There are a variety of methods for treating periodontal (gum) disease depending on its severity — from routine office cleanings to periodontal surgery. But the goal behind all of them remains the same: remove bacterial plaque and calculus (tartar), the root cause for gum disease, from all tooth and gum surfaces.
The traditional method for doing this is called scaling in which we use special hand instruments (scalers) to mechanically remove plaque and calculus. Scaling and a similar procedure called root planing (the root surfaces are “planed” smooth of plaque to aid tissue reattachment) require quite a bit of skill and experience. They're also time-consuming: full treatment can take several sessions, depending on how extensive the infection has spread.
In recent years, we've also seen a new method emerge for removing plaque: lasers. Commonly used in other aspects of healthcare, lasers utilize a focused beam of light to destroy and remove diseased or unhealthy tissue while, according to studies and firsthand accounts, minimizing healthy tissue destruction to a better degree than traditional techniques. Procedure and healing times are likewise reduced.
Because of these beneficial characteristics, we are seeing their use in gum disease treatment, especially for removing diseased and inflamed tissues below the gum line and decreasing sub-gingival (“below the gums”) bacteria.
Dentists who have used lasers in this way do report less tissue damage, bleeding and post-treatment discomfort than traditional treatments. But because research is just beginning, there's not enough evidence to say laser treatment is preferably better than conventional treatment for gum disease.
At this point, lasers can be an effective addition to conventional gum disease treatment for certain people, especially those in the early stages of the disease. As we continue to study this technology, though, the day may come when lasers are the preferred way to stop gum disease from ruining your dental health.
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.”
Primary (baby) teeth might not last long, but their impact can last a lifetime. Their first set of teeth not only allows young children to eat solid foods, but also guide permanent teeth to form and erupt in the proper position.
Unfortunately, primary teeth aren't immune to tooth decay. If the decay is extensive, the tooth may not last as long as it should. Its absence will increase the chances the permanent teeth won't come in correctly, which could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that's costly to correct.
If a primary tooth is already missing, we can try to prevent a malocclusion by installing a “space appliance.” This keeps nearby teeth from drifting into the empty space intended for the permanent tooth. The best approach, though, is to try to save a primary tooth from premature loss.
We can often do this in much the same way as we would with a permanent tooth — by removing decayed material and filling the prepared space. We can also perform preventive applications like topical fluoride or sealants that strengthen or protect the tooth.
It becomes more complicated, though, if the pulp, the interior of the tooth, becomes decayed. The preferred treatment for this in a permanent adult tooth is a root canal treatment. But with a primary tooth we must also consider the permanent tooth forming below it in the jaw and its proximity to the primary tooth. We need to adapt our treatment for the least likely damage to the permanent tooth.
For example, it may be best to remove as much decayed structure as possible without entering the pulp and then apply an antibacterial agent to the area, a procedure known as an indirect pulp treatment. We might also remove only parts of the pulp, if we determine the rest of the pulp tissue appears healthy. We would then dress the wound and seal the tooth from further infection.
Whatever procedure we use will depend on the extent of decay. As we said before, our number one concern is the permanent tooth beneath the primary. By focusing on the health of both we can help make sure the permanent one comes in the right way.
If you would like more information on caring for children's primary teeth, 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 Canal Treatment for Children's Teeth.”
At your child's latest dental visit, you found out one of their primary (“baby”) teeth has become decayed and in danger of loss. Of course, you may think, it's only a primary tooth — it's going to come out sooner or later.
But a primary tooth lost “sooner” rather than “later” can create long-term negative consequences for your child's dental health. For the sake of the future permanent tooth, the best treatment strategy could be to put forth the effort and expense to save it.
Besides its role in eating and chewing, a primary tooth's most important function is as a “trailblazer” for the permanent tooth developing below it. A primary tooth doesn't normally loosen and let go until the new permanent tooth is ready to erupt. Until then they hold the new tooth's space in the jaw.
But if the primary tooth is lost prematurely, nearby teeth can drift into and crowd the space so that the permanent tooth comes in out of position. This can result in a malocclusion, or poor bite.
