In the world of movies and television, the lead actors get the lion’s share of the credit. In reality, though, there wouldn’t be much of a show without the supporting cast. You’ll find a similar situation in your mouth: While your teeth get most of the attention, another dental structure plays a critical supporting role—your gums.
It’s only fitting, then, that we put the spotlight on your gums, especially in February. The second month of the year is Gum Disease Awareness Month, when we highlight the importance of our gums and the dangers they face.
While the gums are an important part of your smile, they’re not just for show. Your gums play a critical role in helping to keep your teeth securely attached within the jaw. Their network of blood vessels also supplies nutrients and disease-fighting agents to your teeth. We’re not exaggerating, then, when we say your teeth can’t survive without them.
But although they’re resilient, they do have one major vulnerability: a bacterial infection known as periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease arises from bacteria that thrive within a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque. Untreated, an infection can advance deep into the gums, down to the tooth roots and jawbone.
Gum disease is as much a problem for your teeth as it is for your gums: Weakened gum attachment and loss of bone can put your teeth in danger of being lost. Fortunately, though, there are things you can do to keep gum disease from ruining your dental health.
Brush and floss. To prevent a gum infection, you must keep plaque from building up on your teeth. The best way is a combination of thorough brushing and flossing. Don’t neglect the latter, which is necessary to remove hard-to-reach plaque between teeth. And do it every day—it doesn’t take long for a gum infection to occur.
Get your teeth cleaned. Even the most diligent hygiene practice may still miss some plaque and its hardened form calculus (tartar). These stubborn deposits, though, are no match for our dental cleaning equipment and techniques. Semi-annual visits are also a good time to evaluate your overall dental health, including your gums.
See us at the first sign of infection. Gum disease is often symptomless, especially in the beginning. But there are signs to look for like gum swelling, redness or bleeding. If you notice any of these, see us as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment, the less harm the disease will cause.
Taking care of your gums isn’t just good for your dental health—it’s good for your overall health and well-being. It also doesn’t hurt that your gums are good for your appearance as an important part of a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information about gum disease prevention and treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
To anyone immersed in the “X-Men Universe” Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine, a role he played in seven movies. But there’s more to this Australian actor than mutant bone claws and mutton chops that would make Elvis envious. Jackman has also starred in over 20 non-superhero films, including Les Misérables, for which he won a Golden Globe. He is also a Tony award-winning Broadway performer—with a winning smile.
With his famed character Logan/Wolverine fading in the rearview mirror, Jackman has returned to his musical roots. He will play Harold Hill in the Broadway revival of The Music Man, set to open in Fall 2020. And since May 2019 he’s been on world tour with Hugh Jackman: The Man. The Music. The Show., featuring Jackman and a supporting cast performing songs from favorite shows and films, including Les Misérables and the 2017 hit The Greatest Showman.
The Show, with 90 planned stops throughout Europe, North America and Oceania, is a decidedly different “universe” from the X-Men. As Wolverine, Jackman could get away with a scruffier look. But performing as Jean Valjean or the bigger-than-life P.T. Barnum, he has to bring a vastly different look to the role, which brings us to Jackman’s teeth…
Once upon a time, Jackman’s teeth were an unflattering gray—definitely not a good look for stage or film. So with the help of his dentist, Jackman set about upgrading his smile with teeth whitening. Teeth whitening is a great way to take a dull, stained smile and turn up the volume on its brightness—and attractiveness—a notch or two. A dentist applies a bleaching solution that stays in contact with the teeth for a few minutes. The process is often aided by special lighting.
A professional application is especially desirable if, like Jackman, you want “Goldilocks” brightness: not too little, not too much, but just right for you. Dentists can precisely control the tint level to get a brighter but more naturally looking white. Of course, you can also get a dazzling “Hollywood” smile if you so desire.
And although the effect of teeth whitening isn’t permanent, a dental application can last a while, depending on how well you manage foods and beverages that stain teeth. With a touchup now and then, you may be able to keep your brighter smile for years before undergoing the full procedure again.
One important note, though: This technique only works with outer enamel staining. If the discoloration originates from within the tooth, the bleaching agent will have to be placed internally, requiring access to the inside of the tooth. An alternative would be porcelain veneers to mask the discoloration, an option that also works when there is ultra-heavy enamel staining.
If you’re tired of your dull smile, talk with us about putting some pizzazz back into it. Teeth whitening could be your way to get a smile worthy of Broadway.
If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Whitening Traumatized Teeth.”
Tooth decay can wreak more havoc than just producing cavities. It can work its way into the innermost parts of the tooth — the pulp and tiny passageways called root canals that lead to the tooth's connection with the bone.
