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Periodontics

The term “periodontics” refers to the dental specialty that pertains to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease that affects the gums and jawbone. The gum tissues serve to surround and support the teeth and the underlying jawbone anchors teeth firmly in place. Periodontists have completed several years of extra dental training and are concerned with maintaining the function, health and aesthetics of the jawbone and tissues.

Periodontal disease is a progressive condition which begins with mild gum inflammation called gingivitis. It is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults living in the developed world, and should be taken very seriously. Periodontal disease (often called gum disease) is typically signified by red, swollen, painful, or bleeding gums, but in some cases has no noticeable symptoms.

Periodontal disease generally begins when the bacteria living in plaque cause an infection in the surrounding tissues of the teeth, causing them to become irritated and painful. Eventually, this infection will cause the jawbone to recede and the tooth to become loose.

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Periodontal disease is a progressive condition which leads to severe inflammation and tooth loss if left untreated. Antibiotic treatments can be used in combination with scaling and root planning, curettage, surgery or as a stand-alone treatment to help reduce bacteria before and/or after many common periodontal procedures.

Antibiotic treatments come in several different types, including oral forms and topical gels which are applied directly into the gum pockets. Research has shown that in the case of acute periodontal infection, refractory periodontal disease, prepubertal periodontal disease and juvenile periodontal disease, antibiotic treatments have been incredibly effective.

Antibiotics can be prescribed at a low dose for longer term use, or as a short term medication to deter bacteria from re-colonizing.

Oral Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics tend to affect the whole body and are less commonly prescribed than topical gel. Here are some specific details about several different types of oral antibiotics:

• Tetracycline antibiotics – Antibiotics which include tetracycline hydrochloride, doxycycline, and minocycline are the primary drugs used in periodontal treatment. They have antibacterial properties, reduce inflammation and block collagenase (a protein which destroys the connective tissue).

• Macrolide antibiotics – This group of antibiotics has proven effective at reducing inflammation, and can also reduce bacterial growth associated with periodontitis.

• Metronidazole – This antibiotic is generally used in combination with amoxicillin or tetracycline to combat inflammation and bacterial growth in severe or chronic periodontitis.

Topical Gels and Strips

The biggest advantage of the direct delivery of antibiotics to the surfaces of the gums is that the whole body is not affected. Topical gels and direct delivery methods tend to be preferred over their oral counterparts and are extremely effective when used after scaling and root planing procedures. Here are some of the most commonly used direct delivery antibiotics:

• Atridox® – This doxycycline gel conforms to the contours of gum surfaces and solidifies over them. Over several days, this gel gradually releases the antibiotic medication.

 PerioChip® – This chip is placed into the actual gum pocket after root planing procedure. PerioChip® slowly releases Chlorhexidine, a powerful antibacterial antiseptic. PerioChip® reduces pocket depth in most cases in periodontitis sufferers.

• Actisite® – This thin strip is similar to dental floss and contains tetracycline hydrochloride. The thread is place temporarily directly between the tooth and gum to kill bacteria and reduce the depth of gum pockets. Several threads are sometimes placed for around 10 days to enhance the antibiotic effect.

• Elyzol® – This metronidazole antibiotic comes in gel and strip form. It is unique because it is able to destroy parasites as well as oral bacteria.

• Arestin® – This Minocycline antibiotic comes in mini capsules which are delivered into the gums after scaling and root planning.

Noticeable periodontal improvements are usually seen after systemic or oral antibiotic treatment. Your Periodontist or dentist will incorporate and recommend the necessary antibiotic treatments as necessary for the healing of your periodontal condition.

Periodontal disease is the leading cause of bone loss in the oral cavity, though there are others such as ill-fitting dentures and facial trauma. The bone grafting procedure is an excellent way to replace lost bone tissue and encourage natural bone growth. Bone grafting is a versatile and predictable procedure which fulfills a wide variety of functions.

A bone graft may be required to create a stable base for dental implant placement, to halt the progression of gum disease or to make the smile appear more aesthetically pleasing.

There are several types of dental bone grafts. The following are the most common:

• Autogenous bone graft – In this type of graft the bone is removed from elsewhere in the body and implanted in the mouth. Common donor sites for bone grafting include the iliac section of the pelvis, the chin and the posterior third molar areas of the jaw. If large amounts of bone need to be harvested, the hip or the shin bone (tibia) is generally used.

• Allograft – Synthetic bone (man made) can be created in the laboratory and used in the bone grafting procedure. Bone can also be obtained from a bone bank (cadaver bone).

