While lasers still seem like science fiction, they’ve been used commercially (and medically) for decades. But there’s still room for growth in practical applications with this developing technology. One promising area is in the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection triggered by plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles caused by inadequate oral hygiene. The disease is highly destructive and can eventually lead to both tooth and bone loss. Treatment procedures vary widely, but they all have the same goal: remove the offending plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. Without plaque the infection subsides and the gums can heal.
For decades now, dentists have removed plaque and calculus manually with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment. If the disease has advanced below the gum line or formed deep voids filled with infection called periodontal pockets, the dentist may also employ surgical techniques to access the infected areas.
While all these techniques have a long track record for effectiveness, they can cause the inadvertent destruction of healthy tissue, as well as create discomfort for some patients afterward. This is where a new protocol called Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP®) may be able to make a difference in the future.
With the LANAP® protocol, surgeons direct a laser beam of light through a fiber optic the width of three human hairs onto diseased tissue. The particular color of light interacts with the tissue, which contains the darkly-pigmented bacteria causing the disease, and “vaporizes” it. The beam, however, passes harmlessly through lighter-pigmented healthy tissue; as a result diseased tissue is eradicated with little to no harm to adjacent healthy tissue.
With these capabilities, trained dentists using LANAP® for gum disease treatment might be able to achieve conventional results with less tissue removal and bleeding, less discomfort for patients, and less tissue shrinkage than traditional procedures — and without scalpels or sutures. And some post-surgical studies have indicated LANAP® might also encourage gum tissue regeneration in the months following.
LANAP®, however, is still developing and requires further research. Thus far, though, the results have been encouraging. As laser technology advances, it’s quite possible tomorrow’s patient may experience less discomfort and more effective healing with their gum disease treatment.
If you would like more information on gum disease 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 “Treating Gum Disease with Lasers.”
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
When you’re among the top players in your field, you need every advantage to help you stay competitive: Not just the best equipment, but anything else that relieves pain and stress, and allows you to play better. For top-seeded Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic, that extra help came in a somewhat unexpected form: a custom made mouthguard that he wears on the court and off. “[It helps] to not grind my teeth while I play,” said the 25-year-old up-and-coming ace. “It just causes stress and headaches sometimes.”
Mouthguards are often worn by athletes engaged in sports that carry the risk of dental injury — such as basketball, football, hockey, and some two dozen others; wearing one is a great way to keep your teeth from being seriously injured. But Raonic’s mouthguard isn’t primarily for safety; it’s actually designed to help him solve the problem of teeth grinding, or bruxism. This habitual behavior causes him to unconsciously tense up his jaw, potentially leading to problems with muscles and teeth.
Bruxism is a common issue that’s often caused or aggravated by stress. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to suffer from this condition: Everyday anxieties can have the same effect. The behavior is often worsened when you consume stimulating substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs.
While bruxism affects thousands of people, some don’t even suspect they have it. That’s because it may occur at any time — even while you’re asleep! The powerful jaw muscles that clench and grind teeth together can wear down tooth enamel, and damage both natural teeth and dental work. They can even cause loose teeth! What’s more, a clenching and grinding habit can result in pain, headaches and muscle soreness… which can really put you off your game.
There are several ways to relieve the problem of bruxism. Stress reduction is one approach that works in some cases. When it’s not enough, a custom made occlusal guard (also called a night guard or mouthguard) provided by our office can make a big difference. “When I don’t sleep with it for a night,” Raonic said “I can feel my jaw muscles just tense up the next day. I don’t sense myself grinding but I can sort of feel that difference the next day.”
Â An occlusal guard is made from an exact model of your own mouth. It helps to keep your teeth in better alignment and prevent them from coming into contact, so they can’t damage each other. It also protects your jaw joints from being stressed by excessive force. Plus, it’s secure and comfortable to wear. “I wear it all the time other than when I’m eating, so I got used to it pretty quickly,” said Raonic.
Teeth grinding can be a big problem — whether you put on your game face on the court… or at home. If you would like more information about bruxism, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
After months of treatment we’ve removed your braces and your new smile emerges. Upon closer view, however, you notice a number of chalky white spots on your teeth.
