Diabetics, Watch Out for a Hidden Enemy: Gum Disease

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Periodontal (gum) disease, though it may be invisible to everyone but your dentist, can have a powerful effect on your entire body. Not only is it dangerous to your teeth and jaws, but it can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, cause preterm births in pregnant women, and affect blood sugar control in diabetics.

Diabetics are our subject for today. Symptoms of diabetes include abnormally high levels of glucose (a form of sugar) in the blood, leading to frequent urination, excessive thirst, blurred vision, unexplained weight loss, and loss of energy. The disease can also cause severe complications in various parts of the body.

Normally, glucose, your body’s main energy source, is kept under control by a hormone called insulin, which is made by an organ called the pancreas. In type 1 diabetes, a person’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin to deal with all the glucose in his or her blood. In type 2 diabetes — a condition related to increased age, physical inactivity, overweight, and heredity — the pancreas may produce enough insulin, but the body is not able to use it effectively. This condition is called insulin resistance.

People with type 1 diabetes need insulin to survive. Type 2 may be treated with exercise, diet, medications, and insulin supplements.

Serious complications of diabetes range from kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage to infections that do not heal, gangrene and amputation of limbs.

Diabetes and periodontal disease seem to have reciprocal effects on each other. Diabetics are more likely to have periodontal disease than non-diabetics; and those with periodontal disease are likely to face worsening blood sugar control over time.

Periodontal disease (from “peri”, meaning around and “odont”, meaning tooth), is caused by dental plaque — a film of bacteria that settles on your teeth and gums every day. It’s what you remove with daily brushing and flossing. Any bacteria that remain cause inflammation, which can lead in the worst cases to loss of bone and eventual loss of teeth.

The close relationship of diabetes and periodontal disease probably results from changes in the function of immune cells responsible for healing. Inflammation is a part of normal wound healing — but chronic or prolonged inflammation can destroy the tissues it was meant to heal. This may be a major factor in the destructive complications of diabetes.

Many of these complications begin in the blood vessels. Like the eyes and the kidneys, gum tissues are rich in blood vessels. Gum tissues are also under constant attack from bacteria. If you are a diabetic, effective plaque control, along with regular professional dental cleaning, can have positive effects not only on periodontal disease, but also on control of your blood glucose level.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about periodontal disease and its connections with diabetes. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diabetes & Periodontal Disease.”

America’s (Dentists) Got Talent – for Fixing Damaged or Missing Teeth!

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A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.

We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?

Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.

When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?

In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.

So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.

If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”

New Year, New Smile

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In the winter months, when the daylight hours grow few, we celebrate the season with holiday lights and good cheer. This season of hope and renewal also gives us a chance to think about the future — to take stock of where we’ve been, and even plan for some changes in the new year.

Deciding to improve your overall health is one great way to start off the year. Of course, we know many resolutions that begin with crash diets and extreme fitness programs won’t be kept up for very long. But if there were one permanent change you could make, which would both enhance your appearance and improve your health… would you do it? If you are missing teeth — or if you’re wearing dentures that aren’t working the way you’d like — then perhaps we can offer a suggestion: Consider dental implants.

Besides being an obvious blemish on your appearance, missing teeth also create problems you can’t see. For one, it’s harder to eat a proper, balanced diet if you have trouble chewing certain foods, potentially leading to serious nutritional problems. For another, when teeth are lost, the bone in your jaw that used to surround them begins to deteriorate. This can cause you to have a prematurely aged look, and make you appear unhappy even when you’re not.

Unfortunately, dentures don’t solve these problems — in fact, they tend to compound them. Many denture wearers report they have problems eating; some even say they eat better without dentures. And dentures don’t stop bone loss; in many cases, especially when they don’t fit correctly, they actually accelerate it.

But there’s really no reason you have to get by with missing teeth. Since they were introduced some three decades ago, dental implants have offered people a better way to replace lost teeth. With implants, you can eat your favorite foods again, smile with complete assurance, and stop worrying about dentures that may fit poorly or slip out at the wrong times.

Fixed solidly in your jaw in a minor surgical procedure, dental implants function just like your natural teeth. Their natural look and “feel” makes it easy to forget they aren’t the teeth you were born with. Best of all, they can last the rest of your life… unlike bridges or dentures. Because they offer a permanent solution, implants can be quite cost-effective in the long run. But the way they can restore your confidence and make you feel good about yourself isn’t something you can put a price on.

So if you have ever thought about making a New Year’s resolution that will really improve your health and well-being — consider dental implants. Just call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in Dear Doctor magazine’s in-depth guide, “Dental Implants.”