Gift Yourself a Healthy Smile This Holiday Season: How to Make Orthodontics Affordable

A healthy smile is a wonderful gift and an investment in health and self-confidence. It’s a gift that may initially give you sticker shock, but really, it’s worth every dollar and an investment that will continue to give returns for a lifetime. Before you get discouraged by the price tag, take into account all of these ways to save money on a beautiful smile. An amazing smile can be much more affordable than you may realize.

Avoid Cutting Corners

Not all providers and treatment plans are created equal. Consider quality while shopping because the cheapest orthodontic treatment in town may come with a significant hidden cost in dollars, time, comfort and your end-results.

One example of a treatment plan that may cost you more in the long run is the removal of permanent teeth. Unless this is a “last resort” case, a doctor may be recommending extractions when modern orthodontic techniques could treat equally or better, without removing teeth. Pulling permanent teeth can compromise the health of gum and bones, and result in long-term negative effects on facial structures and costly corrections.

Another treatment plan requiring careful consideration is mail-ordered braces. As convenient as mail-order services sound, moving teeth is a complicated process that requires a trained professional. It’s so important for orthodontic treatment to be supervised as dental appliances can get damaged, teeth don’t always move as planned, and necessary bite correction involves much more than making teeth look straight. Fixing issues common to mail-order appliances could result in paying for a full set of braces plus the cost of your mail-order experiment. Make sure to first visit an orthodontist for a consultation to make sure your case is a good candidate for at-home treatments.

Flexible Financing

Most offices will offer several options to pay for treatment, which may include:

-Paying in full to receive a certain percentage off

-Making a down payment followed by affordable monthly payments

-Opting for an extended financing plan for the lowest monthly payment options

Make sure to ask your orthodontist or someone on their team for flexible financing options.

Avoid Hidden Fees

If you opt for an extended financing plan, watch out for missed payment fees or surprise charges. You also shouldn’t need to pay higher than a 7 or 8 percent APR for an extended payment plan. Shorter payment plans are available with a 0 percent APR.

When comparing orthodontists’ prices, look closely at the cheapest. Many offices offer seemingly attractive low prices up front but hit you with fees later in treatment, making the total cost much higher. Fees for broken brackets, missed appointments, and extra charges for retainers and the like can dramatically increase your total cost. Make sure to ask very clearly if your treatment is ‘all inclusive’.

Also, beware of any office that charges additional monthly fees after a certain point. For example, many lower-priced offices will charge extra if treatment extends beyond twenty-four months—creating an incentive for them to keep your braces on longer.


Approximately 50 percent of those seeking orthodontic treatment do not have coverage. If you have orthodontic insurance, congratulations!

A few tips for getting the most benefit from your orthodontic insurance:

Some insurance policies require a one-year waiting period, so you may have to sign up now for benefits next year.

If you could be interested in orthodontics in the future, get a free exam. Most offices will offer a complimentary insurance benefits check along with the exam so you can fully understand your coverage.

Find the doctor you like because, for almost all orthodontic insurance, you will still get the same insurance benefit for in- or out-of-network doctors.

Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts

FSAs and HSAs allow the use of pretax dollars for qualified health-care expenses, which include orthodontics. Both types of accounts are a significant tax advantage and can be the most powerful way to save money on orthodontic treatment.

A few things to remember:

FSA funds expire each year, so pay attention to your company’s deadlines.

Most companies require you to let them know ahead of time how much you would like to set aside.

Know your enrollment periods; failing to sign up in time could cost you significantly more in after-tax dollars to pay for your treatment.

Make the most of this gift to yourself by using insurance, spending and savings accounts, and flexible financing, while also wisely avoiding hidden fee costs for correcting bad treatment. Finally, be sure to ask your orthodontic provider’s office for help and best practices along the way!

Snoring or Sleep Apnea?

You have a partner or a child who snores. Is it just snoring, or is it sleep apnea? Is it a big deal, or should you just ignore it? Here’s what you should know about snoring and sleep apnea.

