If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
If you would like more information on gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”
It's been a rough year for all of us, but especially for Simon Cowell. The famous entrepreneur and brutally honest talent judge on American Idol and America's Got Talent underwent emergency back surgery in August after an accident on a new electric bike. But the good news is he's well on his way to recovery—and well enough in October to undergo another, less-stressful, procedure: a smile makeover with dental veneers.
This latest trip to the dentist wasn't Cowell's first experience with the popular restoration, wanting this time to update his smile to more closely resemble what he had when he was younger. He even brought along some older photos for reference.
Veneers aren't exclusive to celebrities like Simon Cowell, as thousands of people who get them every year can attest. These thin wafers of porcelain bonded to teeth can mask a wide range of defects, from chips, wear or discoloration to slight tooth gaps or misalignments. And every veneer is custom-made to match an individual patient's dental dimensions and coloring.
If you're thinking about a smile upgrade, here are a few reasons to consider dental veneers.
More bang for your buck. Compared to other transformative cosmetic options, veneers are relatively affordable, with the cost dependent largely on the extent of your dental needs. Still, dental veneers are an investment that can give long-lasting yields of a more attractive smile and even a completely new look.
Little to no tooth alteration. In most veneer cases, we need only remove a small amount of enamel so the veneers don't appear bulky (the alteration is permanent, though, so you'll need a veneer on the tooth from then on). It's also possible to get “no-prep” veneers requiring little to no alteration.
Durable and long-lasting. Continuing improvements in porcelain and other dental ceramics have led to stronger forms that can better withstand the biting forces your teeth encounter every day. Although you'll still need to be careful biting into hard items, your veneers can last for several years.
Easy to maintain. Veneer cleaning and maintenance is much the same as with natural teeth—daily brushing and flossing, and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Outside of that, you'll need to watch what you chomp down on: Veneers are strong, but not indestructible, and they can break.
As Simon Cowell knows, getting veneers isn't difficult. It starts with an initial visit so we can evaluate your dental health and needs. From there, we can present options on how to update your smile.
If you would like more information about dental veneers, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Complete tooth loss is a common condition among older adults, gradually occurring one or two teeth at a time. There often comes a point of realization, though, that all the teeth will eventually be lost.
This can create a dilemma: Do you replace teeth as they're lost, or go ahead and have all of them removed at one time?
Up until recently, the latter choice seemed the most practical and affordable. But most dentists would agree that keeping natural teeth for as long as practical is better for a person's overall oral health and to slow any potential bone loss.
The emergence of dental implants has made this less of a dilemma: We can use this technology to more affordably replace teeth in stages rather than all at once. This is because an implant is technically a root replacement: a dentist inserts a titanium metal post into the jawbone. Because of an affinity with titanium, bone cells grow and adhere to the implant surface, which creates a stronger hold. It also impedes bone loss.
We can, of course, use implants as individual tooth replacements. But the expense of this approach with multiple teeth puts it well out of reach financially for many people. But implants can also be used as connective points between the patient's jaw and other kinds of dental restorations like bridges, partial dentures, and full removable or fixed dentures.
Using this approach, we can adopt a strategy of allowing healthier teeth to remain until it's necessary to remove them. We initially place implants to support a bridge, for example; later we can use the same implants along with additional ones to support a larger restoration, even a fixed full denture.
An implant-supported restoration is typically more expensive than traditional bridges or dentures, but far less than replacing teeth with individual implants. And because the stages of restorations may occur over a long period of time, the cost can be spread out to make it more manageable.
If you're facing a future where it's likely you'll lose all your teeth, you don't have to lose them all at once. Staged restorations with implants could help you hold on to your natural teeth for as long as possible, slow bone loss and make for a healthier mouth.
If you would like more information on the wide array of dental restoration options, 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 “Replacing All Teeth But Not All at Once.”
Tooth decay is a destructive disease that could rob you of your teeth. But it doesn't appear out of nowhere—a number of factors can make it more likely you'll get cavities.
But the good news is you can be proactive about many of these factors and greatly reduce your risk of tooth decay. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to point you in the right direction for preventing this destructive disease.
Do you brush and floss every day? A daily habit of brushing and flossing removes buildup of dental plaque, a bacterial film on teeth that's the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Hit or miss hygiene, though, can greatly increase your risk for developing a cavity.
Do you use fluoride? This naturally occurring chemical has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel against decay. Many locations add fluoride to drinking water—if your area doesn't or you want to boost your fluoride intake, use toothpastes, mouthrinses or other hygiene products containing fluoride.
Do you smoke? The nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels in the mouth so that they provide less nutrients and antibodies to the teeth and gums. Your mouth can't fight off infection as well as it could, increasing your risk of dental diseases like tooth decay.
Do you have dry mouth? This isn't the occasional bout of “cotton mouth,” but a chronic condition in which the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva. Saliva neutralizes mouth acid, so less of it increases your risk for decay. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by medications or other underlying conditions.
Do you snack a lot between meals? Sugary snacks, sodas or energy drinks can increase oral bacteria and acidity that foster tooth decay. If you're snacking frequently between meals, your saliva's acid neutralizing efforts may be overwhelmed. Coordinate snacking with mealtimes to boost acid buffering.
You can address many of these questions simply by adopting a daily habit of brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and eating a healthy, “tooth-friendly” diet. By reducing the risk factors for decay, you can avoid cavities and preserve your teeth.
If you would like more information on preventing tooth decay, 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 Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Dental implants are far and away the most “tooth-like” restoration available today for missing teeth. Not only do they look real, they also mimic dental anatomy in replacing the tooth root.
To install an implant, though, requires a minor surgical procedure. And, as with any surgery, that includes a slight risk for a post-surgical infection. For most patients this isn't a major concern—but it can be for people with certain medical conditions.
One way to lessen the risk for implant patients whose health could be jeopardized by an infection is to prescribe a prophylactic (preventive) antibiotic before implant surgery. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the measure for patients with artificial heart valves, a history of infective endocarditis, a heart transplant and other heart-related issues.
In the past, their recommendation also extended to people with joint replacements. But in conjunction with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery (AAOS), the ADA downgraded this recommendation a few years ago and left it to the physician's discretion. Indeed, some orthopedic surgeons do recommend antibiotic therapy for patients before surgical procedures like implantation for up to two years after joint replacement.
These changes reflect the ongoing debate over the proper use of antibiotics. In essence, this particular argument is over risks vs. benefits: Are pre-surgical antibiotics worth the lower infection risk for patients at low to moderate risk in return for increased risk of allergic reactions and other side effects from the antibiotic? Another driver in this debate is the deep concern over the effect current antibiotic practices are having on the increasing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
As a result, dentists and physicians alike are reevaluating practices like prophylactic antibiotics before procedures, becoming more selective on who receives it and even the dosage levels. Some studies have shown, for example, that a low 2-gram dose of amoxicillin an hour before the procedure can be effective with much lower risks for side effects.
If you're considering dental implants and you have a medical condition you think could be impacted by the procedure, discuss the matter with your dentist and physician. It may be that pre-surgical antibiotics would be a prudent choice for you.
If you would like more information on getting dental implants, 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 “Implants & Antibiotics.”
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