we have advanced restorative options that can effectively replace missing teeth. Of these, there’s a tried and true one that’s both affordable and effective: removable dentures.
Dentures are simple in design: a plastic or resin base, colored with a pinkish-red hue to resemble gums to which we attach prosthetic (false) teeth. But while the design concept isn’t complicated, the process for creating and fitting them can be quite involved: they must conform to an individual patient’s jaws and facial structure if they’re going to appear natural.
If you’re considering dentures, here’s some of what it will take to achieve a successful outcome.
Positioning the teeth. The position of the prosthetic teeth on the base greatly determines how natural they’ll appear and how well they’ll function. So, we’ll need to plan tooth placement beforehand based on your facial and jaw structures, as well as photos taken of you before tooth loss. We’ll also consider how large the teeth should be, how far to place them forward or back from the lips, and whether to include “imperfections” from your old look that you see as part of your appearance.
Simulating the gums. While the teeth are your smile’s stars, the gums are the supporting cast. It’s important that we create a denture base that attractively frames the teeth by determining how much of the gums show when you smile, or adding color and even textures to better resemble gum tissue. We can also add ridges behind the upper teeth to support speech.
Balancing the bite. Upper and lower dentures don’t operate in and of themselves—they must work cooperatively and efficiently with each other during eating or speaking. So while appearance matters, the bite’s bite adjustment or balance might matter more. That’s why we place a lot of attention into balancing and adjusting the bite after you receive your dentures to make sure you’re comfortable.
This is a detailed process that we may need to revisit from time to time to make sure your dentures’ fit remains tight and comfortable. Even so, modern advances in this traditional restoration continue to make them a solid choice for total tooth loss.
If you would like more information on denture restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Removable Dentures.”
Even though an implant is now as close to life-like as modern dentistry can produce, it won’t surpass the function of your own natural tooth. That’s not to say implants are an inferior choice—in fact, it’s often the best one if a tooth is beyond reasonable repair. But first, let’s consider saving your existing tooth.
We first need to know why your tooth is diseased—more than likely either from tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Although different, these infections both begin with bacteria and can eventually lead to tooth loss.
While your mouth is teeming with millions of harmless bacteria, a few strains that live in dental plaque (a thin biofilm on your teeth) can cause disease. As they proliferate—feeding mostly on leftover sugar—they produce acid, which can erode the protective enamel on teeth. This can create cavities, which must be cleared of decayed material and filled.
Sometimes, though, the decay spreads deep within the pulp and through the root canals putting the tooth in danger. We may be able to save it, though, with a root canal treatment. In this common procedure we access the pulp chamber and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue. We then fill the empty chamber and root canals with a gutta percha filling and then seal the tooth. We later cap the tooth with a crown to further protect it.
Dental plaque can also give rise to a gum infection that triggers chronic inflammation. The inflammation can cause the gums to weaken and detach from the teeth to form large, infection-filled voids called periodontal pockets. This could lead to bone deterioration, further loosening the tooth’s hold.
But we can effectively treat gum disease by removing the plaque, which is fueling the infection. We normally do this with special hand instruments, but may also need to use surgical measures for more advanced cases. After plaque removal the inflammation subsides, giving the tissues a chance to heal and strengthen. We may also need to provide further assistance to these tissues to regenerate through gum or bone grafting.
These efforts can be quite involved, but if successful they could give your tooth another lease on life. And that could be a much better outcome for your dental health.
If you would like more information on the best treatment choices for your dental 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
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