• Xenograft – This is the implantation of bovine (cow) bone. A xenograft is perfectly safe and has been used successfully for many years. Ample bone can be obtained and no secondary donor site is necessary.

Reasons for bone grafting

There are a wide variety of reasons why bone grafting may be the best option for restoring the jaw bone.

Dental implants – Implants are the preferred replacement method for missing teeth because they restore full functionality to the mouth; however, implants need to be firmly anchored to the jawbone to be effective. If the jawbone lacks the necessary quality or quantity of bone, bone grafting can strengthen and thicken the implant site.

Sinus lift – A sinus lift entails elevating the sinus membrane and grafting bone onto the sinus floor so that implants can be securely placed.

Ridge augmentation – Ridges in the bone can occur due to trauma, injury, birth defects or severe periodontal disease. The bone graft is used to fill in the ridge and make the jawbone a uniform shape.

Nerve repositioning – If the inferior alveolar nerve requires movement to allow for the placement of implants, a bone grafting procedure may be required. The inferior alveolar nerve allows feeling and sensation in the lower chin and lip.

What does bone grafting treatment involve?

Bone grafting is a fairly simple procedure which may be performed under local anesthetic; however if large amounts of bone area need to be grafted, general anesthetic may be required.

Initially, the grafting material needs to either be harvested or prepared for insertion. A small incision is made in the gum tissue and then gently separated from the bone. The bone grafting material is then placed at the affected site.

The bone regeneration process may be aided by:

• Gum/bone tissue regeneration – A thin barrier (membrane) is placed below the gum line over the grafting material. This barrier creates enough space for healthy tissue to grow and separates the faster growing gum tissue from the slower growing fibers. This means that bone cells can migrate to the protected area and grow naturally.

• Tissue stimulating proteins – Enamel matrix proteins occur during natural tooth development. Emdogain is a matrix protein product which is usually placed on the affected site before the gum is sutured. It mediates the formation of accellular cementum on the tooth which provides a foundation to allow periodontal attachment to occur. Tissue stimulating proteins help to create lost support in areas affected by periodontal defects.

• Platelet-rich growth factors –A high platelet concentration liquid can be used to create a blood clot at the site of a wound. It has recently been discovered that PRGF also stimulates bone growth – meaning a denser graft in a shorter time period.

The gum is sutured in place and a follow up appointment will need to be made within 10 days to assess progress. Bone grafting is a highly successful treatment and a good base for further periodontal restorations.

Crown lengthening is generally performed in order to improve the health of the gum tissue, or to prepare the mouth for restorative or cosmetic procedures. In addition, crown lengthening procedures can also be used to correct a “gummy” smile, where teeth are covered with excess gum tissue. Crown lengthening exposes more of the natural tooth by reshaping or recontouring bone and gum tissue. This treatment can be performed on a single tooth, many teeth or the entire gum line, to expose a pleasant, aesthetically pleasing smile.

Reasons for crown lengthening

Crown lengthening is a versatile and common procedure that has many effective uses and benefits. The vast majority of patients who have undergone this type of surgery are highly delighted with the results.

Here are some of the most common reasons for crown lengthening:

• Restoration of damaged teeth – Periodontal disease can cause severe damage to the teeth, as can trauma and decay. Where teeth have been broken beneath the gum line, crown lengthening can be used to prepare the area for a new restoration to correct the damaged teeth.

• Cosmetic uses – Extra gum tissue can make teeth look unnaturally short, and also increase susceptibility to periodontal infections. Removing excess gum tissue can restore a balanced, healthy look and thus improve the aesthetic appearance of the smile.

• Dental crowns – Crown lengthening serves to provide more space between the supporting jawbone and dental crown. This prevents the new crown from damaging gum tissues and bone once it is in place.

What does crown lengthening involve?

Crown lengthening is normally performed under local anesthetic. The amount of time this procedure takes will largely depend in how many teeth are involved and whether a small amount of bone needs to be removed, in addition to the soft tissue. Any existing dental crowns will be removed prior to the procedure, and replaced immediately afterwards.

The dentist will make a series of small incisions around the soft tissue in order to separate the gums away from the teeth. Even if only one tooth requires the re-contour, neighboring teeth are usually treated to provide a more even reshaping. Separating the gums provides the dentist with access to the roots of the teeth and the underlying bone.

