Dentists and oral surgeons remove millions of teeth every year, most without any adverse aftereffects. But about 2% of patients experience a dry socket, a condition that, although not dangerous to health, can be quite painful.
Also known as alveolar osteitis, a dry socket occurs when the blood clot that normally forms right after extraction doesn't form or becomes lost later. The clot serves as a barrier for the underlying bone and nerves during the healing process; without it these tissues can become irritated from contact with air, food or fluids.
Dry sockets (which usually occur in the back, lower molars) are fortunately rare, mainly in patients over 25, smokers or women using oral contraceptives. Patients also have a higher risk of developing a dry socket if they attempt certain activities too soon after tooth extraction like vigorous chewing or brushing that may dislodge the protective clot.
You can reduce your chances of a dry socket after a tooth extraction with a few simple guidelines. Unless advised otherwise by your dentist, avoid brushing the day after extraction and gently rinse the mouth instead. It also helps to avoid hot liquids and eat softer foods for a few days. If you smoke, you should avoid smoking during this time and use a nicotine patch if necessary.
Over the next few days, you should remain alert for any signs of a dry socket, often a dull, throbbing pain that radiates outward toward the ears, and a bad taste or mouth odor. A prompt visit to the dentist will help alleviate these symptoms, often in just a few minutes.
To treat it, a dentist will typically irrigate the socket and apply a medicated dressing, which you would need to change every other day for up to a week. After that, you'll leave the dressing in place for a while as you heal.
A dry socket doesn't interfere with the healing process: Your extraction site will heal whether or not you have one. But prevention and treatment for a dry socket will help ensure your healing after an extracted tooth is much less uncomfortable.
If you would like more information on dry socket after tooth extraction, 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 “Dry Socket.”
While periodontal (gum) disease could ruin your dental health, it doesn’t have to. Dentists and periodontists (specialists in gums and other supporting tooth structures) have effective methods for stopping it, especially if the infection is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages. With effective treatment, those swollen, reddened and bleeding gums can return to a healthy shade of pink.
But even if we stop the infection, you’re not out of danger. If you’ve had at least one bout with gum disease, you’re at higher risk for another infection. We will need to maintain ongoing vigilance to prevent another infection.
If you’ve recently undergone treatment for gum disease, here are 3 things you should do to keep your now healthy gums continually healthy.
Practice daily oral hygiene. Gum disease arises most often from dental plaque, a thin biofilm of disease-causing bacteria that builds up on tooth surfaces. It’s important for everyone to remove this buildup with daily brushing and flossing, but it’s even more so if you’ve already experienced gum disease. Practicing effective oral hygiene every day will reduce the presence of bacteria that could ignite a new infection.
See the dentist more frequently. The general rule for routine dental cleanings and checkups is twice a year. But you may need more frequent visits, post-gum disease. Depending on the severity of your disease, we may recommend you make return visits at two- to three-month intervals of time. These visits may also include heightened screenings to ensure another infection hasn’t taken hold, as well as procedures to make it easier to clean certain tooth areas prone to plaque buildup.
Manage other health conditions. Gum disease’s severity is often caused by the inflammatory response your body initiates to fight the infection, which then becomes chronic. This is similar to other conditions like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis: There’s evidence inflammation elsewhere in the body could worsen a gum infection, and vice-versa. Managing other health conditions through medical care, medication and lifestyle changes could minimize the occurrence and severity of a future gum infection.
If you would like more information on remaining infection-free after 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Each year, millions of children and teenagers wear braces or clear aligners to straighten a crooked smile. But there may be a way to treat some of these bite problems and avoid braces—by intercepting the problem at an earlier age.
This can often be done if the bite problem stems from abnormal jaw development rather than misaligned teeth. An example of this occurs when the upper jaw growth outpaces the lower jaw, causing the upper teeth to protrude beyond the lower teeth. Aside from the effect on appearance, protruding front upper teeth may extend beyond the protection of the lip and be more prone to injury.
A device called a Herbst appliance could prevent this from happening. The top of the device has two hinged metal tubes that connect to elastic bands bonded to the back teeth on both sides of the upper jaw. The bottom also has tubes affixed in the same way to the bottom teeth, except they're slightly smaller and fit within the upper tubes.