How to Tell the Difference

We’re all familiar with snoring. Snoring is simply the sound made when air is partially blocked as it passes through the mouth, nose, and throat. It may be loud or soft. It may go all night long or may last only a short amount of time. But what sets it apart from sleep apnea is that the breathing itself doesn’t stop.

While sleep apnea often involves snoring – sometimes snoring so loud, it disturbs a partner’s sleep – the hallmark of sleep apnea is not snoring, but the complete stoppage of breath at certain moments. There can be up to 100 of these episodes per night, some lasting a minute or more, during which oxygen is cut off from the body. The sleeper is unlikely to be aware of this, as these episodes don’t tend to wake them up.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), caused by an obstruction in the airway; central sleep apnea, caused by the brain’s failure to signal the muscles to breathe during sleep; and mixed sleep apnea, a combination of the two. Whatever the type, they all involve the same thing: disturbed sleep and impaired oxygen flow.

Are Snoring and Sleep Apnea Always Bad?

Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, but it can also be a harmless (if annoying) habit.

Sleep apnea is not harmless. It’s been linked to a variety of life-shortening conditions, including blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Even automobile accidents are associated with this condition, as sleep deprived sufferers are more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel.

People with sleep apnea also experience a lower quality of life, with unrestful sleep, daytime sleepiness, and declines in cognitive function, and have reported a higher incidence of headaches, impotence, and weight gain.

Sleep Apnea in Children

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the prevalence of sleep apnea in children is as low as 2-3% but may be as high as 10-20% (compared to 26% of adults). They can be diagnosed as early as four or five.

Sleep apnea in children has been linked to a number of behavioral and physical problems. Many children with sleep apnea are diagnosed with ADHD, whose behavior and learning problems stem from lack of quality sleep. They are more likely to have lower grades and even their physical development is affected, as the body grows during sleep, which is impaired.

Parents can look out for snoring, “purring,” mouth breathing, daytime sleepiness, behavioral and learning issues, and bedwetting as possible signs of sleep apnea in their child.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea and Getting Help

A sleep study is the best way to get a diagnosis. This is an overnight session in a medical setting where sleep is monitored to pinpoint the problem. Treatment may involve the use of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine at night, surgery, or oral appliances. In some patients, weight loss is also very helpful for managing sleep apnea.

For children, a CPAP machine or surgery may be overkill when a simple orthodontic device can do the trick. I’ve seen life-changing results from a simple expander, which can help open up the air passage. An orthodontist can do a sleep apnea screening on your child and discuss treatment options.

As sleep apnea is not just an annoyance but has a major impact on health and quality of life, it’s imperative to take steps to address it now. You’ll be glad you did.

Food for thought: How your Thanksgiving dishes hurt/help your teeth

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for friends, family, and life! It’s also a time to indulge in delicious foods like turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. While it’s common knowledge that some of these foods are not friendly on the waistline, did you know that some of these popular dishes are also not treating your teeth so well? Check out this list of popular Thanksgiving foods and how they might harm (or help!) your teeth. You can thank me later ?

1.    Thanksgiving turkey

Meat, like Thanksgiving turkey or ham, is high in protein. Protein is loaded with phosphorus, a mineral that protects tooth enamel and improves the strength of your teeth and jaw.

2.    Mashed potatoes

You might not be thinking of mashed potatoes as helping out your teeth, but I am trying to do you a favor! The milk in mashed potatoes is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D. This dose of vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. And, calcium strengthens bones and teeth. An added bonus, the casein in milk can also help your enamel get stronger.

3.    Cranberry sauce

Strong acids, like those found in cranberry sauce, are the number-one cause of enamel erosion and tooth decay. When sits on your teeth, it wears down tooth enamel, eventually causing cavities and other problems. If you just can’t go without your beloved cranberry sauce, minimize the acidic exposure of your teeth by drinking lots of water and, if possible, brushing your teeth after eating. Then, avoid other acidic foods and drinks for several hours.

