Posts for: July, 2021
Parents will do just about anything to relieve their children's discomfort when they're in pain. When a toddler is suffering through a teething episode, it's tempting to turn to a topical numbing ointment to soothe their gums.
But there can be a hidden danger for kids if you use certain over-the-counter products used by adults for gum or teeth pain. Many of these topical ointments contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. While it's relatively safe for adults, benzocaine can be hazardous for infants and young children.
Studies have found that benzocaine contributes to a disease called methemoglobinemia, in which a protein in the blood called methemoglobin increases to abnormal levels. Too much of this protein inhibits the transport of oxygen throughout the body. For young children, this can cause shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness. In extreme cases, it could lead to seizures, coma or even death.
Parents are urged to avoid using any product containing benzocaine to ease gum or teething pain in children. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends providing a child a chilled (not frozen) teething ring, pacifier or a damp clean cloth to chew on. The chewing action helps relieve gum swelling pressure and the cold will help numb the pain. Massaging the gums with a clean finger may also help.
If the pain persists, parents should consult a doctor or pharmacist about giving their child pain medication. Drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (never aspirin) administered in the proper dosage for a child's age can help ease teething discomfort. Medications should always be given orally—you should never rub substances like aspirin or alcohol directly on the gums, which can further irritate already inflamed tissues.
Teething episodes come and go during a child's early dental development—they are like storms that swell and abate before they finally pass. Except when accompanied by fever or diarrhea, there's no need for concern. Your main goal is to help ease their discomfort as much—and as safely—as possible.
Half of adults over age 30, and an astounding 70% over 65, have had some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Unchecked, a bacterial gum infection can spread into the supporting bone and destroy attachments between the teeth and gums. Because of its rapidity and aggressiveness, gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults.
But there may be even more harm caused by gum disease beyond losing teeth: There's growing evidence gum disease may worsen other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with gum disease are also more likely to suffer from one or more of these systemic conditions.
The link between gum disease and these other diseases appears to be inflammation. When tissue becomes injured or diseased, swelling (inflammation) occurs to isolate these tissues from the rest of the body. Under normal circumstances, this is a critical defense mechanism to protect the body overall.
But this response is a temporary measure—if it becomes chronic, it can actually damage the tissues it's trying to protect. This often happens with gum disease as inflammation can't overcome the gum infection, and both sides settle into a kind of trench warfare. The same story plays out with other diseases with an inflammatory response. And if the body is waging war with a gum infection, it can worsen these other conditions.
It's important then to take care of your gums and the rest of the body to minimize chronic inflammation. You can help prevent a gum infection by brushing and flossing every day and getting your teeth cleaned professionally at least every six months. You should also see your dentist if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, often the first signs of gum disease.
It can also benefit your gums if you're addressing other inflammatory issues in your body. Besides regular medical care, you can reduce your risk for other systemic diseases by eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight at an optimum level and avoiding smoking.
The individual parts of your body aren't isolated islands: Diseases that affect one can eventually affect all. By preventing or treating gum disease as early as possible, you'll also help reduce the effects of other systemic diseases.
It often begins without you realizing it—spreading ever deeper into the gums and damaging tissue attachments, teeth and supporting bone in its way. In the end, it could cause you to lose your teeth.
This is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces. It in turn triggers chronic inflammation, which can cause the gum attachments to teeth to weaken. Detaching gum ligaments may then produce diseased voids—periodontal pockets—that can widen the gap between the teeth and the gums down to the roots.
There is one primary treatment objective for gum disease: uncover and remove any and all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). If the infection has advanced no further than surface gum tissues, it may simply be a matter of removing plaque at or just below the gum line with hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment.
The disease, however, is often discovered in more advanced stages: The initial signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums might have been ignored or simply didn't appear. Even so, the objective of plaque and tartar removal remains the same, albeit the procedures may be more invasive.
For example, we may need to surgically access areas deep below the gum line. This involves a procedure called flap surgery, which creates an opening in the gum tissues resembling the flap of an envelope. Once the root or bone is exposed, we can then remove any plaque and/or tartar deposits and perform other actions to boost healing.
Antibiotics or other antibacterial substances might also be needed for stopping an infection in advanced stages. Some like the antibiotic tetracycline can be applied topically to the affected areas to directly stop inflammation and infection; others like mouthrinses with chlorhexidine might be used to fight bacteria for an extended period.
Although effective, treatment for advanced gum disease may need to continue indefinitely. The better approach is to focus on preventing a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. And at the first sign of problems with your teeth and gums, see us as soon as possible—the earlier in the disease progression that we can begin treatment, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”