In some cases, the removal of a small amount of tissue will provide enough tooth exposure to place a crown. In other cases, the dentist will also need to remove a small amount of bone from around the teeth. The bone is usually removed using a combination of special hand instruments, and rotary instruments. The rotary instruments roughly resemble the drill that is used in cavity treatment.

When the dentist is satisfied the teeth have sufficient exposure, the wound will be cleaned with sterile water and the gum tissue will be sutured with small stitches. The teeth will look noticeably longer immediately after surgery because the gums have now been repositioned.

The dentist will secure the surgical site using an intraoral (periodontal) bandage, which serves to prevent infection. Prescriptions may be provided for pain medication, and a chlorhexidine (antimicrobial) mouth rinse may be given to help reduce any bacteria attempting to re-colonize. The surgical site will be completely healed in approximately two to three months.

According to research conducted by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year. More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient. The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.

Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable. This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important. Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and melanoma. The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma. This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.

There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:

• Lips
• Mouth
• Tongue
• Salivary Glands
• Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
• Gums
• Face

Reasons for oral cancer examinations

It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Your dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and smoking cessation.

When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective. Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible. During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.

The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:

 Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.

• Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.

• Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process. During the visual part of the examination, the dentist will look for abnormality and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual bumps. Lasers which can highlight pathologic changes are also a wonderful tool for oral cancer checks. The laser can “look” below the surface for abnormal signs and lesions which would be invisible to the naked eye.

If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and treatment plan. In the event that the initial treatment plan is ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed. The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken. Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats. Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

During bi-annual check-ups, the dentist and hygienist will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth, but a dedicated comprehensive oral cancer screening should be performed at least once each year.

The objective of scaling & root planning is to remove etiologic agents which cause inflammation to the gingival (gum) tissue and surrounding bone. Common etiologic agents removed by this conventional periodontal therapy include dental plaque and tartar (calculus).

These non-surgical procedures which completely cleanse the periodontium, work very effectively for individuals suffering from gingivitis (mild gum inflammation) and moderate/severe periodontal disease.

Reasons for scaling and root planing

Scaling and root planning can be used both as a preventative measure and as a stand-alone treatment. These procedures are performed as a preventative measure for a periodontitis sufferer.

Here are some reasons why these dental procedures may be necessary:

• Disease prevention – The oral bacteria which cause periodontal infections can travel via the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Research has shown that lung infections and heart disease have been linked to periodontal bacteria. Scaling and root planing remove bacteria and halts periodontal disease from progressing, thus preventing the bacteria from traveling to other parts of the body.

• Tooth protection – When gum pockets exceed 3mm in depth, there is a greater risk of periodontal disease. As pockets deepen, they tend to house more colonies of dangerous bacteria. Eventually, a chronic inflammatory response by the body begins to destroy gingival and bone tissue which may lead to tooth loss. Periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss in the developed world.

• Aesthetic effects – Scaling and root planing help remove tartar and plaque from the teeth and below the gumline. As an added bonus, if superficial stains are present on the teeth, they will be removed in the process of the scaling and root planning procedure.

• Better breath – One of the most common signs of periodontal disease is halitosis (bad breath). Food particles and bacteria can cause a persistent bad odor in the oral cavity which is alleviated with cleaning procedures such as scaling and root planing.

What do scaling and root planing treatments involve?

Scaling and root planing treatments are only performed after a thorough examination of the mouth. The dentist will take X-rays, conduct visual examinations and make a diagnosis before recommending or beginning these procedures.

Depending on the current condition of the gums, the amount of calculus (tartar) present, the depth of the pockets and the progression of the periodontitis, local anesthetic may be used.

Scaling – This procedure is usually performed with special dental instruments and may include an ultrasonic scaling tool. The scaling tool removes calculus and plaque from the surface of the crown and root surfaces. In many cases, the scaling tool includes an irrigation process that can also be used to deliver an antimicrobial agent below the gums that can help reduce oral bacteria.

Root Planing – This procedure is a specific treatment which serves to remove cementum and surface dentin that is embedded with unwanted microorganisms, toxins and tartar. The root of the tooth is literally smoothed in order to promote good healing. Having clean, smooth root surfaces helps bacteria from easily colonizing in future.

Following these deep cleaning procedures, the gum pockets may be treated with antibiotics. This will soothe irritation and help the gum tissues to heal quickly.

During the next appointment, the dentist or hygienist will thoroughly examine the gums again to see how well the pockets have healed. If the gum pockets still measure more than 3mm in depth, additional and more intensive treatments may be recommended.