4.    Pumpkin pie

Sugary foods like pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and other baked goods leave plaque, a sticky film of bacteria on your teeth. The sugar can also get stuck in the crevices between your teeth and become a breeding ground for bacteria. The bacteria in plaque turns into acid (similar to that discussed above) that will attack your tooth enamel, eventually breaking down and creating a little hole in your tooth, a cavity.

So, what can you do?

Offer to bring the veggie tray! Although veggie trays may not be the most delectable of all the food choices, raw vegetables are great for your teeth. These crunchy, crispy delights contain lots of water to help your teeth stay sharp, scrub tooth surfaces and stimulate the flow of saliva. Saliva is very important because it contains enzymes that fight off the acids present in your cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, cleaning bits of food out from between your teeth and gums.

Give your teeth some extra love. If you can’t resist that pumpkin pie, you may want to bring along a toothbrush, and, brush more than you think you should. If you aren’t able to brush after indulging, at least rinse your mouth with water so that the sugar doesn’t have a chance to turn acidic on your teeth.

Avoid eating a post-dessert, dessert. Eat the sweets after dinner and don’t have them again later! By continually snacking on those super sugary desserts, your teeth will be constantly exposed to these cavity-causing acids. Have at the pie all at once, rather than saving up and gorging on all the leftovers.

This Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful that certain foods can help prevent cavities and tooth decay, keep plaque at bay, and even freshen breath. Make sure to incorporate some of the above tooth-friendly foods into your Thanksgiving meal!

Mouth Emergencies… and What Can Wait

There are few things that constitute true emergencies when it comes to oral and dental health. Most things, like broken or lost retainers, poking wires from braces, and sore gums, can be addressed within a few days and don’t require immediate attention. But there are some cases where immediate medical or dental attention is necessary. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Seek Treatment ASAP If: You Have Severe Pain with Symptoms of Infection

An infection in the mouth can sometimes spread to other areas of the body. In the worst-case scenario, this can lead to sepsis, which can be fatal. Signs of infection that have spread include fever, rapid breathing, abnormally high or low blood pressure, and/or confusion. Symptoms in the mouth include severe pain, swelling in the gums or the face, bad breath, and pus or fluids coming from the infected area.

If you see any combination of these symptoms, go to the emergency department for treatment immediately. Don’t “wait and see” if things improve. Infections can spread quickly and cause major long-term damage to the body. Better safe than sorry.

You Can Wait If: Toothache or Soreness from Braces 

Fortunately, most toothache is minor and can wait for treatment. If the pain in your tooth is an annoyance, and you don’t have other accompanying symptoms, it’s safe to wait a day or two to see your dentist.

A minor amount of pain after braces have been put on or tightened is completely normal and shouldn’t necessitate a visit to the dentist at all. The pain can be easily managed at home with ice, dental wax, or an over-the-counter painkiller. 

Seek Treatment ASAP If: Your Tooth Was Knocked Out

Falls and blows to the face can lead to a tooth being knocked out, which is a true emergency. The only way to save the tooth is to take immediate action. According to the American Association of Endodontists, the best thing to do is pick up the tooth without touching the exposed root, rinse with water ONLY (no detergents or cleansers) if it’s dirty, and place it back in the socket right away. Hold the tooth in place and keep it moist. If you can’t put it back in your mouth, keep it between your cheek and gums or place it in a cup of milk – never tap water. Ideally, you should see an endodontist or dentist within 30 minutes of losing your tooth for the best chance to save it. If that’s not possible, take a trip to the emergency department.

You Can Wait If: Your Tooth Was Chipped or Broken

You will want to see your dentist as soon as you’re able, but a broken or chipped tooth is not an emergency like a knocked-out tooth. Depending on how the tooth broke, your dentist may be able to repair or rebuild it.

Seek Treatment ASAP If: Cuts to the Mouth Causing Excessive Bleeding

Uncontrolled bleeding in the mouth from cuts should be addressed by a doctor and may require stitches.

