If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
If you would like more information on gum recession, 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 Recession.”
There's a lot to like about porcelain veneers, especially as you get older. For one, they can be less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic restorations. More importantly, though, they're versatile—they can solve a variety of dental appearance problems.
Veneers are thin shells of porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to alter their appearance—a work of custom art crafted by a dental technician to fit an individual patient's dental needs. They can turn back the clock on a less than attractive smile, and, with a little care, could last for years.
Here are some dental appearance problems you might encounter in your later years that veneers may help you improve.
Discoloration. As we get older, our teeth color can change—and not for the better. Teeth whitening temporarily brightens dull and dingy teeth, but the effect will fade over time. Additionally, there are some forms of staining, particularly those arising from within a tooth, for which external whitening can't help. Veneers can mask discoloration and give a new, permanent shine to teeth.
Unattractive shape. As we age, wearing on teeth can cause them to appear shorter and create sharper angles around the edges. Veneers can be used to restore length and soften the shape of teeth. Because veneers can be customized, we can actually create a tooth shape that you believe will improve your appearance.
Dental flaws. A lifetime of biting and chewing, not to mention a chance injury, can lead to chips, cracks or other dental defects. But veneers can cover over unsightly flaws that cause you to be less confident in your smile. Veneers can give you back the smile you once had or, if you were born with dental flaws, the smile you never had.
Misalignments. The biting forces we encounter throughout our lifetime can move teeth out of alignment, or widen gaps between them. You can undergo orthodontic treatment to correct these misalignments problems, but if they're relatively minor, we may be able to use veneers to “straighten” your smile.
If you're concerned about the effects of aging on your smile, veneers could help you look younger. Visit us for a full dental evaluation to see if a veneer restoration is right for you.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Teenagers can have the same smile-disrupting tooth flaws as adults. But not all cosmetic treatments available to adults are appropriate for teenagers—at least not until they get a little older. Dental veneers fall into that category.
A veneer is a thin porcelain shell custom-made by a dental lab, and bonded by a dentist to the face of a tooth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other imperfections. Because they're less invasive than other measures, veneers are highly popular as a cosmetic dental solution. They do, however, usually require some enamel removal so that they'll appear more natural.
This enamel removal typically won't impact an adult tooth other than it permanently requires it to have veneers or other restorations after alteration. But there is a risk of damage to a teenager's tooth, which hasn't fully developed.
Adolescent teeth usually have a larger pulp chamber (filled with an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels) than adult teeth. And because the enamel and dentin layers may not yet be fully developed, the pulp is much nearer to the tooth's surface.
We must be very careful then in removing enamel and dentin for veneers or we may penetrate the pulp and risk damaging it. Alternatively, there is the possibility of no-prep veneers which are very conservative but often are unable to be done because of the need to often remove tooth structure to make the veneers look natural.
Another cosmetic problem can occur if we place veneers on a patient's teeth whose jaws and mouth structures are still growing. Eventually, the gums could recede and an unsightly gap form between the veneer and the adjacent natural tooth.
Fortunately, there are other techniques we can use to improve a tooth's appearance. Mild chipping can be repaired by bonding composite resin material to the tooth. Some forms of staining may be overcome with teeth whitening. These and other methods can address a teenager's smile appearance until their teeth are mature enough for veneers.
Whether or not a tooth is ready for veneers will depend on its level of development, something that can often be ascertained with x-rays or other diagnostic methods. And if a tooth has already undergone a root canal treatment, there isn't as much concern. In the meantime, though, it may be better for your teen to wait on veneers and try other techniques to enhance their smile.
If you would like more information on dental restoration for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
Do you remember your first new car? It purred like a kitten with a brilliant finish you could see a mile away. And my, oh my, the attention you gave it: cleaning, polishing, regularly checking the fluids and other maintenance. That's what comes with pride of ownership—and it's an equally fitting attitude to have with your mouth.
World Oral Health Day is a great opportunity this month to renew your care for your mouth and its primary inhabitants, your teeth and gums. This March 20th, the FDI World Dental Federation wants you to “Be Proud of Your Mouth” for all it makes possible in your life: helping you eat, helping you speak and, of no lesser importance, helping you smile.
So how can you show pride in your mouth?
Keep it clean. Brushing and flossing are the two most important tasks you can do to prevent dental disease and ensure a healthy mouth. It takes only five minutes a day to clear away accumulated dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria most responsible for destructive tooth decay and gum disease. The only catch? To get the most from your oral hygiene efforts, you'll need to brush and floss every day, rain or shine.
Keep it fed. The food your teeth help you eat also benefits them—if they're the right foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins and dairy items like milk or cheese all contain vitamins and minerals that strengthen teeth against disease. On the flip side, there are foods you should avoid, particularly processed foods and snacks containing added sugar. Sugar feeds the oral bacteria that causes disease.
Keep it maintained. Routine dental visits are just as important for your mouth as routine mechanic visits are for your car. During these regular visits, we'll thoroughly clean your teeth of any missed plaque, especially a hardened version called tartar. It's also a time for us to look more closely at your teeth and gums to uncover any emerging problems that require treatment.
With a little time, effort and discipline, you can protect your teeth and gums from disease, and help them to be as healthy as they can be. The dividends will spill over into the rest of your life, with additional benefits for your physical, mental and social well-being. A healthy mouth is vital to a healthy life.
So, take pride in your mouth and make a commitment today to care for it. And if you haven't seen us in a while, an appointment for a dental cleaning and checkup could be your best move toward healthier teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about best dental care practices, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
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