These pale areas are white spot lesions (WSLs), the result of mineral breakdown from the long-term contact of acid with the enamel surface. The underlying cause is built-up bacterial plaque due to inadequate oral hygiene, and as such WSLs are the beginning stages of tooth decay.
While anyone can develop WSLs, brace wearers are highly susceptible because of the extra care required to clean around orthodontic hardware. Poor dietary habits such as frequent snacking on sugary or acidic foods and beverages also increase the risk of WSLs.
To reduce the risk of developing this condition, brace wearers must give extra attention and effort to daily oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing. The extra effort required in brushing can be aided by specialized toothbrushes designed to clean around brackets and wires, along with prescription-level fluoride toothpastes for added enamel strength. Floss threaders or a water flosser, a device that uses pulsating water under high pressure, may help you maneuver around hardware to remove plaque between teeth. It's also important to maintain a healthy mouth environment by limiting intake of sugary or acidic snacks and beverages, avoiding tobacco or excessive alcohol or caffeine, and drinking plenty of water to keep your mouth from drying out.
If you’ve already developed lesions, it’s important to stop the decay process before it causes more damage. One way is to assist your body’s natural mechanism for re-mineralizing tooth enamel with fluoride pastes or gels or re-mineralizing agents, or undergoing micro-abrasion to repair a tooth’s surface.
To improve a tooth’s appearance a procedure known as “caries infiltration” involves injecting a liquid tooth-colored resin into the lesion, which is then hardened with a curing light. The spot becomes less noticeable and appears more like normal enamel. For extensive defects, conventional bonding with composite resins or porcelain veneers can be used to cosmetically cover the tooth.
Getting ahead of the problem with effective oral hygiene and good dietary and lifestyle practices will keep WSLs at bay while you undergo orthodontic treatment. If they do develop, however, there are ways to minimize their effect and restore the look of your teeth.
Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates knows how important it is to present your best face to the world — and one of the most important features of that face is a beaming smile. But there came a point when she noticed something was a little off. “I've always had good teeth, but it seemed to me as I was getting older that they weren't looking as good,” Kathy explained in a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine.
That's when she decided it was time to take action. Kathy had orthodontic treatment when she was in her fifties, and she keeps her smile bright with tooth whitening treatments. She uses a kit provided by her dentist with a safe, effective whitening solution.
Of course, a bright, healthy smile looks great anywhere — whether you're on the red carpet or “off the grid.” And you don't have to be a Hollywood star to have professional whitening treatments. In fact, teeth whitening is one of the most popular and affordable cosmetic treatments modern dentistry offers.
The basic options for professional teeth whitening include in-office bleaching or take-home kits. Both types of dentist-supervised treatments offer a safe and effective means of getting a brighter smile; the main difference is how long they take to produce results. A single one-hour treatment in the office can make your teeth up to ten shades lighter — a big difference! To get that same lightening with at-home trays, it would take several days. On the plus side, the take-home kit is less expensive, and can achieve the same results in a bit more time.
It's important to note that not all teeth can be whitened with these treatments. Some teeth have intrinsic (internal) stains that aren't affected by external agents like bleaches. Also, teeth that have been restored (with bonding or veneers, for example) generally won't change color. And you can't necessarily whiten your teeth to any degree: Every tooth has a maximum whiteness, and adding more bleach won't lighten it beyond that level. Most people, however, find that teeth whitening treatments produce noticeable and pleasing results.
What about those off-the-shelf kits or in-the-mall kiosks? They might work… or they might not. But one thing's for sure: Without a dentist's supervision, you're on your own. That's the main reason why you should go with a pro if you're considering teeth whitening. We not only ensure that your treatment is safe — we can also give you a realistic idea of what results to expect, and we will make sure that other dental problems aren't keeping you from having a great-looking smile.
How often does Kathy Bates see her dentist for a checkup and cleaning? “I go about every four months,” she noted. “I'm pretty careful about it.” And if you've seen her smile, you can tell that it pays off. If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “Teeth Whitening.”
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