Tooth decay is a highly destructive dental disease, responsible along with periodontal (gum) disease for most adult tooth loss. And we become even more susceptible to it as we get older.
One form of decay that’s especially prominent among senior adults is a root cavity. Similar to a cavity in the crown (visible tooth), this form instead occurs at or below the gum line in the roots. They happen mainly because the roots have become exposed due to gum recession, a common consequence of periodontal (gum) disease and/or brushing too hard.
Exposed roots are extremely vulnerable to disease because they don’t have the benefit of protective enamel like the tooth crown, covered instead with a thin and less protective mineral-like material called cementum. Normally, that’s not a problem because the gums that would normally cover them offer the bulk of the protection. But with the gums receded, the roots must depend on the less-effective cementum for protection against disease.
Although we treat root cavities in a similar way to those in the crown by removing decayed structure and then filling them, there’s often an added difficulty in accessing them below the gum line. Because of its location we may need to surgically enter through the gums to reach the cavity. This can increase the effort and expense to treat them.
It’s best then to prevent them if at all possible. This means practicing daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the thin, built-up biofilm on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and advanced prevention methods like topical fluoride to strengthen any at-risk teeth.
You should also seek immediate treatment at the first sign of gum disease to help prevent gum recession. Even if it has occurred, treating the overall disease could help renew gum attachment. We may also need to support tissue regeneration with grafting surgery.
Root cavities are a serious matter that could lead to tooth loss. But by practicing prevention and getting prompt treatment for any dental disease, you can stop them from destroying your smile.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root cavities, 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Periodontal disease may start in the gums’ superficial layers, but it’s not likely to stay there. As the disease moves deeper it can wreak havoc on tooth roots and bone as well as gum tissue attachments. Teeth with multiple roots are in particular peril because of the “forks” called furcations that form where the roots separate from each other. Infected furcations can be very difficult to treat.
We primarily treat gum disease by removing its main source, a thin film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque that builds up on teeth. To remove it we most often use special hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to vibrate it loose. As the plaque and tartar diminish, the infection begins to wane.
But we can’t be completely successful in stopping the disease if any lingering plaque deposits remain. This especially includes furcations where the infection can cause significant damage to the roots. Although cleaning furcations of plaque can be difficult, it’s not impossible with the aforementioned tools and antimicrobial substances to disinfect the area.
The real problem, though, is access—effectively getting to the furcations to treat them. We may need to perform a surgical procedure called flap surgery where we create a hinged flap in the gum tissue to move it aside and access the root area beneath. Afterward we replace the flap and suture the tissue back in place.
In some cases, the infection may have already caused significant damage to the tissue and underlying bone. We may therefore need to graft gum or bone tissues to these damaged areas to stimulate re-growth. We may also need to surgically reshape the gum attachments around a tooth to make it easier in the future to access and clean the area.
These additional treatments around furcations can be very involved and labor-intensive. That’s why the best outcomes occur if we’re able to start treatment in the early stages of an infection. So, if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums contact your dentist as soon as possible. Treating gum disease as early as possible will help ensure your tooth roots won’t suffer extensive damage.
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 “What are Furcations? Branching Tooth Roots can be Periodontal Nightmares.”
While tooth decay seems to get most of the “media attention,” there’s another oral infection just as common and destructive: periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, nearly half of adults over 30 have some form of it.
And like tooth decay, it begins with bacteria: while most are benign or even beneficial, a few strains of these micro-organisms can cause gum disease. They thrive and multiply in a thin, sticky film of food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque. Though not always apparent early on, you may notice symptoms like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
The real threat, though, is that untreated gum disease will advance deeper below the gum line, infecting the connective gum tissues, tooth roots and supporting bone. If it’s not stopped, affected teeth can lose support from these structures and become loose or out of position. Ultimately, you could lose them.
We can stop this disease by removing accumulated plaque and calculus (calcified plaque, also known as tartar) from the teeth, which continues to feed the infection. To reach plaque deposits deep below the gum line, we may need to surgically access them through the gums. Even without surgery, it may still take several cleaning sessions to remove all of the plaque and calculus found.
These treatments are effective for stopping gum disease and allowing the gums to heal. But there’s a better way: preventing gum disease before it begins through daily oral hygiene. In most cases, plaque builds up due to a lack of brushing and flossing. It takes only a few days without practicing these important hygiene tasks for early gingivitis to set in.
You should also visit the dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and checkups. A dental cleaning removes plaque and calculus from difficult to reach places. Your dentist also uses the visit to evaluate how well you’re doing with your hygiene efforts, and offer advice on how you can improve.
Like tooth decay, gum disease can rob you of your dental health. But it can be stopped—both you and your dentist can keep this infection from ruining your smile.
The “magic” behind a dental implant’s durability is the special affinity its imbedded titanium post has with bone. Over time bone grows and attaches to the titanium surface to produce a strong and secure hold.
But there’s one important prerequisite for ultimate implant success—there must be an adequate amount of bone available initially to properly position the post during implantation. Otherwise, the implant may not have enough support to position it properly or cover the implant surface completely with bone.
Inadequate bone can be a problem for patients who lost teeth some time before and now desire to an implant restoration. This happens because when teeth are missing, so are the forces they generate during chewing. These forces stimulate new bone growth around the tooth root to replace older, dissolved bone at a healthy rate. If that replacement rate is too slow, the volume and density of bone may gradually diminish.
There is a way, though, to build up the bone for future implantation. Known as bone preservation procedure or a ridge augmentation, it’s a surgical procedure in which the dentist adds bone grafting material to the extraction socket or the bony ridge. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow and multiply. If successful, there will be enough new bone volume after several months of healing to support proper implant placement.
Bone grafting can add more time to the implant process. It may also mean you will not be able to undergo immediate crown placement after implantation (a “tooth in one day” procedure). Instead we would probably suture gum tissue over the implant to protect it and allow for full integration with the bone over a few more months. In the meantime, though, we could fit you with a temporary restoration like a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded bridge to improve the appearance of the space while the bone continues to heal.
After several months, your implant will have a better chance of a secure hold and we can then attach a life-like crown. Even if you’ve suffered bone loss, you’ll then have the benefit of not only a durable implant but also a new smile.
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