Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
If you're one of the more than 26 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, you know first hand how the disease impacts your life. That includes your dental health — and whether or not implants are a good tooth replacement option for you.
Diabetes is actually the name for a group of diseases affecting how your body processes glucose, a simple sugar that provides energy for the body's cells. The level of glucose in the blood is regulated by insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Diabetes causes the pancreas to either stop producing insulin (Type 1) or not produce enough (Type 2). Also in Type 2, the body can become unresponsive to the insulin produced.
The implications for either type are serious and can be life-threatening. If glucose levels are chronically too low or high the patient could eventually go blind, suffer nerve damage, or develop kidney disease. Diabetes also interferes with wound healing and creates a greater susceptibility for gangrene: diabetics thus have a higher risk for losing fingers, toes and limbs, and can even succumb to coma or death.
Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes. Fortunately, most people with this type can effectively manage it through diet, exercise and regular glucose monitoring; if need be, prescription medication can help regulate their levels. Even so, diabetics with their disease under control must still be alert to slower wound healing and a higher risk of infection.
Because implant placement is a minor surgical procedure, the aspects of diabetes related to healing, infection and inflammation could have an adverse impact on the ultimate success of the placement. Implant surgery creates a wound in the surrounding gum tissues and bone that will need to heal; the body's immune response in a diabetic can interfere with that process. And if infection sets in, the risks of implant failure increase.
But research has shown that diabetics with good glucose management have as high a success rate (over 95% after ten years) as non-diabetic patients. That means the implant option is a viable one for you as a diabetic — but only if you have your disease under control.
Learning you’re pregnant can be a joyous moment. But it also means life is about to change as you focus on protecting you and your child from anything that endangers your health.
Because of these new concerns you might even hesitate about receiving dental care, especially involving anesthesia. But several medical organizations representing doctors, OB-GYN physicians and dentists wholeheartedly recommend continuing regular dental visits during pregnancy.
In fact, you should continue them because you’re pregnant: physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy could increase your risk of dental disease.
For, example, your consumption of carbohydrates (like sugar) could increase, which in turn increases your risk of tooth decay. You’ll also need to be more concerned about dental plaque, a thin bacterial film on your teeth that can cause disease. Hormonal changes during pregnancy may make you more sensitive to plaque, and thus more susceptible to disease — especially periodontal (gum) disease.
In fact, a specific form of gum disease called pregnancy gingivitis affects around 40% of expectant women at some point in their pregnancy. And if you already have gum disease, pregnancy could worsen it. Left untreated the disease could develop into more severe periodontitis, which may significantly damage your teeth’s support structures far below the gum line, leading to bone loss, which could result in the eventual loss of your teeth. Daily brushing and flossing, regular cleanings and checkups and, if your dentist prescribes it, antibacterial mouth rinses can help you stay ahead of it.
But what about other procedures while you’re pregnant? It may be best to wait on elective treatments for cosmetic purposes until after the baby is born. But some situations like deep tooth decay that could require a root canal treatment may become too serious to postpone.
Fortunately, several studies have shown it’s safe for pregnant women to undergo many dental procedures including tooth fillings or extractions. And receiving local anesthesia doesn’t appear to pose a danger either.
The important thing is to remain diligent with your own personal hygiene — brushing and flossing — and making other healthy choices like eating a nutritious diet. And be sure to let your dentist know about your pregnancy to help guide your dental treatment over the next few months.
It’s estimated that between 10 and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic jaw pain and disability. Healthcare providers refer to it as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), a group of conditions characterized by pain and limited function with the jaw joints, as well as related muscles and tissues.
People with TMJD often experience popping, clicking or grating sounds when they move their lower jaw. The more serious symptoms, however, are severe pain and limited movement of the jaw. The causes of TMJD haven’t been fully substantiated, but it’s believed to be influenced by a person’s genetic background, their gender (most patients are women of childbearing age), their environment and behavioral habits. This uncertainty about the underlying causes has made it difficult to improve treatment strategies for the disorder.
One promising area of research, though, is suspected connections between TMJD and other health problems. In one survey of over 1,500 TMJD patients, nearly two-thirds indicated they had three or more other chronic conditions. Among the most frequently named were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disturbances.
We’re not quite sure how or why TMJD might be linked to these other conditions, but further study is underway. Researchers hope any knowledge uncovered could lead to advances in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent TMJD.
Until then, the more traditional treatment approach remains the best course of action: medication to relax muscles and relieve pain; thermal therapies using hot and cold compresses during flare-ups; and physical therapy. Switching to softer foods temporarily may also give jaw muscles a rest from over-activity. Although jaw surgery is an option, we should consider it a last resort after other therapies have proven altogether ineffective in relieving pain and restoring function.
If you suspect you have TMJD, please visit a medical doctor first. Other conditions could mimic the symptoms of the disorder and would need to be ruled out first. If the diagnosis is TMJD, you’re not alone. You can receive information, support and updates on the latest research by visiting the TMJ Association at www.tmj.org.
If you would like more information on chronic jaw pain, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
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