Some things in life are almost guaranteed to make you go, "Uh, oh"—your car won't start, your a/c goes out, or, worse yet, you get an unexpected letter from the IRS.
Here's another: One of your teeth is loose. And, if you don't act quickly, that loose tooth may soon become a lost tooth.
But first, we need to find out why it's loose. It's usually due to one of two types of injury related to your bite. One type is called primary occlusal trauma. This results from your teeth encountering higher than normal biting forces. This often happens if you habitually gnash or grind your teeth together outside of normal functions like eating or speaking.
The other type is secondary occlusal trauma. In this case, the supporting gum tissues and bone have been weakened or lost by disease, with the gum tissues possibly becoming detached. Without this support, even normal biting forces could loosen a tooth.
Our treatment approach for a loose tooth may differ depending on which of these is the cause. For primary occlusal trauma, we want to reduce the biting forces that have contributed to loosening the tooth. One way to do this is to create a mouthguard that when worn prevents teeth from making solid contact during grinding episodes.
For secondary trauma, we want to first focus on treating any gum disease responsible for weakening the gum tissues. Once we have it under control, the gums and bone tissues can heal and possibly regain and strengthen their attachment with the tooth.
At the same time, we may also need to stabilize a loose tooth to prevent its loss. This usually involves splinting, whereby we use neighboring healthy teeth to support the loose tooth. One way to do this is to attach a metal strip across the backs of the loose tooth and its more stable neighbors, or by way of a channel cut through the top biting surfaces of the teeth.
If a loose tooth regains its attachment with the gums and bone, it may stabilize and any splinting can be removed. If not, splinting may become a permanent solution. Either way, prompt treatment can help us save your loose tooth.
If you would like more information on treating loose teeth, 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 “Loose Teeth: Biting Forces Can Loosen Teeth.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
As summer wanes, thousands of high school grads will begin the new adventure called college. For many of these "freshmen," it will also be their first taste of true independence—mom and dad and the guidance they normally provide will be far away.
This is generally a good thing. But there are also consequences to making (or not making) your own choices that can have long-lasting effects, some of which may not be pleasant. For example, neglecting teeth and gum care could disrupt oral health (as well as overall health) for years or even decades to come.
As your newly minted college student sets off on their new academic journey, be sure that among the advice you give them are these 3 important dental care habits.
Brush and floss daily. It's important to stress that among the things of childhood to leave behind, oral hygiene isn't one of them. Dental disease is mainly caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing greatly reduces disease risk. It's a top priority, even with a hectic college schedule.
Eat "tooth-friendly." That hectic schedule may also tempt them to grab whatever food is quick and available. Unfortunately, such food isn't always the healthiest, especially for teeth and gums. Foods and snacks loaded with sugar are especially perilous to oral health—sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Healthier food choices contribute to healthier teeth and gums.
Avoid bad habits. The exhilaration of new independence can lead to a flurry of bad habits, some of which could affect teeth and gum health. Using tobacco increases the risk of dental disease and oral cancer. Wearing lip piercings or tongue jewelry may cause tooth damage. And certain forms of unprotected sex raise the chances of viral infection and an increased risk of oral cancer.
College can be an exciting adventure. But there are pitfalls along the way, especially for oral health. Advising your college student to follow these tips will help ensure their teeth and gums stay healthy beyond graduation.
If you would like more information on ways to keep your student's teeth and gums healthy, 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 “10 Health Tips For College Students.”
Wearing braces can ultimately give you a healthier and more attractive smile. In the short-term, though, your gums in particular may be in for a rough ride.
While we're all susceptible to gum disease, braces wearers are more likely to encounter it. This stems from two related factors: the difficulty braces pose to oral hygiene; and the potential irritation of soft tissues by the braces themselves.
The main cause for any form of gum disease is dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque through brushing and flossing greatly reduces the risk of any dental disease. But braces wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss—as a result, some plaque deposits may escape cleaning, which makes a gum infection more likely.
To exacerbate this, braces hardware can irritate the gums and cause swelling and tissue overgrowth, also known as hyperplasia. The one-two punch of ineffective hygiene with hyperplasia are why braces wearers have a higher incidence of gum problems compared to the general population.
To guard against this, patients with braces need to be extra vigilant about keeping their teeth and gums clean of plaque. It may be helpful in this regard to use specialized tools like interproximal brushes with narrower bristle heads that are easier to maneuver around braces.
And rather than using traditional flossing thread, orthodontic patients may find it easier and more effective to use pre-loaded flossing picks or an entirely different method called oral irrigation. The latter involves a handheld wand that directs a stream of pulsating water between teeth to loosen and flush away plaque.
It's also important for patients to see their dentist as soon as possible for any gum swelling, bleeding or pain. The dentist can determine if it relates to gum disease, hyperplasia or a combination of both, and recommend treatment. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces until the gums heal, so catching and treating any gum problem early is a priority.
Regardless of the risk for gum disease, orthodontic treatment is still well worth the investment in your health and appearance. Practicing effective oral hygiene and keeping a watchful eye on your gums will help further lower that risk.
If you would like more information on oral care during orthodontic 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.
But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.
For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.
The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.
So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.
It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.
If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.
Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.
As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.
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