You Can Wait If: Bleeding is Minor

Bleeding in the mouth isn’t uncommon, and can be caused by inflamed gums, irritated sores, or minor cuts. If the bleeding is minor and stops on its own, there’s no need to seek immediate treatment. Just make sure to discuss the bleeding you’ve seen when you next see your dentist.

When in Doubt, Seek Treatment

No one wants to go to urgent care or the emergency department, but sometimes that’s the best option. If you’re just not sure if it can wait, and you can’t get a hold of your dentist’s or orthodontist’s office because it’s after hours, seek medical care. It will give you peace of mind and may end up saving your tooth – or even your life.

Removing Baby Teeth vs. Permanent Teeth

Nobody likes having a tooth removed, but sometimes it’s necessary. This might happen when there’s not enough room in the mouth or when permanent teeth are growing in at an angle.

However, it matters whether it’s a baby tooth or a permanent tooth removed. There are differences between the two I think it’s important to know, before any teeth are removed.

There are differences between removing baby teeth versus removing permanent teeth that I think it’s important to understand before any teeth are removed.

Removing Baby Teeth

Baby teeth are aptly named, as they make their first appearance somewhere around 6 months old. The full set typically come in by the age of 3, and they begin to fall out one by one at 6 or 7 years old.

As permanent teeth grow in above (in the upper jaw) or below (in the lower jaw) the baby teeth, they put pressure on the roots of the baby teeth. The roots dissolve and the baby tooth falls out, allowing the permanent tooth to come in.

When the roots don’t dissolve properly, this can prevent the baby tooth from falling out the way it should, which can lead to the permanent tooth coming in at a strange angle or becoming impacted.

Angled teeth will need braces to straighten while impacted teeth may require surgery to allow them to grow in. Rather than get to this point, dentists and orthodontists may recommend removing the baby tooth that’s in the way in order to allow the permanent tooth to grow in correctly. While it’s not “fun,” it can save cost, pain, and trouble later on.

Removing Permanent Teeth

This is a different story. While baby teeth are meant to come out in due time, permanent teeth are supposed to be, as the name implies, permanent. Removing a permanent tooth is a big deal, as they do not grow back and it forever changes your mouth. Despite this, tooth extractions used to be exceedingly common in orthodontic treatment, with up to 75% of cases involving the removal of at least one permanent tooth.

These days, most orthodontists consider this a last resort rather than a first option. For example, in my practice, I’d say that less than 1% of patients need to have a permanent tooth removed. There are many treatment options and appliances these days that can fix the issue without resorting to tooth extraction.

If you’re told you need a permanent tooth removed, I recommend you get a second opinion. The other orthodontist may suggest a different course of treatment, or if they also agree that it’s necessary to remove a tooth, you can move forward with the extraction with more confidence.

The Importance of Early Intervention

To reduce the chances of permanent tooth removal, the best thing to do is to get treatment early. By going early – The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist by 7 – the orthodontist can make a plan that fixes any issues before they become big problems that require more expensive intervention. Hopefully, with early enough treatment, there will never be a need to remove any permanent teeth.

What’s Right For Your Child? Understanding Headgear, Functional Appliances, Face Masks and Expanders

In addition to straightening crooked teeth, orthodontists frequently help correct bites that are “off.” Overbites, underbites, and overcrowding are all jaw issues at heart, and if they’re not treated promptly, they can lead to more health problems (and expensive procedures and treatment) down the road.

Fortunately, there are many options available to correct these problems, especially when intervention begins soon. That’s because the upper jaw stops growing around the age of 8, which is early compared to the lower jaw, which stops growing somewhere between 13-18.

If your child’s orthodontist has concerns about your child’s bite, an appliance may be recommended. Here’s a quick primer on some of the most common types of appliances, what they do, and what they’re best suited for, so you have some information going in to your next appointment.

Headgear: To Correct Overbites

Let’s start with one of the oldest – and least beloved – appliances in orthodontia, headgear. Unlike braces, rubber bands, and retainers that are worn inside the mouth, headgear is worn outside the mouth. This metal contraption can look like a medieval torture device and is embarrassing for most patients to wear, especially during teenage years.

