While the term “plastic surgery” might bring to mind face lifts or tummy tucks, not all procedures in this particular surgical field are strictly cosmetic. Some can make a big difference in a person’s health.
One example is periodontal plastic surgery, which corrects gum tissue loss around the teeth. Although these procedures can indeed improve appearance, they more importantly help save teeth.
Gum loss is most often a consequence of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from a thin film of food particles on the teeth called dental plaque. As the disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth, they shrink back or recede, exposing the area around the roots. Without the protective cover the gums provide the roots, they become more susceptible to decay.
In milder cases of gum recession, treating the infection often results in the gums regaining their normal attachment to teeth. But with more advanced recession, natural gum healing may not be enough to reverse it. For such situations grafting donor tissue to the recessed area can help stimulate new tissue growth.
While gum tissue grafts can come from an animal or other human, the most likely source is from the person themselves. In one type of procedure, free gingival grafting, the surgeon locates and completely removes (or “frees”) a thin layer of skin resembling gum tissue, typically from the roof of the mouth, shapes it and then transplants it by suturing it to the recession site. Both donor and recipient sites heal at about the same rate in two to three weeks.
Another technique is known as connective tissue grafting. In this procedure the surgeon partially removes the donor tissue from its site while leaving a portion containing blood vessels intact. The palatal tissue is still used and transported to fit beneath the tissue that’s still attached to the blood supply. This connective tissue graft is then positioned and sutured to the recipient site while still maintaining its blood supply connection at the donor site. Maintaining this connection facilitates healing and increases the chances the graft will “take” and become firmly attached to the new site.
Grafting procedures require advanced techniques and skills. But with them we may be able to restore gum attachment to teeth with an impact on appearance and dental health that’s well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
November is National Diabetes Month—a time to focus on a disease that affects more than 400 million people around the world. What does diabetes have to do with oral health? Plenty! Here's a true-or-false quiz to test your knowledge on this important topic.
TRUE OR FALSE:
1. Diabetes and gum disease are connected.
TRUE. Studies have found a clear association between diabetes and gum (periodontal) disease, especially when diabetes is not well controlled. People with poorly controlled diabetes have a more severe inflammatory response to the bacteria that cause gum disease. While inflammation is normally a protective reaction of the body's immune system, too much inflammation can actually make the condition worse. In the case of gum disease, the reverse is also true: Untreated gum disease can worsen blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. The good news is that treatment of periodontal disease has been shown to improve blood sugar control.
2. People with diabetes can't have dental implants.
FALSE. Research has shown that dental implants can be a very successful tooth-replacement treatment for people with diabetes. But again, blood sugar control can be a factor. Dental implants are titanium posts that serve as artificial tooth roots. Minor surgery is required to insert an implant into the bone beneath the gums; a realistic-looking dental crown is later attached to it so it can look and function like a natural tooth. Studies have shown that it takes longer for the bone to heal around implants in people with poorly controlled diabetes. That doesn't make implant treatment impossible, but it does mean that it may be managed differently. For example, an implant may be allowed to heal for a longer period of time before a crown is attached to it.
3. People with diabetes can't do anything to improve their oral health.
FALSE. People with diabetes can have a very positive impact on their oral heath, by doing their best to control blood sugar levels with a healthy diet and exercise, and by sticking to an effective daily oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing at least once each day to remove bacterial plaque between teeth. Regular dental checkups and cleanings are also essential—not just for people with diabetes, but for everyone!
If you have additional questions about diabetes and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about diabetes and oral health by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Cardiovascular disease and periodontal (gum) disease are two different conditions with their own set of symptoms and outcomes. But they do share one common element: inflammation. In fact, this otherwise normal defensive response of the body might actually create a link between them.
When tissues become damaged from disease or injury, the body triggers inflammation to isolate them from the rest of the body. This allows these tissues to heal without affecting other tissues. If inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can damage rather than protect the body.
This happens with both cardiovascular disease and gum disease. In the former, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) in animal fat leave behind remnants that can build up within arteries. This stimulates inflammation of the vessel’s inner linings, which accelerates hardening and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
With gum disease, bacteria living in a thin, built-up film of food particles on the teeth called plaque infect the gum tissues, which in turn trigger inflammation. A struggle ensures between the infection and inflammation, causing the gum tissues to weaken and detach from the teeth. Coupled with erosion of the supporting bone, the risk of tooth loss dramatically increases.
Recent research now seems to indicate the inflammatory responses from these two diseases may not occur in isolation. There is evidence that gum inflammation could aggravate inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and vice-versa. The research, though, points to some possible good news: treating inflammation in either disease could have a positive effect on the other.
Making heart-friendly lifestyle changes like losing extra weight (especially around the waist), improving nutrition, and exercising regularly can help reduce LDL and lower the risk of arterial inflammation. Likewise for your gums, daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist at least twice a year reduces the risk for gum disease. And at the first sign of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—seeking immediate treatment will stop it and reduce any occurring inflammation.
Taking steps to prevent or reduce inflammation brought on by both of these diseases could improve your health and save your life.
If you would like more information on how your oral health affects your whole body, 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 Link between Heart & Gum Disease.”
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