Over the years, dentists have become quite proficient in treating even the most severe periodontal (gum) disease. Many of these positive outcomes are achieved through manual effort using simple hand instruments called scalars and conventional periodontal surgery.
But that might be changing soon: Periodontists (specialists who care for the gums and other supporting dental structures) are starting to use a different kind of tool for gum disease treatment—surgical lasers.
Although lasers are more commonplace in other fields of medicine, recent developments hint at a more prominent future role for them in dentistry. One of these developments is a laser procedure called Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP®) that treats deep spaces of infection called periodontal pockets, which develop advanced gum disease.
These pockets form as infected gums gradually detach from a tooth as the supporting bone is lost. This widens the normally narrow gap between the teeth and gums. The ensuing pocket fills with infection that must be removed to adequately treat the gum disease. As the pocket extends down to the root, it's often necessary to perform a surgical procedure through the adjacent gum tissue to fully access it.
But with the LANAP® procedure, the dentist can use a laser to access a deep pocket without opening the gums. Moving from above into the gap between the tooth and gums, the light from the laser has the ability to remove diseased tissue without damaging healthy tissue.
The dentist follows this with ultrasonic equipment and manual scalers to further decontaminate the tooth root surface. The laser is then employed once again to facilitate the formation of a blood clot between the teeth and gums to seal the area with a fibrin clot. Once treated, the dentist will monitor the tooth to ensure maximum bone regeneration and gum reattachment.
Although outcomes are the same for the most part, this laser technique for periodontal pockets may have some advantages over conventional surgery. Studies so far show that LANAP® causes less tissue removal and bleeding, less potential for gum recession and less discomfort experienced by patients.
It's not likely that lasers will fully replace conventional gum disease treatments any time soon. But if the encouraging evidence thus far continues, the laser will one day become as commonplace alongside the other tools used for gum disease treatment.
If you would like more information on treatments for 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 “Treating Gum Disease With Lasers.”
If you've ever had a run-in with cavities, you know the drill (no pun intended): After getting a local anesthetic for pain, the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. It's an effective treatment protocol we've been using for well over a century.
It does, however, have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn't cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.
But advances in dental tools, technology and techniques are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why.
Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in its earliest stages. By doing so, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we're beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it's visible to the naked eye.
Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it's undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We're also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don't require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.
These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you're in the dentist's chair.
If you would like more information on effectively treating dental 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.
If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.
Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.
Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.
Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.
Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.
It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.
If you would like more information on dental care during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Mike Tyson made a splash when he faced off against sharks during the Discovery Channel's Shark Week 2020. But there's bigger news for fans of the former undisputed world heavyweight champion: After a 15-year absence, he will enter the ring again for two exhibition matches in the Fall. However, it's not just Tyson's boxing action that made news during his 20-year career. His teeth have also gotten their fair share of press.
Tyson used to be known for two distinctive gold-capped teeth in the front left side of his mouth. He made headlines when he lost one of the shiny caps—not from a blow by a fellow pugilist but from being headbutted by his pet tiger as Tyson leaned in for a kiss. Tyson's teeth again garnered attention when he had his recognizable gold caps replaced with tooth-colored restorations. But the world champion may be best known, dentally at least, for his trademark tooth gap, or “diastema” in dentist-speak. Several years ago, he had the gap closed in a dental makeover, but he soon regretted the move. After all, the gap was a signature look for him, so he had it put back in.
That's one thing about cosmetic dentistry: With today's advanced technology and techniques, you can choose a dental makeover to suit your individual taste and personality.
An obvious example is teeth whitening. This common cosmetic treatment is not a one-size-fits-all option. You can choose whether you want eye-catching Hollywood white or a more natural shade.
If your teeth have chips or other small imperfections, bonding may be the solution for you. In dental bonding, tooth-colored material is placed on your tooth in layers and then hardened with a special light. The material is matched to your other teeth so the repaired tooth fits right in. This procedure can usually be done in just one office visit.
For moderate flaws or severe discoloration, porcelain veneers can dramatically improve your appearance. These thin, tooth-colored shells cover the front surface of the tooth—the side that shows when you smile. Veneers are custom-crafted for the ideal individualized look.
Dental crowns can restore single teeth or replace missing teeth as part of a dental bridge. Again, they are manufactured to your specifications. With restorations like crowns and veneers, the smallest detail can be replicated to fit in with your natural teeth—even down to the ridges on the tooth's surface.
And if, like Mike Tyson, you have a gap between your teeth that makes your smile unique, there's no reason to give that up if you opt for a smile makeover. Whether you would like a small cosmetic enhancement or are looking for a more dramatic transformation, we can work with you to devise a treatment plan that is right for you.
If you would like more information about smile-enhancing dental treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cosmetic Dentistry: A Time for Change.”
If you're intrigued by the strange and bizarre, here's one to pique your interest: geographic tongue. It's a rare condition that causes the appearance of red patches on the tongue surface, surrounded by grayish-white borders, and which look a lot like continents on a map (hence the name). But although it may look odd, geographic tongue won't harm your health.
The condition is also known as benign migratory glossitis, so named because it's not cancerous and the patches seem to move or “migrate” around the tongue surface. The most common causes are thought to be stress or hormonal disruptions in those predisposed to the condition. Many researchers believe zinc or vitamin B deficiencies in the body contribute to its occurrence. It also seems more prevalent among non-smokers and pregnant women, as well as occurring as a family trait.
The red patches are created by the temporary disappearance of some of the papillae, tiny bumps on the tongue's top surface. The patches can abruptly appear during a flareup and then disappear just as suddenly. But as “angry” as the patches may look, geographic tongue is not considered a health danger. It isn't normally painful, although people can experience stinging or numbing sensations emanating from the patches that can be mildly uncomfortable.
Because it's also rare, you're not likely to encounter it personally. But if you or a loved one does begin to notice red patches on the tongue, there are a few things you can do to lessen any accompanying irritation. For one, cut out foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, eggplant, mint or highly spicy or acidic foods, all of which have been known to increase discomfort. You might also avoid astringents like alcohol or mouthwashes that likewise irritate the patches when they occur.
Although geographic tongue can't be cured, your dentist can help you manage symptoms when they arise with the help of prescribed anesthetic mouthwashes, antihistamines or steroid lozenges. These not only can help lower any discomfort or irritations, they may also lessen the duration of a flareup.
For the most part, geographic tongue usually causes more embarrassment than physical discomfort. But with a little help from your dentist, you can keep it to a minimum. Geographic tongue may be odd, but it's nothing to worry about.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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 “Geographic Tongue: No Cause For Alarm.”
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