Most of us are familiar with the story of the infamous luxury cruise liner, the Titanic. In 1912, the ship (on its maiden voyage) struck an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic Ocean, split in half, and sank.
If you’ve seen the movie, you may recall that a shipmate caught sight of an iceberg that appeared (unfortunately at the last minute) above the surface of the water. However, most sailors who are familiar with this hazard in northern oceans know it is what’s below the surface that is the true danger.
This reminds me of how dangers can exist beneath the visible part of a smile. While teeth and gums may appear “A-okay,” a dentist knows that white teeth and pink gums are just part of the story, and even be deceptive in what actually exists.
Your oral health is more than just what you see in a smile, of course. The condition of teeth is not apparent by what is shown by glancing in a mirror. This is why we take periodic radiographs (x-rays). Referred to as bite wings, these images give us indications of decay present deep below the surface.
Through these, we can see fractures, root depths, and gum height. The goal is to catch any problems that exist or may be emerging at the earliest stages. Early treatment can save you time and expense needed for more-involved treatment in the future.
When some problems are flagged through bite wings, we may need a more intricate view. In our Shelby Township dental office, we feature advanced imaging technology for these situations, including Panoramic imaging and Cone Beam 3D imaging.
A “Panorex” is a jaw-to-jaw image that reveals both jaws and all teeth in one, flat image. A Cone Beam can provide a more detailed view of these areas and beyond (including muscles, joint structures, airways, etc.). With clear and concise views, all in a 3-dimensional format, certain issues that are deeply “hidden” can be found.
Once we have proper imaging of any problem areas, we can share treatment recommendations with patients. This allows the patient to have a better understanding of what has occurred, what their options are, and make decisions that are best for their individual needs and goals.
We believe each patient should be an “informed consumer,” which also helps them to be more proactive in their oral health care. After all, if we can provide minor treatment at an early stage to help save a tooth or prevent the need for more extensive treatment at a later date, our patient is healthier and happier!
However, let’s go past the needs that can occur with the teeth we see and look at the foundation of teeth – the gum tissues.
We know that tooth roots are held by the upper and lower jaw. And, it’s pretty obvious that these structures are covered over in a moist, pink tissue. If you’ll look closely at your teeth, you’ll notice that each one is wrapped at its base by gum tissues. These tissues help to seal out oral bacteria, keeping the tooth roots healthy.
If you notice any teeth that reveal darker, segments of tooth at the gum line, this indicates gum recession. This is not good! If you aren’t experiencing it now, you may eventually develop sensitivity.
This darker portion is actually an exposed section of the tooth’s root. It is highly vulnerable to oral bacteria and can cause painful sensations. When the bristles of a tooth brush or hot and cold foods and beverages come in contact with this area, an ache (or even a jolt of pain) sends an obvious warning sign that recovering it is overdue.
Just as the Titanic encountered a monster-of-a-hazard below the ocean’s surface (which caused severe damage to the ship’s hull), the gum tissues you can see often conceal problems below. Periodontal (gum) disease begins silently, similar to other diseases that form in our bodies. By the time obvious signs emerge (such as tender gums that bleed when brushing), problems are already churning.
People are often surprised to learn they have periodontal disease. Too often, people assume “if it doesn’t hurt, then nothing’s wrong.” Or, people ignore early warning signs of gum disease, assuming they are normal.
For example, some people believe that seeing blood in the sink when brushing means they are doing a good job. Misconceptions such as these often lead people to delay being seen (and treated), which simply allows the disease to progress further.
Gum disease is an inflammatory disease that attacks gum tissues, teeth, and the structures that support them. It’s the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss. As if that weren’t bad enough, “perio” disease bacteria can enter the bloodstream through diseased gum tissues, leading to some pretty serious (and even deadly) health issues.
For decades, research has been tracking these potent bacteria and the way they seem to activate the development of other diseases. Past studies have shown oral bacteria from gum disease can trigger heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes, preterm babies, erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, and impotency. Studies are underway to find suspected links to Alzheimer’s disease.
Although dental implants have a very high success rate, when failure does occur, it is typically due to the penetration of these inflammatory bacteria into the implanted site. When this occurs, the implant often requires removal in order to adequately resolve the problem.
We also are aware that problems related to oral health are not always due to insufficient patient care. After all, people who lead healthy lifestyles can still develop diseases or encounter “ice bergs.” Yet, it’s how we respond to the issues that do occur that can be the difference between resolving the problem quickly and conservatively or having to make hard decisions later on (including the replacement of teeth).
What you can do now, to minimize your risks, is to recommit yourself to a thorough oral care routine at home. And, keep those 6-month oral exams and cleanings without fail to position you proactively for good oral health. Our dental hygienists can even help you develop a regimen of at-home care and even easy techniques for thorough flossing.
As always, our goal is to have your dental visits be terrific experiences – every appointment! We want all patients to enjoy the benefits of healthy, confident smiles and teeth that last a lifetime. If you’ve delayed care or wish to renew your oral health commitment, we are a welcoming environment and “judgement free zone!”
If dental fear or financial constraints have prevented you from seeking the care you need or desire, please share these concerns during a no-charge private session. Together, we can address these obstacles head-on so you can achieve the smile you want. Call 586-739-2155 or tap here to begin.