Depending on the state of your child's jaw development, it may be advisable to attempt saving the tooth through a filling or, in the case of deep decay, a modified root canal treatment. If the tooth can't be saved, then placing an orthodontic appliance known as a space maintainer might be necessary. Cemented to a tooth next to the empty space, this appliance has a looped band of metal that butts against the tooth on the other side of the gap, and prevents both teeth from drifting into the space.
Intervening for a decayed primary tooth can seem a waste of time and money since it has a limited lifespan to begin with. But for the health of its companion permanent tooth, as well as possibly avoiding orthodontic treatment, it could be well worth it for your child's long-term dental health.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Although usually an orderly process, some permanent teeth don't come in as they should. In fact, they may not come in at all and remain hidden in the gum — a situation called impaction. This creates multiple problems for function, health and, in the case of front canines, appearance.
Canines are the longer and more pointed teeth on each side of the front-most incisors. They help tear and cut food during chewing, a function impaction eliminates. Besides a higher risk for developing abscesses (isolated areas of infection) and cysts, they can also put pressure on neighboring teeth and damage their roots or cause them to erupt abnormally.
Dentists often remove impacted wisdom and other back teeth to lessen these potential problems. Removing canines, though, has additional considerations: besides compromising ideal chewing function, missing canines often create an unattractive smile.
But before considering removal, there's another technique we might be able to use to save the canines and actually draw them down through the gums to their correct position. It's usually part of an overall orthodontic plan to correct a poor bite (malocclusion).
After pinpointing their exact position with x-rays or CT scanning, a surgeon surgically exposes the impacted canines' crowns through the gums. They then bond small brackets to the crowns and attach a small gold chain to each bracket. They fasten the other end of the chains to orthodontic hardware that exerts downward pressure on the impacted teeth. Over several months this pressure can help move the teeth into their normal positions.
Unfortunately, this technique isn't always advisable: one or more of the impacted teeth may be in a difficult position to attempt it. It's usually best in these situations to remove the teeth, usually sooner rather than later for the sake of neighboring teeth.
Fortunately, with today's advanced restorative techniques, we can eventually replace the canines with dental implants, although that's best undertaken after the patient enters adulthood. In the meantime, we can utilize orthodontic means to preserve the open space and provide a temporary restorative solution.
Whatever route taken, these teeth don't have to become a source of problems, especially for your appearance. Whether through orthodontics or restorative dentistry, impacted canines don't have to ruin your smile.
If you would like more information on various orthodontic procedures, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is about their child's thumb sucking habit. Our advice: if they're under age 4, there's no need for concern — yet. If they're older, though, you should be concerned about the possible effect on their bite.
Thumb sucking is a universal habit among infants and toddlers and is related to their swallowing pattern during feeding. As they swallow, their tongue thrusts forward to create a seal with the lips around the breast or a bottle nipple. Many pediatricians believe thumb sucking replicates nursing and so has a comforting effect on infants.
Around age 4, though, this swallowing pattern begins to change to accommodate solid food. The tongue now begins to rest at the back of the top front teeth during swallowing (try swallowing now and you'll see). For most children, their thumb sucking habit also fades during this time and eventually stops.
But for whatever reason, some children don't stop. As the habit persists, the tongue continues to thrust forward rather than toward the back of the top front teeth. Over time this can place undue pressure on both upper and lower front teeth and contribute to the development of an open bite, a slight gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut.
While late childhood thumb sucking isn't the only cause for an open bite (abnormal bone growth in one jaw is another), the habit is still a prominent factor. That's why it's important that you start encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking around age 3 and no later than 4. This is best accomplished with positive reinforcement like rewards or praise.
If they've continued the habit a few years after they should have stopped, we may also need to check to see if their swallowing mechanism has become stunted. If so, we may need to use certain exercises to retrain their tongue to take the proper position during swallowing.
While you shouldn't panic, it's important to take action to stop thumb sucking before it becomes a long-term problem. A positive, proactive approach will help avoid costly orthodontic problems later in their lives.
If you would like more information about thumb or finger sucking, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
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