Headgear addresses overbite and buck teeth by pulling the upper jaw and teeth back to correct the bite. However, as overbite is typically caused by the lower jaw not growing far enough out, rather than the upper jaw growing too far out, I don’t consider it the best choice for correcting overbite. I personally haven’t used headgear with a patient since 2002. If your child’s orthodontist suggests headgear, I recommend getting a second opinion, as there are better, newer ways to address the issue of overbite.

Functional Appliance: An Alternative to Headgear

One of the newer interventions available to address overbite is the functional appliance, which comes in many names, shapes, and sizes, but is generally a small metal device worn inside the mouth.

Rather than push the upper jaw and teeth back, it helps the lower jaw grow. This is effective because lack of growth in the lower jaw is the cause in most cases of overbite.

Some are removable while others ae fixed. I prefer fixed because it ensures that the appliance will be used as intended, which has a big impact on treatment success.

Face Mask: To Correct Underbites

As stated above, headgear works to correct the bite by pulling the upper teeth and jaw back. The face mask, also called “reverse headgear,” an external device that stretches from forehead to chin, does the opposite. It corrects underbite by encouraging the upper jaw to grow forward.

The face mask is very effective in the right cases, especially when used before the age of ten (before the upper jaw stops growing) and in combination with an upper expander. Though it’s not very slightly, it works, and can help patients avoid expensive and painful surgery in the future.

Expanders: When The Jaw Is Not Wide Enough

There are two kinds of expanders: upper expanders, to fix problems with the upper jaw, and lower expanders, for the lower jaw. These are metal devices that are fitted inside the mouth.

Problems with the upper jaw can be caused by many things, including thumb- or finger-sucking that persists into later childhood, enlarged tonsils, adenoids, allergies, genetics, and more. When the upper jaw is too narrow, it can be expanded with a rapid palatal expander (RPE). The upper jaw is composed of two halves, and the upper expander helps separate these two halves to provide more space.

Though it’s also an expander, a lower expander works differently. The lower jaw is made up of one bone, so it can’t be widened. Instead, a lower expander only angles the teeth to provide more space. Patients report that it can cause headaches and interferes with speaking and eating, too. For these reasons, I’m not a big proponent of them and find that braces can typically fix the problem just as well, and with less discomfort to the patient.

Getting More Information

I encourage you to bring all your questions and concerns to your orthodontist, and if you’re uncertain about any treatment plan, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. There are more options now than ever, and the goal is to treat your child’s jaw issue effectively and with the least inconvenience possible.

Your Gums Are The Tires Of Your Mouth

My practice is outside Detroit, aka The Motor City or The Automotive Capital of the World. Because of that, I tend to use car analogies to explain orthodontic issues to my patients so they can more easily understand where I’m coming from.

That’s why I say the gums are the tires of your mouth. Stay with me here; I’ll explain why this analogy makes sense.

Tires Wear Away with Use

Just like tires that wear away as you put more and more miles on them, so too do the gums wear away over time. Older people tend to have receded gums; that’s where the phrase “long in the tooth” comes from, as the tooth appears to be longer as more of it’s exposed due to gum recession.

To keep your tires lasting longer, you need to take care of them. Similarly, to keep your gums lasting longer, brush them gently, floss daily, and get regular dental check-ups. It’s impossible to completely avoid gum recession with age, but it can be greatly reduced with some TLC.

It’s Unsafe to Drive with Bad Tires

Worn tires are dangerous as they have lost traction and are more likely to experience blowouts. The same with your gums; unhealthy gums are dangerous.

Though we don’t think of it much, gums are actually a very important part of the mouth for keeping you healthy. They form a barrier against bacteria, and when that barrier is broken, bad bacteria can enter the bloodstream. Unhealthy gums have been linked to body-wide infections, heart disease, and more.

Problems with Your Wheels Can Be Warning Signs of Something Bigger

When your tires wear away prematurely or shake and cause noise while driving, that can be a sign of a bigger problem, like misaligned wheels or a bad wheel bearing.

