Since their development in the laboratory over five decades ago, lasers have found increasing use in our everyday lives. In the field of medicine, it’s not uncommon to find lasers in the offices of dermatologists, ophthalmologists and surgeons, to name just a few. Now, some dentists are finding that lasers can offer an alternative means of treating gum disease — and one that may have advantages in certain situations.
You probably know that a laser produces a special kind of light — in fact, its name is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Essentially, a medical laser uses electrical energy to produce an intense and narrow beam of concentrated light. This light can be directed to a particular area, often via a fiber-optic channel. The laser’s precision allows a doctor or technician to focus the light energy exactly where it’s needed — to remove diseased tissue, seal off blood vessels, and sterilize a wound, for example.
For several years, periodontists — dentists who specialize in treating diseases of the gums — have been researching the use of lasers for treating certain types of gum disease. In standard clinical practice, hand-held instruments and ultrasonic cleaning tools are used at regular time intervals (3 – 6 months) to remove the sticky bacterial biofilm, as well as calculus (tartar), that forms in between teeth and gums. If that still isn't effective, gum surgery may be required to access the affected area, remove diseased tissue, and reduce pocket depth (the space below the gum line that gets larger as bone loss occurs) to prevent reinfection.
Recently, however, several new procedures have been developed that use lasers to accomplish some or all of these goals. One type of therapy uses a special laser that emits pulses of light with a specific wavelength (color) of 1064 nanometers. This light passes through healthy cells like a sunbeam through a window — but when it encounters darkly-pigmented bacteria, it vaporizes them instantly!
One of the potential advantages of laser treatment is its precision: focused directly on the area where trouble occurs, it targets diseased tissue but leaves healthy tissue alone. Another is that laser treatment is less invasive: It requires less tissue removal, and may cause less discomfort and tissue shrinkage (gum recession) than conventional periodontal surgery. And because it produces small amounts of heat, it can seal blood vessels and help control bleeding.
While lasers have long shown promise for treating gum disease, until recently it wasn’t clear if they offered any advantages over traditional methods. Now, several studies have shown that certain laser treatments can be just as effective as traditional gum surgery in many cases — with the potential benefit of being less invasive. In the future, the use of lasers for periodontal procedures is likely to increase.
It’s important to remember that no single treatment — not even a laser — can “zap” gum disease in one fell swoop. Controlling periodontal disease requires effective at-home oral hygiene combined with regular professional care. If you have questions about periodontal disease, please call our office to schedule a consultation.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it “one of the ten most important public health measures of the 20th Century.” A new vaccine? A cure for a major disease? No—the CDC is referring to the addition of fluoride to drinking water to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride is a chemical compound found in foods, soil and water. Its presence in the latter, in fact, was key to the discovery of its dental benefits in the early 20th Century. A dentist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose natural water sources were abundant with fluoride, noticed his patients' teeth had unusual staining but no tooth decay. Curious, he did some detective work and found fluoride in drinking water to be the common denominator.
By mid-century, fluoride was generally recognized as a cavity fighter. But it also had its critics (still lively today) that believed it might also cause serious health problems. Ongoing studies, however, found that fluoride in tiny amounts—as small as a grain of sand in a gallon of water—had an immense effect strengthening enamel with scant risk to health.
The only condition found caused by excess fluoride is a form of tooth staining called fluorosis (like those in Colorado Springs). Fluorosis doesn't harm the teeth and is at worst a cosmetic problem. And it can be avoided by regulating the amount of ingested fluoride to just enough for effectively preventing tooth decay.
As researchers have continued to learn more about fluoride, we've fine-tuned what that amount should be. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which sets standards for fluoride in drinking water, now recommends to utilities that fluoridate water to do so at a ratio of 0.7 mg of fluoride to 1 liter of water. This miniscule amount is even lower than previous recommendations.
The bottom line: Fluoride can have an immense impact on your family's dental health—and it doesn't take much. Excessive amounts, though, can lead to dental staining, so it's prudent to monitor your intake. That means speaking with your dentist about the prevalence of fluoride in your area (including your drinking water) and whether you need to take measures to reduce (or expand) your use of it.
If you would like more information on how best fluoride benefits your family's 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
“That kid is growing like a weed!” Every proud parent likes to hear something like that about their child: It means they’re growing up—and it shows!
As nature takes its course, your child will physically transform into an adult. And that also includes their mouth: By the time they enter early adulthood they will have had two sets of teeth and their jaw structure will have changed dramatically.
All of this happens without you needing to do anything. But there can be bumps along the road like tooth decay or abnormal bite development. For that, you can and should intervene by preventing or at least slowing the formation of such situations.
The best way to do this is to form a partnership with your child’s dentist. Like any partnership, each party contributes something to the relationship.
For you that means first and foremost keeping up your child’s regular oral hygiene practice. This should start even before they begin showing teeth. As an infant you should start wiping their gums after each feeding with a clean wet cloth to hold down bacterial growth. When teeth appear, you can graduate them to brushing and flossing, teaching them along the way to do it for themselves.
You can also boost their dental health by cutting back on sugar consumption, which feeds bacteria. Besides monitoring their snacks, also avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula, breast milk, or regular milk). And be sure you provide them a nutritious diet filled with tooth-strengthening foods.
On your dentist’s part, they provide regular cleanings that help ensure decay-causing plaque doesn’t build up on the teeth. They’ll also monitor for any signs of decay, and provide treatment when necessary. To further protect them against decay, dentists can apply sealants and topical fluoride to your child’s teeth, especially if they appear to be at high risk. And they’ll also be watching for early signs of a bite problem: Early intervention could prevent or at least minimize this development.
With that kind of solid partnership, your child’s normal dental development can proceed as smoothly as possible. Avoiding the possible pitfalls will help them achieve optimal oral health now and throughout their lives.
To keep a healthy smile, brushing and flossing your teeth every day should be at the top of your to-do list, along with regular dental visits. Dental visits are usually scheduled every six months when your dental professional will remove any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque deposits) missed during everyday hygiene.
If you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, however, these dental visits may become even more important toward preventing a re-infection. For one thing, your dentist may want to see you more frequently.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria living in dental plaque, which first infect the superficial layers of gum tissue. Even though the body initiates an inflammatory response to fight it, the infection continues to grow as long as there is plaque present to fuel it. The problem isn't just plaque on the visible tooth surface—hidden plaque beneath the gum line can create deep pockets of infection that can be difficult to treat.
To stop the infection, dentists must manually remove plaque through procedures known as scaling and root planing. Any and all plaque and tartar deposits must be removed, even those deep around the roots, to arrest the infection. This often requires several treatment sessions and sometimes gum surgery to access areas below the gum line.
These types of treatments, especially in the disease's early stages, have a good chance of restoring health to your gums. But because of the high possibility of reinfection, your dentist will need to step up your regular dental maintenance from now on. This could mean visits as frequent as every few weeks, depending on your particular case of gum disease and your dentist's recommendation.
Your dental visits after gum disease may also become more involved than before. Your dentist will now monitor you closely for any signs of reinfection and at the first sign initiate a new round of treatment. You may also need surgical procedures to make some areas around your teeth more accessible for future cleaning and maintenance.
Periodontal maintenance after gum disease helps ensure another infection doesn't rise up to undermine your progress. To paraphrase a well-known quote, eternal vigilance is the price of continuing good dental health.
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