Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is a serious matter. Not only can it wreak havoc with your gums, it could also cause bone loss in the jaw that supports your teeth.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that originates from a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque. If you're not diligent about removing plaque through daily brushing and flossing, it can become a feeding ground for certain strains of bacteria that trigger gum infections. Left untreated, the disease can advance deeply into the teeth's supporting structures.
We're particularly concerned about furcations, the specific locations where multiple roots of a tooth fork or separate. When these locations become infected we call it a furcation involvement or invasion. The bone along the furcation will begin to deteriorate and dissolve, following a progression of stages (or classes) we can measure by probing the gum tissue or through x-ray evaluation:
- Class I: the furcation feels like a groove, but without any noticeable bone loss;
- Class II: a depression of about two or more millimeters develops indicating definite bone loss;
- Class III: Â bone loss now extends from one side of the root to the other, also known as “through and through.”
Treating furcation involvements can prove challenging because the infection is usually well below the gum line (sub-gingival). As with all gum disease treatment, our primary approach is to remove all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) where we find it, including around the roots. We typically use specially shaped instruments to clean the root surfaces. We can also employ an ultrasonic device that loosens plaque and calculus with high-frequency vibrations and flushed away with water.
Sometimes, we may need to surgically access involved furcations to clean them and stimulate bone growth with grafting. We can also use surgery to make the areas easier to clean — both for you and for us during your regular office cleanings — to prevent reoccurrences of infection.
Of course, preventing gum disease in the first place is your best defense against oral problems like furcation bone loss. Be sure you brush and floss every day, and visit us for thorough cleanings at least twice a year (unless we recommend more). This will help make sure not only your gums, but the bone that supports your teeth stays healthy.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal (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 “What are Furcations?”
The most important thing you can do for good oral health is brush and floss your teeth daily. But we’re not born knowing how to do either — they’re skills we must learn and practice to be effective in removing disease-causing bacterial plaque.
It helps then to have a good understanding about technique, implements or problem situations you may run into. So then, here are answers to 4 typical hygiene questions that can help you improve your brushing and flossing.
How often should I brush and floss? You should brush and floss at least once a day to prevent a buildup of plaque, the cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease; if you have some form of dental disease, we may advise a different frequency. Be sure to use a gentle technique — it doesn’t take much pressure to remove plaque and being too aggressive can harm your gums and tooth enamel.
When should I change my toothbrush? If you use it correctly (gentle vs. aggressive), your toothbrush should last several months. When you begin to notice the bristles becoming worn or splayed, it’s time to get a new, soft bristle brush.
What kind of toothpaste should I use? You may have a preference among the dozens available when it comes to flavor and texture. But from a hygiene standpoint you should choose one that contains fluoride to strengthen enamel and an anti-tartar agent to inhibit the formation of hardened plaque deposits (calculus). While we’re on the subject, don’t rinse out the toothpaste right after brushing — you may be washing away fluoride too early, which takes time to work in contact with tooth enamel. Just spit it out.
What if my teeth are sensitive when I brush? If you encounter problems when you brush, visit us to find out the cause. The most common cause for sensitivity is gum recession, usually due to gum disease, which has exposed the roots. This can cause discomfort when you encounter hot or cold foods, or pressure on the teeth when you brush. You should then receive treatment for the underlying condition; we may also recommend toothpaste that reduces tooth sensitivity. And, of course, be gentle when you brush.
If you would like more information on brushing, flossing and other aspects of oral hygiene, 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 “Oral Hygiene Behavior.”
If you think gum disease only happens to the other guy (or gal), think again. If you’re over 30 you have a 50-50 chance for an infection. After 65 the risk climbs to 70 percent.
Fortunately, we can effectively treat most cases of gum disease. But depending on its severity, treatment can involve numerous intensive sessions and possible surgery to bring the disease under control. So, why not prevent gum disease before it happens?
First, though, let’s look at how gum disease most often begins—with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth and gum surfaces. If plaque isn’t consistently removed through daily brushing and flossing, it doesn’t take long—just a few days—for the bacteria to infect the gums.
While it’s not always easy to detect gum disease early on, there are signs to look for like red, swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, and bad breath or taste. The infection is usually more advanced if you notice pus-filled areas around your gums or loose teeth. If you see any of these (especially advanced signs like loose teeth) you should contact us as soon as possible.
Obviously, the name of the game with prevention is stopping plaque buildup, mainly through daily brushing and flossing. Technique is the key to effectiveness, especially with brushing: you should gently but thoroughly scrub all tooth surfaces and around the gum line, coupled with flossing between teeth.
To find out how well you’re doing, you can rub your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss—you should feel a smooth, almost squeaky sensation. You can also use plaque-disclosing agents that dye bacterial plaque a particular color so you can easily see surface areas you’ve missed. You can also ask us for a “report card” on how well you’re doing during your next dental visit.
Dental visits, of course, are the other essential part of gum disease prevention—at least every six months (or more, if we recommend) for cleaning and checkups. Not only will we be able to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, we’ll also give your gums a thorough assessment. By following this prevention regimen you’ll increase your chances of not becoming a gum disease statistic.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
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