Periodontal disease is a progressive condition which leads to gum inflammation, the recession of bone and gum tissue, and tooth loss if left untreated. There are a variety of effective treatments and procedures available, including pocket irrigation, which can assist in treating the progression of the disease.

Pocket irrigation aims to cleanse plaque from the interdental (between teeth) and subgingival (under the gumline) regions of the mouth in order to prevent the colonization of harmful oral bacteria. This procedure is also used to deliver antibacterials to the subgingival areas.

Reasons for pocket irrigation

Pocket irrigation, which is also known as oral irrigation, is a versatile dental treatment used for several different preventative purposes. Pocket irrigation may be performed as part of a professional dental cleaning, or at home with a specially modified oral irrigator.

Here are the main ways in which pocket irrigation can be beneficial:

• Interdental cleaning – Pocket irrigators blast plaque, food particles and other debris from between the teeth. The removal of harmful materials and bacteria keep the gum pockets cleaner and shallower; thus helping the gum tissue remain healthy.

• Halitosis prevention – Halitosis (or bad breath) is generally a result of old food particles between the teeth, and tooth decay. A toothbrush or dental scraper alone may not be able to reach into the depths of the gum pockets, but water jets can flush out food particles and help clean above and below the gumline.

• Subgingival cleaning – Pocket irrigators have a rounded tip which eliminates the risk of tissue damage while cleaning under the gumline. The side port opening facilitates extensive cleansing by flushing out bacteria, particles and toxins from below the gumline.

• Antimicrobial application – Antimicrobial substances have proven effective for eliminating and preventing some strains of harmful oral bacteria. Antimicrobial substances can be combined with water, or used as a stand-alone treatment for successful pocket irrigation.

What does pocket irrigation treatment involve?

Pocket irrigation is generally performed in combination with other dental treatments; for example, as part of a professional dental cleaning or in combination with pocket reduction surgery.

In the case of a pocket reduction surgery, the tartar and subgingival plaque will be removed with special scaling and root planing instruments. When the pockets are free of debris, an antimicrobial agent may be applied using an oral irrigator. This will help reduce harmful oral bacteria which still remain in the pockets.

During a deep cleaning procedure, a pocket irrigator may be used after scaling and root planing to cleanse the pockets. Again, an antimicrobial agent may be applied to help reduce subgingival oral bacteria.

Pocket irrigation can be performed at home as part of the daily oral routine using a water jet or water pick. Flushing the interdental area with water is less harmful to soft tissue than dental floss, but should not be used as a substitute for professional dental cleaning.

A dental prophylaxis is a cleaning procedure performed to thoroughly clean the teeth. Prophylaxis is an important dental treatment for halting the progression of periodontal disease and gingivitis.

Periodontal disease and gingivitis occur when bacteria from plaque colonize on the gingival (gum) tissue, either above or below the gum line. These bacteria colonies cause serious inflammation and irritation which in turn produce a chronic inflammatory response in the body. As a result, the body begins to systematically destroy gum and bone tissue, making the teeth shift, become unstable, or completely fall out. The pockets between the gums and teeth become deeper and house more bacteria which may travel via the bloodstream and infect other parts of the body.

Reasons for prophylaxis/teeth cleaning

Prophylaxis is an excellent procedure to help keep the oral cavity in good health and also halt the progression of gum disease.

Here are some of the benefits of prophylaxis:

• Tartar removal – Tartar (calculus) and plaque buildup, both above and below the gum line, can cause serious periodontal problems if left untreated. Even using the best brushing and flossing homecare techniques, it can be impossible to remove debris, bacteria and deposits from gum pockets. The experienced eye of a dentist using specialized dental equipment is needed in order to spot and treat problems such as tartar and plaque buildup.

• Aesthetics – It’s hard to feel confident about a smile marred by yellowing, stained teeth. Prophylaxis can rid the teeth of unsightly stains and return the smile to its former glory.

• Fresher breath – Periodontal disease is often signified by persistent bad breath (halitosis). Bad breath is generally caused by a combination of rotting food particles below the gum line, possible gangrene stemming from gum infection, and periodontal problems. The removal of plaque, calculus and bacteria noticeably improves breath and alleviates irritation.

Identification of health issues – Many health problems first present themselves to the dentist. Since prophylaxis involves a thorough examination of the entire oral cavity, the dentist is able to screen for oral cancer, evaluate the risk of periodontitis and often spot signs of medical problems like diabetes and kidney problems. Recommendations can also be provided for altering the home care regimen.