If that happens, you'll need more than “drilling and filling.” Without intervention, your tooth could be lost. That intervention is a root canal treatment, a procedure that removes the infection from within the tooth and preserves it from re-infection.
You've probably heard the old belief that root canal treatments are painful. With modern anesthetic techniques to deaden pain, that's not true. In fact, root canal treatments stop the pain caused by infected nerves within the pulp and root canals. More importantly, it saves your tooth.
Root canals can be performed by a general dentist. More extensive decay or complex root canal networks may require the services of an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in root canal anatomy and treatments. Endodontists have advanced techniques and equipment to handle even the most difficult case.
Regardless of who performs it, the basic procedure is the same, as is the goal: to completely remove all diseased tissue within the tooth and seal it with a special filling to prevent re-infection. To access the diseased pulp, we first drill an access hole, usually in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back of a front tooth. We then use specialized instruments to remove the infected tissue and flush out the space with antibacterial solutions.
We then insert a filling called gutta percha into the empty pulp chamber and root canals, seal off the filling with adhesive cement, and close the access hole with filling. These fillings and sealants prevent bacteria from reentering the tooth. For added protection against infection and fracturing, we also recommend placing a full-coverage dental crown. This also enhances the appearance of the tooth, which must be modified during the root canal procedure.
The end result: your once endangered tooth has been preserved for hopefully many years to come. So if we recommend you undergo a root canal treatment, don't wait — the tooth you save may be your own.
The ongoing opioid addiction epidemic has brought together government, law enforcement and healthcare to find solutions. The focus among doctors and dentists has been on finding ways to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.
Opioids (or narcotics) have been a prominent part of pain management in healthcare for decades. Drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl can relieve moderate to extreme pain and make recovery after illness or procedures much easier. Providers like doctors and dentists have relied heavily on them, writing nearly 260 million narcotic prescriptions a year as late as 2012.
But although effective when used properly, narcotics are also addictive. While the bulk of overall drug addiction stems from illegal narcotics like heroin, prescription drugs also account for much of the problem: In 2015, for example, 2 million Americans had an addiction that began with an opioid prescription.
The current crisis has led to horrific consequences as annual overdose deaths now surpass the peak year of highway accident deaths (just over 54,000 in 1972). This has led to a concerted effort by doctors and dentists to develop other approaches to pain management without narcotics.
One that’s gained recent momentum in dentistry involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin work by dilating blood vessels, which reduces painful inflammation. They’re available over the counter, although stronger doses require a prescription.
NSAIDs are effective for mild to moderate pain, but without the addictive properties of narcotics. There are some adverse health consequences if taken long-term, but limited use for pain or during post-procedure recovery is safe.
Many dentists are recommending NSAIDs for first-line pain management after most dental procedures. Narcotics may still be prescribed, but in a limited and controlled fashion. As part of this new approach, dentists typically combine ibuprofen and acetaminophen: Studies have shown the two work together better at reducing pain than either one individually.
Still, many aren’t eager to move away from the proven effectiveness of narcotics to primarily NSAIDs. But as these non-addictive drugs continue to prove their effectiveness, there’s hope the use of addictive opioids will continue to decrease.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that produces widespread pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints. The pain, muscle spasms and tingling it causes can disrupt sleep, alter moods and impair memory function.
Dealing with just this one condition can be overwhelming. But did you know 3 out 4 fibromyalgia patients also develop chronic pain and dysfunction involving their jaw joints? Known collectively as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), these jaw joint problems cause pain, muscle spasms and difficulty moving the jaws that can interfere with eating and speaking. TMD can also contribute to headaches and earaches.
Many researchers believe this prevalence of TMD among fibromyalgia patients stems from both conditions originating from the same primary cause—a malfunction within the central nervous system. In both cases, the brain and spinal cord may not be able to process pain signals in a normal fashion. This malfunction could also be generating and amplifying pain signals even when nerves are receiving no stimulation.
For decades now, the most effective treatment strategy for TMD has been to manage the symptoms with physical therapy and exercises, thermal therapy or medications. Relief for fibromyalgia has depended on medication and relaxation techniques like biofeedback therapy. But with the evidence of some connection between the two conditions, it may be helpful to coordinate treatment for both with a team approach involving all your healthcare providers, rather than treat them separately.
To that end, make sure both your dentist or physician treating you for TMD and your physician treating your fibromyalgia each know about the other condition. Consulting together, your healthcare team may find treatments (like certain drugs that counteract neurotransmitter imbalances) that might help reduce symptoms in both conditions. And cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation and other therapeutic pain management techniques can help you cope with the pain.
Continued research into these two debilitating conditions and the possible links between them may have an effect on how we treat both. A holistic approach to treating them could be the wave of the future.
If you would like more information on the links between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
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