Around 20 million people—mostly women after menopause—take medication to slow the progress of osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that weakens bones. But although effective, some osteoporosis drugs could pose dental issues related to the jawbones.
Osteoporosis causes the natural spaces that lie between the mineral content of bone to grow larger over time. This makes the bone weaker and unable to withstand forces it once could, which significantly increases the risk of fracture. A number of drugs have been developed over time that stop or slow this disease process.
Two of the most prominent osteoporosis drugs are alendronate, known also by its trade name Fosamax, and denosumab or Prolia. While originating from different drug families, alendronate and denosumab work in a similar way by destroying specialized bone cells called osteoclasts that break down worn out bone and help dissolve it. By reducing the number of these cells, more of the older bone that would have been phased out lasts longer.
In actuality this only offers a short-term benefit in controlling osteoporosis. The older bone isn’t renewed but only preserved, and will eventually become fragile and more prone to fracture. After several years the tide turns negatively for the bone’s overall health. It’s also possible, although rare, that the bone simply dies in a condition called osteonecrosis.
The jawbones are especially susceptible to osteonecrosis. Forces generated by chewing normally help stimulate jawbone growth, but the medications in question can inhibit that stimulus. As a result the jawbone can diminish and weaken, making eventual tooth loss a real possibility.
Osteonecrosis is most often triggered by trauma or invasive dental procedures like tooth extractions or oral surgery. For this reason if you’re taking either alendronate and denosumab and are about to undergo a dental procedure other than routine cleaning, filling or crown-work, you should speak to your physician about suspending your medication temporarily. Dentists often recommend a suspension of three to nine months before the procedure and three months afterward.
Some research indicates this won’t worsen your osteoporosis symptoms, especially if you substitute another treatment or fortify your skeletal system with calcium and vitamin D supplements. But taking this temporary measure could help protect your teeth in the long run.
If you would like more information on the effect of osteoporosis treatment on dental 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
Although primary (“baby”) teeth have a lifespan of only a few years, they’re still important to a child’s current and future dental health. In the present, they help a child eat, speak and smile properly. They also help create a healthy future as placeholders for developing permanent teeth yet to come in.
If, however, a child loses a primary tooth prematurely due to decay, the corresponding permanent tooth could come in misaligned. That’s why we do what we can to help a decayed primary tooth reach its full lifespan. And there are different ways to do this depending on the type of tooth.
With front teeth, which don’t encounter the same chewing forces as those in the back, we may use a tooth-colored filling. This approach is also preferable for appearance’s sake since front teeth are highly visible when a child speaks or smiles.
Primary molars, on the other hand, need a more robust solution. A filling may not be able to withstand the level of long-term chewing forces that these back teeth normally encounter. And because they’re less visible than front teeth, there’s less concern about aesthetics.
That’s why many pediatric dentists prefer stainless steel crowns for molars. Just like their permanent teeth counterparts, a primary crown fits over and completely covers a tooth. They’re typically pre-formed, coming in different shapes and sizes that can then be customized for the tooth in question. After preparing and removing any decayed material from the tooth, we can usually install the crown in one visit with local anesthesia and a sedative (if the child needs it for anxiety).
While a steel crown isn’t the most attractive restoration, it typically handles the higher chewing forces in the back of the mouth better and longer than a filling. That’s especially critical for primary molars, which are some of the last teeth to fall out (as late as ages 10-12). And besides preserving it as a permanent tooth placeholder, a crown also helps the tooth function effectively in the present.
Regardless of what method we use, though, preserving primary teeth is a primary goal of pediatric dentistry. And with a stainless steel crown, we can keep those important back molars functioning for as long as they’re intended.
If you would like more information on caring for primary teeth, 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids.”
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
The American Diabetes Association has declared November National Diabetes Month. If you or a loved one has diabetes, you may already know that diabetes puts you at greater risk for gum disease. Let's look at four must-know facts about diabetes and gum disease.
#1. Gum disease is an acknowledged complication of diabetes.
High levels of blood sugar can interfere with your mouth's ability to fight infection, making you more susceptible to gum disease. People with poorly controlled diabetes may have more severe gum disease and may ultimately lose more teeth due to gum disease—in fact, one in five people who have lost all their teeth have diabetes.
#2. Gum disease makes diabetes harder to control.
Diabetes and gum disease are a two-way street when it comes to adverse health effects. Not only does diabetes increase the risk of gum disease, but gum disease can make diabetes harder to manage. Infections such as gum disease can cause blood sugar levels to rise. This is because chronic inflammation can throw the body's immune system into overdrive, which affects blood sugar levels. Since higher blood sugar weakens the body's ability to fight infection, untreated gum disease may raise the risk of complications from diabetes.
#3. You can do a lot to take charge of your health.
If you have diabetes and gum disease, you may feel as if you've been hit with a double whammy. While it's true that having both conditions means you are tasked with managing two chronic diseases, there is a lot you can do to take care of your health. Do your best to control blood sugar by taking prescribed medications, following a balanced diet, and exercising. In addition, pay special attention to your oral healthcare routine at home: Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day can go a long way in preserving good oral health.
#4. Preventing and managing gum disease should be a team effort.
We can work together to prevent, treat, and control periodontal disease. Come in for regular professional dental cleanings and checkups so we can monitor the health of your teeth and gums and provide specialized treatment such as deep cleanings when necessary. Diligent dental care can improve your oral health and help control your diabetes.
Remember, we're on your team. Let us know if there have been changes in your diabetes, your medication, or your oral health. If you have questions about diabetes and your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is potentially devastating to your teeth, gums and bone. To fight it we have to remove the substance that causes and sustains the disease from all oral surfaces — a thin layer of bacteria and food particles known as plaque.
To accomplish this task, we use a variety of hand instruments called scalers to mechanically remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), as well as ultrasonic equipment to vibrate plaque loose and flush it away with water. If we detect plaque deposits well below the gum line and around the tooth roots, we may need to use other techniques like root planing or surgery to access these deeper areas.
Â While gum disease is persistent and aggressive, these traditional techniques have proven quite effective in controlling the infection and restoring health to diseased gums. Yet like other aspects of medicine and dentistry, technological advances have created a new option for gum disease treatment: the Nd:YAG laser.
The Nd:YAG laser is named for the crystal it uses to produce a narrow and intense beam of light on a specific frequency. In recent years it's become an important surgical tool because it can distinguish between diseased and healthy tissue, destroying the former while not affecting the latter.Â It's being used now on a limited basis for treating gum disease, especially for removing infected tissue in deep pockets that can form below the gum line, and for removing plaque and calculus from root surfaces.
Â Because of its precision, early evidence of effectiveness is encouraging: minimal tissue damage and swelling, less bleeding and reduced patient discomfort after treatment. The heat from the laser has also been shown to kill bacteria and essentially sterilize the area.
Still, the findings aren't conclusive enough as to whether lasers are superior in most circumstances to traditional scaling methods. For the time being, we'll continue to use the tried and true methods for removing plaque and calculus. But as laser technology advances, the time may come when this new approach to gum disease treatment will become a more prominent and beneficial option for patients.
If you would like more information on your treatment options for 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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
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