What does prophylaxis treatment involve?

Prophylaxis can either be performed in the course of a regular dental visit or, if necessary, under general anesthetic. The latter is particularly common where severe periodontal disease is suspected or has been diagnosed by the dentist. An endotracheal tube is sometimes placed in the throat to protect the lungs from harmful bacteria which will be removed from the mouth.

Prophylaxis is generally performed in several stages:

• Supragingival cleaning – The dentist will thoroughly clean the area above the gum line with scaling tools to rid them of plaque and calculus.

• Subgingival cleaning – This is the most important step for patients with periodontal disease because the dentist is able to remove calculus from the gum pockets and beneath the gum line.

• Root planing – This is the smoothing of the tooth root by the dentist to eliminate any remaining bacteria. These bacteria are extremely dangerous to periodontitis sufferers, so eliminating them is one of the top priorities of the dentist.

 Medication – Following scaling and root planing, an antibiotic or antimicrobial cream is often placed in the gum pockets. These creams promote fast and healthy healing in the pockets and help ease discomfort.

• X-ray and examination – Routine X-rays can be extremely revealing when it comes to periodontal disease. X-rays show the extent of bone and gum recession, and also aid the dentist in identifying areas which may need future attention.

Prophylaxis is recommended twice annually as a preventative measure, but should be performed every 3-4 months on periodontitis sufferers. Though gum disease cannot be completely reversed, prophylaxis is one of the tools the dentist can use to effectively halt its destructive progress.

Soft tissue grafting is often necessary to combat gum recession. Periodontal disease, trauma, aging, over brushing, and poor tooth positioning are the leading causes of gum recession which can lead to tooth-root exposure in severe cases.

When the roots of the teeth become exposed, eating hot and cold foods can be uncomfortable, decay is more prevalent and the aesthetic appearance of the smile is altered. The main goal of soft tissue grafting is to either cover the exposed root or to thicken the existing gum tissue in order to halt further tissue loss.

The three different types of common soft tissue grafts include:

• Free gingival graft – A strip of tissue is removed from the roof of the mouth and stitched to the grafting site in order to promote natural growth. This type of graft is most commonly used for thickening existing tissue.

• Connective tissue graft – For larger areas or root exposure, subepithelial tissue is needed to remedy the problem. This subepithelial connective tissue is removed from a small flap in the mouth and sutured to the grafting site. This is the most common treatment for root exposure.

• Pedicle graft – This type of graft involves the “sharing” of soft tissue between the affected site and adjacent gum. A flap of tissue is partially cut away and moved sideways to cover the root. The results of this type of graft are excellent because the tissue that is moved to the adjacent area includes blood vessels that are left in place.

Reasons for soft tissue grafting

Soft tissue grafting is an extremely versatile procedure that has many uses. Recent developments in dental technology have made soft tissue grafting more predictable and less intrusive. Here are some of the main benefits associated with soft tissue grafting treatment:

• Increased comfort – Root exposure can cause substantial pain and discomfort. Eating hot, cold or even warm foods can cause severe discomfort. Soft tissue grafts cover the exposed root, decreases sensitivity and restore good health to the gum area.

• Improved aesthetics – Gum recession due to periodontal disease can cause the smile to look “toothy” or the teeth to appear uneven in size. Soft tissue grafting can be used as a cosmetic procedure to re-augment the gums, and make the smile appear more symmetrical.

• Improved gum health – Periodontal disease is a progressive condition that can destroy soft tissue very rapidly. When used in combination with deep cleaning procedures, soft tissue grafting can halt tissue and bone loss, and protect exposed roots from further complications.

What does soft tissue grafting treatment involve?

Initially, deep cleaning will be performed both above and below the gum line to clear the teeth and roots of calculus (tartar). The grafting procedure itself will generally be performed under local anesthetic, but this will depend on the size of the areas receiving grafts. A small incision will be made at the recipient site in order to create a small pocket. A split thickness incision is made in this pocket and the donor tissue is placed between the two sections of this area. The donor tissue strip is generally larger than the incision, so some excess will be apparent.

Platelet rich growth factors which stimulate natural tissue growth and promote good healing may be applied to the site before suturing. In addition, tissue-stimulating proteins may be added to encourage quicker tissue growth. Finally, the wound site will be sutured to prevent shifting, and surgical material will be placed to protect the sensitive area. Gum uniformity and substantial healing will take place in the first six weeks after the procedure.

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