There's a “file” on you at your dentist's office: Every visit you've made—from regular cleanings to major dental work—has been recorded, noted and preserved for posterity.
If that gives you the shivers, it's actually not as “Big Brother” as it sounds—in fact, it's critical to your continuing care. A busy dental office depends on accurate records to ensure their individual patients' treatment strategies are up to date. They also contain key information about a patient's overall health, which might overlap into their dental care.
Your records are also important if you change providers, something that ultimately happens to most of us. Your dentist may retire or relocate (or you will); or, unfortunately, you may grow dissatisfied with your care and seek out a new dentist.
Whatever your reason for changing providers, your care will be ahead of the game if your new dentist has access to your past dental records and history. Otherwise, they're starting from square one learning about your individual condition and needs, which could have an impact on your care. For example, if your new dentist detects gum disease, having your past records can inform him or her about whether to be conservative or aggressive in the treatment approach to your case.
It's a good idea then to have your records transferred to your new provider. By federal law you have a right to view them and receive a copy of them, although you may have to pay the dentist a fee to defray the costs of printing supplies and postage. And, you can't be denied access to your records even if you have an outstanding payment balance.
Rather than retrieve a copy yourself, you can ask your former provider to transfer your records to your new one. Since many records are now in digital form, it may be possible to do this electronically. And, if you're feeling awkward about asking yourself, you can sign a release with your new provider and let them handle getting your records for you.
Making sure there's a seamless transfer of your care from one provider to another will save time and treatment costs in the long-run. It will also ensure your continuing dental care doesn't miss a beat.
If you would like more information on managing your dental care, 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 “Why Your Dental Records Should Follow You.”
To keep a healthy smile, brushing and flossing your teeth every day should be at the top of your to-do list, along with regular dental visits. Dental visits are usually scheduled every six months when your dental professional will remove any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque deposits) missed during everyday hygiene.
If you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, however, these dental visits may become even more important toward preventing a re-infection. For one thing, your dentist may want to see you more frequently.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria living in dental plaque, which first infect the superficial layers of gum tissue. Even though the body initiates an inflammatory response to fight it, the infection continues to grow as long as there is plaque present to fuel it. The problem isn't just plaque on the visible tooth surface—hidden plaque beneath the gum line can create deep pockets of infection that can be difficult to treat.
To stop the infection, dentists must manually remove plaque through procedures known as scaling and root planing. Any and all plaque and tartar deposits must be removed, even those deep around the roots, to arrest the infection. This often requires several treatment sessions and sometimes gum surgery to access areas below the gum line.
These types of treatments, especially in the disease's early stages, have a good chance of restoring health to your gums. But because of the high possibility of reinfection, your dentist will need to step up your regular dental maintenance from now on. This could mean visits as frequent as every few weeks, depending on your particular case of gum disease and your dentist's recommendation.
Your dental visits after gum disease may also become more involved than before. Your dentist will now monitor you closely for any signs of reinfection and at the first sign initiate a new round of treatment. You may also need surgical procedures to make some areas around your teeth more accessible for future cleaning and maintenance.
Periodontal maintenance after gum disease helps ensure another infection doesn't rise up to undermine your progress. To paraphrase a well-known quote, eternal vigilance is the price of continuing good dental health.
Here's an alarming statistic: Nearly half of adults over 30—and 70% over 65—are affected by periodontal (gum) disease. It's sobering because if not caught and treated early, gum disease can lead to not only tooth loss but also an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Gum disease most often begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces mainly from poor oral hygiene. Undisturbed plaque can become a breeding ground for bacteria that cause gum infections.
Daily brushing and flossing can remove most of this plaque buildup, but you also need to get professional dental cleanings at least twice a year. This is because any plaque you missed brushing and flossing can interact with saliva and harden into calculus or tartar. This hardened plaque can't be dislodged through brushing and flossing alone, but requires special instruments used by dental professionals to remove it.
You should also be aware of other risk factors you may have that increase your chances of gum disease and take action to minimize them. For instance, you may have a higher genetic propensity toward gum disease. If so, you'll need to be extra-vigilant with personal hygiene and watch for any signs of disease.
Tobacco use, especially smoking, can double your chances of gum disease as well as make it difficult to notice any signs of disease because your gums will not bleed or swell. Quitting the habit can vastly improve your odds of avoiding an infection. Your disease risk could also be high if you have a diet heavy in sugar, which feeds bacteria. Avoiding sugary foods and eating a more dental-friendly diet can lower your disease risk.
Oral hygiene and managing any other risk factors can greatly reduce your risk for gum disease, but it won't eliminate it entirely. So, be sure you seek professional dental care at the first signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you undergo treatment for a possible gum infection, the better your chances of avoiding extensive damage to your teeth, gums and supporting bone.
The risk for gum disease goes up as we get older. But by following good hygiene and lifestyle practices, you can put yourself on the healthier side of the statistics.
If you would like more information on gum disease care and treatment, 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.”
You feel great about your new smile, thanks to dental implants! And you may also be feeling relief as the problems with your former teeth fade into the past.
But that doesn’t mean you can drop your guard on periodontal (gum) disease. Even though implants are impervious to decay, the natural tissues supporting them are vulnerable to periodontal (gum) disease. If they become diseased, your implants could lose their bone support and eventually fail.
And that failure could happen quickly. That’s because, as life-like as they are, implants don’t have one important advantage of real teeth: an attachment to a connective tissue called the periodontal ligament. This tough but elastic ligament lies between the teeth and the bone, attaching to both with tiny extending fibers and holding the teeth in place.
And that’s not all: Because the periodontal ligament contains an abundance of blood vessels, it can supply antibodies to help fight infection. The body’s defenses may not be able to stop disease, but they can certainly inhibit its progress.
Implants can’t benefit from this infection-fighting mechanism. So, when an infection arises in the gums surrounding an implant, it can spread rapidly through a form of gum disease known as peri-implantitis (literally “inflammation around an implant”). If we don’t stop it with prompt treatment, you could lose bone support from your implant and eventually lose it, sometimes in quick fashion.
That’s why you should clean your implants everyday like you do the rest of your teeth with brushing and flossing. You should also visit us regularly for dental cleanings. A dental cleaning involving implants is similar to one with natural teeth, except the hygienist won’t use metal instruments on the implants—this could create tiny scratches on their surface. Instead, they’ll use nylon or plastic instruments or ultrasonic equipment to clean them.
You should also make a dental appointment as soon as you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you have gum disease, we can stop the infection through treatment and restore your gums to health. This can be a long and involved process, but it’s necessary to preserve your implants.
It’s true that implants can change your life. If you want to enjoy that change for a long time, take care of your implants and the natural tissues that support them.
If you would like more information on caring for dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in oral 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
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