The lower tubes sliding within the upper tubes produces slight pressure against the lower jaw to ease it forward. This gradually influences the lower jaw to grow at a pace equal with the upper jaw to decrease the chances of poor bite development. Unlike other corrective methods, the Herbst appliance fixed in place and out of the way won't interfere with sports or other physical activities.
An installed Herbst appliance may change a patient's sensations during swallowing, eating or speaking, but most children adapt to the changes within a few days. And, because the device can create challenges for keeping the back teeth clean, many dentists recommend adding a fluoride rinse to daily brushing and flossing as an added boost against tooth decay.
The Herbst appliance is most effective during the period of most rapid physical growth between the ages of 11 and 14, but if the teeth are already beginning to protrude it can be undertaken as early as 8 or 9. Either way, this important orthodontic tool could help address a complicated bite problem and reduce the need for more costly orthodontic treatment later on.
If you would like more information on early interventions for poor bites, 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 “The Herbst Appliance.”
The monarchs of the world experience the same health issues as their subjects—but they often tend to be hush-hush about it. Recently, though, the normally reticent Queen Elizabeth II let some young dental patients in on a lesser known fact about Her Majesty's teeth.
While touring a new dental hospital, the queen told some children being fitted for braces that she too “had wires” once upon a time. She also said, “I think it's worth it in the end.”
The queen isn't the only member of the House of Windsor to need help with a poor bite. Both Princes William and Harry have worn braces, as have other members of the royal family. A propensity for overbites, underbites and other malocclusions (poor bites) can indeed pass down through families, whether of noble or common lineage.
Fortunately, there are many ways to correct congenital malocclusions, depending on their type and severity. Here are 3 of them.
Braces and clear aligners. Braces are the tried and true way to straighten misaligned teeth, while the clear aligner method—removable plastic mouth trays—is the relative “new kid on the block.” Braces are indeed effective for a wide range of malocclusions, but their wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss, and they're not particularly attractive. Clear aligners solve both of these issues, though they may not handle more complex malocclusions as well as braces.
Palatal expanders. When the upper jaw develops too narrowly, a malocclusion may result from teeth crowding into too small a space. But before the upper jaw bones fuse together in late childhood, orthodontists can fit a device called a palatal expander inside the upper teeth, which exerts gentle outward pressure on the teeth. This encourages more bone growth in the center to widen the jaw and help prevent a difficult malocclusion from forming.
Specialized braces for impacted teeth. An impacted tooth, which remains partially or completely hidden in the gums, can impede dental health, function and appearance. But we may be able to coax some impacted teeth like the front canines into full eruption. This requires a special orthodontic technique in which a bracket is surgically attached to the impacted tooth's crown. A chain connected to the bracket is then looped over other orthodontic hardware to gradually pull the tooth down where it should be.
Although some techniques like palatal expanders are best undertaken in early dental development, people of any age and reasonably good health can have a problem bite corrected with other methods. If you are among those who benefit from orthodontics, you'll have something in common with the Sovereign of the British Isles: a healthy, attractive and straighter smile.
There are important reasons not to smoke, like minimizing your risk for deadly diseases like heart disease or lung cancer. But here's another good reason: Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and possible tooth loss. And although not necessarily life-threatening, losing your teeth can have a negative effect on your overall health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, individuals who smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop gum disease, and four times as likely the infection will become advanced. Your risk may also increase if you're regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.
There are a number of reasons for this increased risk. For one, smokers are less likely than non-smokers to recognize they have gum disease, at least initially, because they may not display classic symptoms of an infection like red, swollen or bleeding gums. This happens because the nicotine in tobacco smoke interferes with normal blood circulation. As a result, their gums may appear healthy when they're not.
That same circulation interference can also inhibit the production and supply of antibodies to fight infection. Not only can this intensify the infection, it can also slow healing and complicate treatment. In fact, smokers are more likely to have repeated episodes of infection, a condition called refractory periodontitis.
But there is good news—smoking's effect on your gum health doesn't have to be permanent. As soon as you stop, your body will begin to repair the damage; the longer you abstain from the habit, the more your gum health will improve. For example, one national study found that former smokers who had not smoked for at least eleven years were able to achieve an equal risk of gum disease with someone who had never smoked.
Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it can be done. If abrupt cessation (“cold turkey”) is too much for you, there are medically-supported cessation programs using drugs or other techniques that can help you kick the habit. And while it may be a long road, leaving smoking behind is an important step toward improving and maintaining good dental health.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
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