Gums are the same. Gums that are puffy, red, and inflamed can indicate an infection that should be treated. Gums that recede prematurely and “notching” of teeth near the gumline can be an indicator of a bad bite. Once the bite is corrected with braces or other treatment options, the gums will stop receding at such a fast pace.

Note that there are procedures to correct receding gums, including gum grafts and pedicle grafts, but these can be very painful and expensive, and worse, they don’t fix the underlying problem.

Tires Are Too Easy To Ignore

Even when your tires are a little worn down, shake a little, or cause some noise, you may still go ahead and drive with them anyway. It’s best to get the issue taken care of quickly, but you figure it can wait.

Unfortunately, I see many people with the same attitude towards their gums. Perhaps because gums rarely cause the pain that a toothache can cause, or perhaps because they’re not as unsightly as an overbite or crooked teeth, gums tend to be overlooked.

But I want to encourage you to think of them as important to your oral health as your teeth. Flossing daily and brushing your gums can go a long way towards keeping them healthy. If you have children, make sure they understand the importance of taking care of their gums, too. And if you see any signs of early recession, book an appointment with an orthodontist to look at your bite. Take care of your gums now and they’ll take care of you later.

Do You Make Good Mouth Investments?

An investment is something you put money into that you expect to get a return on over time. Stocks that pay dividends or real estate that grows in value are the classic examples. You spend money up front, but you know that money is well spent because you’ll be rewarded in the future.

Think about your oral health the same way and ask yourself, are you making good mouth investments?

Bad Mouth Investments

 First I want to talk about what I consider “bad mouth investments.” The problem with these options is not that they’re cheap, per se, but that they don’t deliver good results. More often than not, they fail to fix the original problem while adding more problems on top. This can lead to treatment later on that’s more expensive than it would have been to fix the original problem correctly.

DIY Orthodontics. These are the worst of the bad investments you can make in your mouth health. Do-it-yourself orthodontic treatment is such a pet peeve of mine that I wrote an entire post about it. People jump on DIY braces because they want straight teeth but they want to save money. I understand the urge; why pay for something you can do yourself? But would you consider setting your own broken leg, or taking out your own appendix? No, you’d leave that to the medical professionals who have expertise in that area. The same is true with orthodontics. Some areas are not appropriate for DIY.

(Need more convincing? Google “DIY braces fail.” Prepare to laugh and to be horrified.)

Mail-order orthodontics. Like DIY, these products and services cut out the trained medical professional and skip right to the treatment. Many things are available to purchase online, like retainers, anti-sleep apnea night guards, and aligners to straighten teeth.

Using these appliances without the oversight of an orthodontist or dentist is not advised for a number of reasons. First, moving teeth without cleaning them first can lead to harm if you have undiagnosed gum disease. Appliances can cause tooth damage depending on how they’re manufactured. Treating the symptom alone simply ignores the underlying problem. Finally, I rarely see people come out with the results they wanted.

Seeing a family dentist when an orthodontist should do the job. I mean no disrespect to family dentists; they are trained medical professionals and they are crucial to their patients’ oral health. But I’ve seen a growing trend of family dentists offering orthodontic treatments like Invisalign to patients when the treatment is not appropriate. This is a waste of money and time.

Orthodontists are dentists who have completed a 2- or 3-year residency after dental school to learn their trade in-depth. They how the teeth, bite and jaw connect to overall health. Misaligned teeth may indicate bigger problems like impacted teeth, crowding, bad bite, or jaw problems, which can be linked to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), unexplained headaches and muscle pain, obstructive sleep apnea, and more. When you get orthodontic care from someone who doesn’t have this training, they may miss the signs that indicate a more fundamental problem than crooked teeth that requires attention.

 Good Mouth Investments

A good investment is one where the value of the result exceeds the value of what you initially put into it. Here are two.

