Posts for: February, 2015
Sure, it’s big news when celebs tweet selfies from the dental office… if you’re still living in the 20th century. But in Hollywood today, it’s harder to say who hasn’t posted snaps of themselves in the dentist’s chair than who has. Yet the pictures recently uploaded to Twitter by Mark Salling, the actor and singer who regularly appears as Noah “Puck” Puckerman on the popular TV series Glee, made us sit up and take notice.
“Getting my chipped tooth fixed. Also, apparently, I’m a big grinder,” read the caption. The photo showed a set of upper front teeth with visible chips on the biting surface. What’s so special about this seemingly mundane tweet? It’s a great way of bringing attention to a relatively common, but often overlooked problem: teeth clenching and grinding, also called bruxism.
Although bruxism is a habit that affects scores of people, many don’t even realize they have it. That’s because the condition may only become active at night. When the teeth are unconsciously ground together, the forces they produce can wear down the enamel, cause chipping or damage to teeth or dental work (such as veneers or fillings), or even loosen a tooth! While it’s common in children under 11 years old, in adults it can be a cause for concern.
Sometimes, mouth pain, soreness and visible damage alert individuals to their grinding habits; other times, a dental professional will notice the evidence of bruxism during an exam or cleaning: tooth sensitivity and telltale wear and tear on the chewing surfaces. Either way, it’s time to act.
Bruxism is most often caused by stress, which can negatively impact the body in many ways. It may also result from bite problems, the overuse of stimulating substances (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs), and as a side effect of certain medications. Sometimes, simply becoming aware of the habit can help a person get it under control. Common methods of stress reduction include exercise, meditation, a warm bath or a quiet period before bedtime; these can be tried while we monitor the situation to see if the problem is going away.
If stress reduction alone doesn’t do the trick, several other methods can be effective. When bruxism is caused by a minor bite problem, we can sometimes do a minor “bite adjustment” in the office. This involves removing a tiny bit of enamel from an individual tooth that is out of position, bringing it in line with the others. If it’s a more serious malocclusion, orthodontic appliances or other procedures may be recommended.
When grinding is severe enough to damage teeth or dental work, we may also recommend a custom-made night guard (occlusal guard), which you put in your mouth at bedtime. Comfortable and secure, this appliance prevents your teeth from being damaged by contacting each other, and protects your jaw joints from stresses due to excessive grinding forces.
Whether or not you have to smile for a living, teeth grinding can be a big problem. If you would like more information about this condition, call our office to schedule a consultation for a consultation.
If you have noticed that one or more of your teeth have lost some of the surrounding pink gum tissue so that part of the root surface is now uncovered, you are experiencing gum recession. It's a very common problem — in fact millions of Americans have some degree of gum recession. Fortunately, there are very effective methods of treating it.
Gum recession can be unsightly, but there are more serious concerns. Tooth root surfaces exposed by gum recession can become sensitive to temperature and pressure changes and can decay or wear away. In very severe cases, teeth can actually be lost. That's because gum or “gingival” tissue as it is medically known is supposed to encircle and firmly attach to the necks of the teeth and the underlying bone. This forms a protective barrier that is resistant to the abrasive action of foods during eating, biting and chewing.
Gum tissue is largely made of a fibrous protein called collagen, covered by a layer of another very resilient protein called keratin (nails and hair are also made of it). Yet it is still possible for this tough tissue to lose its grip on the teeth it protects. Here are some of the ways this can happen:
- Ineffective oral hygiene — inadequate removal of dental bacterial plaque (biofilm) with daily brushing and flossing.
- Excessive brushing (and flossing) — too hard, or for too long.
- Habits — holding foreign objects between the teeth, such as bobby-pins, nails etc that press on the gum tissues.
- Oral appliances and ornaments — badly fitting removable partial dentures and orthodontic appliances (braces), or tongue bolts and oral piercings can apply pressure to the gums.
Treatment will depend in part on whether the recession is stable or progressive. For example, an older person might have a few areas of gum recession but there are still adequate zones of attached protective gum tissue and the exposed tooth root surfaces are healthy. In this case, there may not be reason to do anything but monitor the situation. On the other hand, a teenager with a history of fairly rapid gum recession (over a period of months) usually requires immediate treatment. The dental specialty of periodontics (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth) has developed predictable surgical techniques to deal with recession.
Free Gingival Grafting, for example, involves taking a very thin layer of skin from the palate, where the tissue is identical to gum tissue, and transplanting it to the area where gum has been lost. Both sites will heal in a very predictable and uneventful manner. The free gingival graft is so-called because it is “freed” from the donor (original) site completely. It is crucial to make sure individuals with gum recession correct faulty hygiene habits prior to this (or any) treatment so that they will not jeopardize their future results.
If you are concerned about gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about gum recession and gingival grafting by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”