You may think your blood pressure is only important to your general health — but it can also affect your dental care. That’s why it’s increasingly common for dental providers to include blood pressure monitoring for patients during routine visits.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for several major health conditions including heart attack, stroke and diabetes, and is one of the most common diagnoses in the United States. Even so, many people don’t know their blood pressure is abnormally high. It may be discovered during an annual health visit, or not at all. Since many people visit their dentist twice a year for cleanings, taking a blood pressure reading during these visits increases the chance of detecting a high pressure.
In one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, the researchers looked at dental patients who had not seen a doctor in the previous twelve months and who underwent blood pressure screening during a regular dental visit. Seventeen percent of those studied learned they were at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure can also have a direct effect on how we treat your teeth and gums. For example, we may have to adapt and become more diligent about preventing dental disease if you’re taking a blood pressure drug that could trigger reduced saliva flow (dry mouth), a factor in tooth decay. Certain local anesthetics may also contain substances like epinephrine that constrict blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure. To avoid this if you’re hypertensive, we may need to adjust the dosage of anesthetic drugs to lessen this effect.
Monitoring blood pressure in the dental office is a good example of how all healthcare services can interact with each other. At the very least, a blood pressure check at your next cleaning could alert you to a potentially dangerous condition you didn’t even know you had.
If you would like more information on the relationship of blood pressure and other medical issues to dental health, 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure.”
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is a serious infection that can damage more than periodontal tissues — supporting bone structure is also at risk. Any bone loss could eventually lead to tooth loss.
To stop it from causing this kind of damage, we must match this disease's aggressiveness with equally aggressive treatment. The various treatment techniques all have the same goal: to remove bacterial plaque, the source of the infection, from all oral surfaces, including below the gum line. Buildup of plaque, a thin film of food particles, after only a few days without adequate brushing and flossing is enough time to trigger gum disease.
The basic removal technique is called scaling, using hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) above or just below the gum line. If the disease or infection has advanced to the roots, we may use another technique called root planing in which we shave or “plane” plaque and tartar from the root surfaces.
Advancing gum disease also causes a number of complex problems like abscesses (localized infections in certain areas of gum tissue) or periodontal pockets. In the latter circumstance the slight normal gap between tooth and gums becomes deeper as the tissues weaken and pull away. This forms a void or pocket that fills with inflammation or infection that must be removed. Plaque buildup can also occur around furcations, the places where a tooth's roots divide off from one another.
It may be necessary in these more complex situations to perform a procedure known as flap surgery to gain access to these infected areas. As the name implies, we create an opening in the gums with a hinge, much like the flap of a paper envelope. Once the accessed area has been cleansed of plaque and infected tissues (and often treated with antibiotics to stop further infection), the flapped tissue is closed back in place and sutured.
To avoid these advanced stages it's important for you to see us at the first sign of problems: swollen, red or bleeding gums. Even more important is to reduce your risk for gum disease in the first place with dedicated daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental visits for more thorough cleaning.
Gum disease can be devastating to your long-term dental health. But with diligent hygiene and early aggressive treatment you can stop this destructive disease in its tracks.
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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Radiographic (x-ray) images are an indispensible diagnostic tool in dentistry. One of the most routine and useful types of x-rays dentists take is the so-called bitewing. Here are some things you may want to know about this common diagnostic procedure.
What are bitewing x-rays?
Bitewings reveal the presence and extent of decay in the back teeth, specifically in areas where adjacent teeth touch each other. Unlike other areas of the teeth, these contacting surfaces between adjacent teeth can’t be examined visually. Bitewings can also show areas of bone loss around teeth — a sign of periodontal disease; however, they are not taken for that purpose because bitewings will not show the complete root surface that is surrounded by bone.
Why are they called that?
The name “bitewing” refers to how the film — or sensor, in the case of a digital x-ray — is positioned in the mouth: The patient bites down on a little tab or wing that holds the apparatus in place.
How often do I need them?
This is determined on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of not exposing you to any more radiation than necessary — even the minimal amount found in a series of bitewing x-rays. Your individual susceptibility to caries (tooth decay) and personal dental history will play a major role in determining how frequently you need radiographic examination — and, for that matter, how often you need to come in for routine cleanings and exams.
Are they safe?
The safety of bitewing x-rays is best illustrated with a comparison to the regular daily radiation exposure we get every day from environmental sources, which is about 0.01 millisieverts — the unit of measure we use for radiation. A series of 4 bitewing x-rays exposes you to 0.004 millisieverts of radiation — less than half of the daily exposure. Undetected tooth decay, which can spread quickly through the softer inner layers of teeth, is considered much more dangerous!
If a bitewing x-ray shows that there is tooth decay, what happens next?
If the cavity is very small, we may be able to treat it during the same appointment. If not, we will make a separate appointment to make sure it is taken care of promptly. The sooner tooth decay is treated, the better!
Waiting is part of life for a teenager: waiting to get a driver’s license, to graduate high school or to leave home and stretch their wings. A teenager with lost teeth may also need to wait until they’re older to obtain dental implants.
The reason arises from the differences in how implants and natural teeth attach to the jaw. Although natural teeth may seem rigidly set in the bone, they’re actually held in place by an elastic tissue between them and the bone known as the periodontal ligament. Tiny filaments that attach to the teeth on one side and the bone on the other hold the teeth in place, but also allow the teeth to move gradually in response to mouth changes.
A titanium implant post doesn’t have this relationship with the periodontal ligament — it’s attached directly to the jaw bone. Over time the bone, which has a special affinity with titanium, grows and adheres to it to form a durable bond without an attachment to the periodontal ligament. Because of this the implant can’t move like a natural tooth.
This is extremely important for implant placement because the jaws in particular won’t fully develop in most people until their late teens or early twenties: the upper jaw in particular will tend to grow out and down. Natural teeth accommodate to these changes, but the implant can’t — it will appear to retreat into the jaw. The gum tissues surrounding the implant also won’t conform to the continuing growth and may appear receded.
The best approach is to choose a temporary replacement option until the jaws and other facial bone structures have finished growing. One example is a bonded bridge in which we use a bonding agent to attach a bridge of artificial teeth to teeth on either side of a missing tooth — bonding won’t permanently alter them as with a traditional bridge. Once the jaws have finished growing, we can remove the bonded bridge and install the more permanent implant.
Ask any teenager: waiting can be hard. But with dental implants, waiting until the right time will help ensure the attractive result is a permanent one.
If you would like more information on dental restorations and 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 “Teenagers & Dental Implants.”
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