Regular dental care. Brush and floss daily. Don’t chew on ice, pencils, or other things that should be in your mouth. Get a professional cleaning once or twice a year. These are the definition of a good investment because they cost so little but deliver so much value.

Seeing an orthodontist when an orthodontist should do the job. If you’re seeking orthodontic treatment, or your dentist recommends it, go talk to an orthodontist about treatment options. By working with an expert, you can be confident that you’ll end up with the results you were promised. If finances are a concern, find an orthodontist who has both the experience you want and the financial flexibility, such as payment plans, you need. Also, be sure to follow their recommendations when it comes to how and when to use your appliances; this will make a big difference in the outcome of your treatment.

The bottom line is, by making smart mouth investments, you can save yourself money in more expensive treatment options later, and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful, healthy smile.

September: National Gum Care Month (Why Bleeding From The Mouth is NEVER ok)

Has this ever happened to you? You’re flossing or brushing your teeth and you spit in the sink and see something bright red – it’s blood.

This is something most people have experienced at one time or another. And while it doesn’t require a trip to the emergency room, it is a sign that something’s not right. Here’s why you should never ignore bleeding from the gums, and what you can do about it.

The Cause of Bleeding from the Gums

Many things can cause bleeding from the mouth, including physical trauma and sores, but today we’re interested in the kind caused by gum inflammation and gum disease. These both occur when bacteria from the plaque on teeth attacks the gum tissue. Periodontists (dentists who specialize in the gums) make a distinction between gum inflammation, called gingivitis, and gum disease, called periodontitis.

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums, which leads to them being swollen and red. They are also likely to bleed during flossing or brushing. The good news is that gingivitis typically isn’t painful and can be fully reversed with good care.

Periodontitis is a disease of the gums, which can happen when gingivitis is not treated in time. It can lead to the destruction of the gum tissue and the bone that supports the teeth. Untreated periodontitis can result in receding gums, tooth loss, and even system-wide infection as the bacteria that’s normally confined to the mouth finds a channel to the body through the compromised gum line.

As you can see, gum disease is serious, and if left untreated, can cause some undesirable consequences. Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve the health of your gums.

What To Do When You Have Bleeding Gums

Pay attention to the signs. In addition to swollen, red, and bleeding gums, other signs of gum inflammation and gum disease are chronic bad breath, pus between teeth, mouth sores, sensitivity to extreme temperatures, and loose teeth.

Continue to brush and floss as before, even if your gums bleed again. When caught early enough, the bleeding will stop on its own within a few days as the inflammation dies down. Adding an alcohol-free mouthwash to your routine, if you don’t already use one, can also help reduce plaque.

See your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. Your dentist can discuss gum health with you and your hygienist can show you how to floss correctly if you’re unsure.

See a periodontist if you’re at all concerned. Your dentist may refer you or you may make an appointment on your own, particularly if you see receding gums or have a family history of gum disease.

Risk Factors for Gum Disease

There are many risk factors for gum disease; knowing them is another way to take care of your gum health.

  • Poor oral care: lack of brushing, flossing, and dentist visits; untreated habits like jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Age: Gum disease increases with age. Over 70% of adults over 65 have some form of periodontal disease compared to 47% of adults 30 and over, according to the CDC.[1]
  • Smoking: Smokers have twice the risk of developing gum disease compared to a non-smoker, according to the CDC, and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked[2].
  • Genetics: A family history of gum disease may mean you’re more likely to develop it yourself, even with good oral care.
  • Medications: Certain prescription meds, including oral contraceptives and anti-depressants, are linked to higher rates of gum disease.
  • Stress: Stress is also linked to gum disease, probably because the stress response makes it harder for the body to fight off infection of any kind.

Other factors: For various reasons, obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, automimmune disorders, and pregnancy are all linked to gum disease.

September is National Gum Care Month

What better time to start paying more attention to your gums? As an orthodontist, my main focus is on the alignment of the teeth and the bite, but I know how important it is to take care of every aspect of oral health.

A little spot of blood can your first sign that it’s time to take more care of your gums – don’t ignore it!