Posts for: October, 2017
You’re a bit self-conscious about your smile. But not because of your teeth — it’s your upper gums, which seem too prominent when you smile. While “too much” is a matter of perception varying from individual to individual, it’s generally accepted that a smile is “gummy” if four or more millimeters (a bit more than an eighth of an inch) of the gums are visible.
The good news is there are ways to improve the appearance of your gums. Which method we use, though, will depend on the underlying reason why the gums are prominent. The amount of gum tissue, in fact, may not be the problem at all, but could be the size of the crowns (the visible parts of teeth), the upper lip’s range of motion, the upper jaw’s position in relation to the face, or a combination of any of these.
For example, if your teeth didn’t erupt and develop properly, the gums might not have moved back to their proper position and stabilized as they should in your late teens or early twenties. A normal crown (the visible part of a tooth) is about 10 millimeters long, with a ratio of width to length of about 75-85%. Below those measurements the teeth can appear smaller, making even normal gum tissue appear larger. In another scenario, the upper lip may rise too high when you smile (hypermobility), which reveals too much of the gums.
If tooth size is the problem, we may recommend a periodontal surgical procedure called crown lengthening that reveals more of the tooth. A hypermobile lip can be treated with Botox shots to temporarily restrict the movement (it must be repeated every six months) or by surgically repositioning the lip muscles that control movement. Similarly, surgically repositioning an overlong upper jaw to make it appear shorter may be the right course.
That’s why our first step is to determine why your gums are too prominent with a complete dental examination. Knowing exactly why they stand out will help us devise a treatment plan that will greatly enhance your smile.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
One of the most widely used forms of dental imaging is the bitewing x-ray. So called because of the shape of the device that holds the exposable film a patient clenches between their back teeth, the bitewing x-ray is an effective means for detecting the earliest stages of tooth decay.
These early signs are small lesions on a tooth surface caused by mineral loss in the enamel. While we can identify them on front teeth through visual examination or bright lighting, they’re nearly impossible to see on the biting surfaces of back teeth. The bitewing x-ray solves this problem.
During the procedure, a narrow beam of x-rays is directed at the back teeth area. Since X-rays can transmit through solid matter, they pass through the teeth and gums to expose the film attached to the bitewing assembly.
X-rays pass through matter at different rates depending on the density of the tissue — a slower rate for harder tissues like teeth and bone and a faster rate for soft tissues like the gums. As a result, x-rays through teeth expose less of the film and appear as a lighter image than the gums. This difference is so precise even a tooth’s softer dentin appears slighter darker than its harder outer enamel.
This precision helps us identify decay lesions. Because the lesions on the enamel are less dense than the normal enamel, they’ll appear as dark spots. By detecting them at this stage we have a better chance for reversing the effects of decay or at least minimizing damage that’s already occurred.
Because x-rays emit radiation, there’s a natural concern about over-exposure and we go to great lengths to reduce it. Children may undergo a bitewing x-ray twice a year for developing teeth, while adults with healthy teeth are typically x-rayed just once a year. Advances in digital film and other technology have also helped lower the exposure rate.
Today’s standard 4-film bitewing x-ray produces about four days worth of what we receive on average from normal background radiation, so the health risk is quite negligible. The benefit, on the other hand, is much greater — the early detection of tooth decay could ultimately save a tooth.