Online Dental Education Library
Our team of dental specialists and staff strive to improve the overall health of our patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing and treating conditions associated with your teeth and gums. Please use our dental library to learn more about dental problems and treatments available. If you have questions or need to schedule an appointment, contact us.
When to See a Periodontist
Periodontal treatment may be sought in several ways. Your general dentist or a hygienist may recommend a consultation with a periodontist if they find signs of periodontal disease through the course of a checkup or other dental care appointment. You may also decide to see a periodontist on your own, as a referral is not necessary to be seen at our office.
In fact, if you experience any of these symptoms, we encourage you to schedule an appointment at our office without delay:
- Unexplained bleeding while performing regular cleaning or consuming food is the most common sign of a periodontal infection.
- Ongoing halitosis (bad breath), which continues despite rigorous oral cleaning, can point to periodontitis, gingivitis or the beginnings of a gum infection.
- Longer-looking and loose-feeling teeth can indicate recession of the gums and/or bone loss as a result of periodontal disease.
Patients with heart disease, diabetes, osteopenia or osteoporosis are often diagnosed with correlating periodontal infections. The bacterial infection can spread through the blood stream, affecting other areas of the body.
- Bleeding while brushing or eating normal foods
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth and gum recession
- Related health concerns
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is a chronic infection of the periodontal or gum tissue. This infection is caused by the presence of a bacterial film, which is called dental plaque, that forms on the teeth surfaces. Bacteria that found in dental plaque produce toxins which irritate the gums. They may cause them to turn red, swell and bleed easily. If this irritation is prolonged, the gums separate from the teeth, causing pockets (spaces) to form. Plaque can also harden into a rough, porous substance known as calculus (or tartar). This can occur both above and below the gum line.
As periodontal diseases progress, the supporting gum tissue and bone that holds teeth in place deteriorate. If left untreated, this leads to tooth loss. With periodontal disease, bleeding, redness and swelling do not have to be present. Further, pain is usually not associated with periodontal disease. This disease damages the teeth, gum and jawbone of more than 80% of Americans by age 45. Each case is looked at individually, because in addition to plaque there are co-factors such as genetics, smoking, and overall health, which contribute to disease severity. Once periodontal disease is detected, our goal as therapists is to provide information and treatment necessary to control/ or arrest the active infection, and help keep the disease in an inactive or controlled state.
However, don’t be fooled!
With periodontal disease, bleeding, redness and swelling do not have to be present. The periodontal disease symptoms of inflammation may only be evident with sub gingival probing. Further, pain is usually not associated with periodontal disease.
In the future, could small cavities be detected early and filled without anesthesia, and with only the minimum removal of tooth material? Will routine dental procedures be performed with patients noticing no vibration or pressure? Will the piercing whine of a dental drill be a sound that's heard in dental offices no more? The answer may well be yes — in fact, it's happening right now with air abrasion technology.
The air abrasion instrument is a hand-held tool that dentists use for a variety of purposes. A bit like a mini-sandblaster, it uses compressed air (or another gas) to produce a fine stream of abrasive particles that can be precisely aimed. The small, high-speed particles (often silica or aluminum oxide) remove tiny bits of material in the decayed portion of the tooth; the debris is then whisked away through a suction tube.
Sound futuristic? It is, but it's not exactly new: Air abrasion instruments were first developed in the 1940's, but recent advances in high-volume suction and improved dental restoration materials have given the process a renewed appeal. Some of the uses for air abrasion tools include: removing dental caries (cavities) and filling them with composite (tooth-colored) material; preparing teeth for bonding, veneering or other procedures; and removing stains or even repairing small defects in teeth.
How It Works
The tiny abrasive particles (.002” or less in diameter) remove only minute amounts of tooth structure, making a drill seem coarse by comparison. The air pressure, flow rate, nozzle diameter, and other settings on the instrument can be accurately controlled to produce the precise amount of abrasion needed. The result is a minimally-invasive method of removing decayed or unwanted tooth material.
Even though powerful suction is used to remove spent abrasive and debris, it's still necessary for everyone to wear protective eyewear as a precaution. A rubber dam (shield) is also generally used to keep abrasive particles from affecting other teeth or getting into areas of the mouth where they don't belong. Nearby teeth and gums can also be coated with a protective resin if needed.
Advantages of Air Abrasion
Because it doesn't require a whirring drill, air abrasion generates no pressure or vibration, and makes very little noise. It can eliminate the need for anesthesia, especially if the cavity isn't deep. It reduces the chance of damaging the tooth during a procedure, and it leaves more healthy tooth material behind. This makes it ideal for children, or others who are sensitive to dental discomfort. In fact, it's perfect for treating tiny cavities that have been detected by laser diagnosis (cavities that aren't big enough to be seen on an X-ray), and sealing them up before they become bigger problems.
Minimally-invasive procedures are where air abrasion truly shines. Because it's a relatively fine-scale instrument, it isn't suitable for treating deep cavities or removing old metal fillings. However, as a high-tech tool for performing many preventive and restorative dental procedures, it offers some unique benefits to both dentist and patient. And some day, it just might make the dental drill obsolete.
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