Since their development in the laboratory over five decades ago, lasers have found increasing use in our everyday lives. In the field of medicine, it’s not uncommon to find lasers in the offices of dermatologists, ophthalmologists and surgeons, to name just a few. Now, some dentists are finding that lasers can offer an alternative means of treating gum disease — and one that may have advantages in certain situations.
You probably know that a laser produces a special kind of light — in fact, its name is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Essentially, a medical laser uses electrical energy to produce an intense and narrow beam of concentrated light. This light can be directed to a particular area, often via a fiber-optic channel. The laser’s precision allows a doctor or technician to focus the light energy exactly where it’s needed — to remove diseased tissue, seal off blood vessels, and sterilize a wound, for example.
For several years, periodontists — dentists who specialize in treating diseases of the gums — have been researching the use of lasers for treating certain types of gum disease. In standard clinical practice, hand-held instruments and ultrasonic cleaning tools are used at regular time intervals (3 – 6 months) to remove the sticky bacterial biofilm, as well as calculus (tartar), that forms in between teeth and gums. If that still isn't effective, gum surgery may be required to access the affected area, remove diseased tissue, and reduce pocket depth (the space below the gum line that gets larger as bone loss occurs) to prevent reinfection.
Recently, however, several new procedures have been developed that use lasers to accomplish some or all of these goals. One type of therapy uses a special laser that emits pulses of light with a specific wavelength (color) of 1064 nanometers. This light passes through healthy cells like a sunbeam through a window — but when it encounters darkly-pigmented bacteria, it vaporizes them instantly!
One of the potential advantages of laser treatment is its precision: focused directly on the area where trouble occurs, it targets diseased tissue but leaves healthy tissue alone. Another is that laser treatment is less invasive: It requires less tissue removal, and may cause less discomfort and tissue shrinkage (gum recession) than conventional periodontal surgery. And because it produces small amounts of heat, it can seal blood vessels and help control bleeding.
While lasers have long shown promise for treating gum disease, until recently it wasn’t clear if they offered any advantages over traditional methods. Now, several studies have shown that certain laser treatments can be just as effective as traditional gum surgery in many cases — with the potential benefit of being less invasive. In the future, the use of lasers for periodontal procedures is likely to increase.
It’s important to remember that no single treatment — not even a laser — can “zap” gum disease in one fell swoop. Controlling periodontal disease requires effective at-home oral hygiene combined with regular professional care. If you have questions about periodontal disease, please call our office to schedule a consultation.
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
February marks National Children's Dental Health Month. It’s important for children to form daily oral hygiene habits early, but how do you get little ones to take care of their teeth? Try these tips:
Describe your actions. When children are too young to brush on their own, gently brush their teeth for them, narrating as you go so they learn what toothbrushing entails. For example, “Brush, brush, brush, but not too hard,” or “Smile big. Let’s get the front teeth. Now let’s get the teeth in the very back.”
Make learning fun. Around age 3, children can start learning to brush their own teeth. To model proper technique, play follow the leader as you and your child brush teeth side by side, making sure to get all tooth surfaces. Then you both can swish and spit. After brushing together, brush your child’s teeth again to make sure hard-to-reach surfaces are clean. Note that children generally need help brushing until at least age 6.
Encourage ownership and pride. Children feel more invested in their oral health when they get to pick out their own supplies, such as a toothbrush with their favorite character and toothpaste in a kid-friendly flavor. To boost pride in a job well done, reward your child with a sticker or star after they brush their teeth.
Keep your child brushing for two minutes. According to the American Dental Association, toothbrushing should be a two-minute task. To pass the time, play a favorite song or download a tooth-brushing app designed to keep kids brushing the recommended two minutes. For increased motivation, electric toothbrushes for children often have a built-in two-minute timer as well as appealing characters, lights and sounds.
And don’t forget one more key to a lifetime of good oral health—regular dental visits. If you have questions about your child’s dental hygiene or if it’s time to schedule a dental visit, please contact our office. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Even with wear and tear from years of eating and biting they can continue to function properly and look attractive well into your senior years.
Teeth are resilient thanks in part to enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. But the gums also contribute to this resilience: besides attractively framing the teeth, they protect the dentin and roots below the enamel covering.
Unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or “recede” from their normal place. Not only does this look unattractive, the recession can also expose teeth to disease and cause tooth sensitivity to temperature changes or biting pressure.
There are a number of causes for gum recession, some of which you may have little control over. If, for example, your teeth come in off center from their bony housing, the gum tissues may not develop around them properly. You might also have inherited a thinner type of gum tissue from your parents: thinner tissues are more delicate and susceptible to recession.
But there are other causes for which you have more control. Over-aggressive brushing (too hard for too long), ironically, does more harm than good as it can injure your gums and cause them to recede. More likely, though, your recession is a direct result of neglecting proper hygiene for your teeth and gums.
When teeth aren't properly cleaned through daily brushing and flossing, a thin film of bacteria and food remnant called plaque builds up on tooth surfaces. This can trigger periodontal (gum) disease, which subsequently causes the gum tissues to detach from the teeth and often recede.
To reduce your risk of gum disease, you should gently but thoroughly brush and floss daily, and visit us for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. If you have a poor bite (malocclusion), consider orthodontic treatment: malocclusions make it easier for plaque to accumulate and harder to remove.
Above all, if you begin to see signs of gum problems — swelling, bleeding or pain — see us promptly for an examination and treatment. Dealing with these issues early is the best way to ensure your gums continue to do their jobs for the long-term.
There’s a lot to like about dental implants for replacing missing teeth. Not only are they life-like, but because they replace the root they also function much like a natural tooth. They also have another unique benefit: a track record for long-lasting durability. It’s estimated more than 95% of implants survive at least ten years, with a potential longevity of more than 40 years.
But even with this impressive record, we should still look at the few that didn’t and determine the reasons why they failed. We’ll soon find that a great number of those reasons will have to do with both oral and general health.
For example, implants rely on adequate bone structure for support. Over time bone cells grow and adhere to the implant’s titanium surface to create the durable hold responsible for their longevity. But if conditions like periodontal (gum) disease have damaged the bone, there might not be enough to support an implant.
We may be able to address this inadequacy at the outset with a bone graft to encourage growth, gaining enough perhaps to eventually support an implant. But if bone loss is too extensive, it may be necessary to opt for a different type of restoration.
Slower healing conditions caused by diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis or compromised immune systems can also impact implant success. If healing is impeded after placement surgery the implant may not integrate well with the bone. An infection that existed before surgery or resulted afterward could also have much the same effect.
Oral diseases, especially gum disease, can contribute to later implant failures. Although the implant’s materials won’t be affected by the infection, the surrounding gum tissues and bone can. An infection can quickly develop into a condition known as peri-implantitis that can weaken these supporting structures and cause the implant to loosen and give way. That’s why prompt treatment of gum disease is vital for an affected implant.
The bottom line: maintaining good oral and general health, or improving it, can help keep your implant out of the failure column. Perform daily brushing and flossing (even after you receive your implant) and see your dentist regularly to help stop dental disease. Don’t delay treatment for gum disease or other dental conditions. And seek medical care to bring any systemic diseases like diabetes under control.
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.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.