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.”
Dorit Kemsley isn't shy. Best known to fans as an outspoken and sometimes outrageous cast member of the reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kemsley is never reticent about “mixing it up” with fellow castmates or their significant others. Recently, though, she confessed to something that left her less than confident: her smile.
Kemsley has been self-conscious about her smile because her teeth looked noticeably short, worn down from an unconscious habit of grinding her teeth. Although teeth grinding is more common among children (who normally grow out of it by adolescence), it can persist into adulthood, usually from difficulties managing high stress (a likely component in the fashion designer/reality show star's busy life).
Stress-induced teeth grinding can occur during waking hours or, more likely, during deep sleep. The accumulating, long-term effects from the habit can lead not only to worn teeth but to weakened gum support, a high risk of tooth fracture or jaw pain and dysfunction.
So, how do you know if you grind your teeth, especially if it's only happening at night? Typical signs include sore jaws after awaking from sleep, increased tooth pain or sensitivity or, like Kemsley, a noticeable difference in your tooth length. Your family or sleeping partner may also complain about the “skin-crawling” noise you make during the night.
There are ways to lessen the effects of teeth grinding. The first step is to have us verify the underlying cause for the habit. If it's tension from stress, then you might reduce the habit's occurrences by learning better stress management or relaxation techniques through individual counseling, group support or biofeedback therapy. We can also fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night or through the day that reduces the force generated during teeth grinding.
And if you've already experienced accelerated tooth wear like Kemsley with a resultant “small teeth” smile, you might pursue the same solution as the RHOBH star: dental veneers. These thin, life-like wafers of porcelain are custom-made to mask imperfections like chips, staining, slight tooth gaps and, yes, worn teeth.
Veneers are often less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic techniques, yet they can have a transformative effect, as Kemsley's Instagram followers have seen. In conjunction with other dental treatments needed to repair any underlying damage caused by a grinding habit, veneers are an effective fix for the smile you present to the world.
If you suspect you may have a grinding habit, see us for a complete examination. From there, we'll help you protect your teeth and your smile.
Introduced to the United States in the 1980s, dental implants have quickly become the go-to restoration for tooth replacement. And for good reason: they're not only incredibly life-like, they're highly durable with a 95% success rate.
But as desirable as they are, you may face a major obstacle getting one because of the condition of the bone at your implant site. To position the implant for best appearance and long-term durability, we must have at least 4-5 mm of bone available along the horizontal dimension. Unfortunately, that's not always the case with tooth loss.
This is because bone, like other living tissue, has a growth cycle: Older cells die and dissolve (resorb) and newer cells develop in their place. The forces transmitted to the jaw from the action of chewing help stimulate this resorption and replacement cycle and keep it on track. When a tooth is lost, however, so is this stimulus.
This may result in a slowdown in cell replacement, causing the eventual loss of bone. And it doesn't take long for it to occur after tooth loss—you could lose a quarter of bone width in just the first year, leaving you without enough bone to support an implant. In some cases, it may be necessary to choose another kind of restoration other than implants.
But inadequate bone isn't an automatic disqualifier for implants. It's often possible to regenerate lost bone through a procedure known as bone augmentation, in which we insert a bone graft at the missing tooth site. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon, which over time may regenerate enough bone to support an implant.
Even if you've had a missing tooth for some time, implementing bone augmentation could reverse any loss you may have experienced. In fact, it's a common practice among dentists to place a bone graft immediately after a tooth extraction to minimize bone loss, especially if there will be a time lag between extraction and implant surgery.
Bone augmentation could add extra time to the implant process. But if successful, it will make it possible for you to enjoy this popular dental restoration.
If you would like more information on dental implant restoration, 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 “Dental Implants After Previous Tooth Loss.”
Dental implants are a reliable way to replace teeth. More than 95% of implants survive ten years after their installation, and many of these could conceivably continue for decades.
But that still leaves a tiny few that don't reach the ten-year mark. Some fail early because the implant didn't integrate fully with the bone to create a durable hold. But others fail later—usually for one of two major causes.
Some failures occur due to over-stressing of the implant from abnormally high biting forces, usually because of teeth grinding. People who have this involuntary habit generate excessive force as they grind their teeth, which can damage implants (as well as natural teeth). To reduce this force, a patient's dentist can fit them with a biteguard they wear in the mouth to prevent teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
Fortunately, teeth grinding isn't that prevalent among adults—but that can't be said about the other major cause for implant failure: periodontal (gum) disease. This is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. The implant itself isn't affected by the infection, but the gums and underlying bone supporting the implant can be.
Implants are most in peril from a form of gum disease called Peri-implantitis, which spreads deeper into the gum tissues around implants faster than infections around natural teeth. That's because implants lack the gum attachment of real teeth, which supply a collagen barrier that slows the spread of infection. Peri-implantitis can quickly infect the supporting bone and eventually weaken its connection with the implant.
Because of its aggressiveness and speed, we must diagnose and treat peri-implantitis as soon as possible to limit any damage to the support structures around an implant. If you notice any swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, you should call your dentist as soon as possible for an examination.
And in light of this potential danger to your implants, you should also strive to prevent gum disease through daily oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing your teeth, including around your implants, removes harmful plaque buildup. This daily habit and regular dental cleanings will help you avoid a costly gum infection and ensure your implants are there for years to come.
If you would like more information on 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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails.”
Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and for good reason—it's your teeth's first line of defense against wearing and harmful oral bacteria. But although enamel can “take a licking and keep on ticking,” it can lose its mineral content, soften and eventually erode to expose the teeth to bacteria.
Here are 4 tips for protecting your enamel so it keeps on protecting you.
Practice sound brushing techniques. Brushing is necessary for removing bacterial plaque that can trigger dental disease. But how you brush could prove not only ineffective, but also harmful to your enamel. So, be sure you're brushing all tooth surfaces, but not too forcefully or too often (twice a day is enough)—otherwise, you could wear down enamel and damage your gums.
Wait to brush after eating. The acid levels in the mouth go up during eating, causing an immediate softening of enamel. But saliva then goes to work neutralizing acid and helping to restore enamel's mineral content. Since it takes saliva about thirty minutes to an hour to complete this task, wait on brushing at least that long. Otherwise, you might remove tiny traces of temporarily softened enamel.
Avoid eating right before bed. While we sleep, our saliva flow decreases until we wake up. If you eat just before bed, you may not be giving your saliva enough time to neutralize acid before it “goes to sleep” with you for the night. So, give your saliva ample time to neutralize any remaining acid by not eating anymore at least an hour before you turn in.
Limit drinking acidic beverages. Some of our favorite drinks—sodas, energy and sports drinks, and even some juices—can be high in acid. To protect your enamel, reduce your consumption of these types of beverages in favor of water or milk (the calcium in the latter will also benefit your enamel). When you do drink acidic beverages, use a straw to minimize contact of the fluid with your enamel.
Healthy and strong enamel is the key to healthy and strong teeth. It's worth taking these steps to protect this important defense against destructive tooth decay.
If you would like more information on personal dental care, 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
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