Author Archives: Dr. Greg LaVecchia

Tooth Sensitivity: Causes and Treatments

NOTHING RUINS A COZY mug of hot cocoa faster than the jolt of pain from sensitive teeth. As many as one in eight people in the U.S. deal with tooth sensitivity, including kids! What causes it and what can we do to protect our teeth?

Understanding Dental Anatomy

In a healthy tooth, there is the protective outer layer of enamel, then the porous, bony middle layer of dentin, and finally the pulp chamber at the center, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The way the nerves in the pulp chamber get sensory input (for things like pressure and temperature) is through the thousands of microscopic tubules that run through the dentin.

Too Much Sensory Input

When the protective enamel layer wears away, the tubules in the dentin become exposed, and the nerves suddenly get much more stimulation than they like. This is what makes enamel erosion one of the main causes of tooth sensitivity. Without enamel, the nerves get a nasty shock whenever anything too hot or cold, or even too sweet or sour, touches the outside of the tooth.

What Else Causes Sensitivity?

Root exposure from gum recession also leads to sensitivity. The enamel only covers the crown of the tooth, not the roots, which are protected by the gums. If the gums recede due to teeth grinding, overbrushing, or gum disease, it leaves the roots exposed. Cavities and tooth injuries can cause sensitivity as well.

Are You Protecting Your Teeth?

Fortunately for all of us, there are ways to fight back, even if our teeth are already sensitive. Using a soft-bristled brush will help prevent further enamel erosion or gum recession. We don’t actually need stiff bristles to clean our teeth effectively. There is also special toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth. Avoiding sugary and acidic foods and drinks (particularly soda) is also a good idea.

The Dentist Can Help!

Don’t suffer tooth sensitivity in silence; let the dentist know! In addition to being able to determine the cause of the problem, the dentist can do things to help protect your teeth, such as applying a fluoride varnish to make your enamel stronger, prescribe a desensitizing toothpaste, or in a severe case, perform a dental restoration or recommend a gum graft to cover exposed roots.

Our top priority is keeping your smile healthy and strong!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

What’s Different About Women’s Oral Health?

HEALTH CONCERNS CAN BE a lot different for women than for men, and that even includes dental health! Women face a different set of challenges than men do in caring for their teeth and gums, as well as having different advantages.

Which Oral Health Conditions Are More Common for Women?

Did you know that 90% of people diagnosed with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) are women? TMD is chronic pain or soreness in the joints of the jaw. It’s typically caused by bruxism (teeth grinding), but joint structure, stress, arthritis, vitamin deficiency, or hormones could also be responsible.

Another condition women are more likely to be affected by than men is Sjörgen’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the body, particularly salivary glands and tear ducts, causing both dry mouth and dry eye. In addition to making chewing and swallowing difficult and uncomfortable and interfering with the sense of taste, dry mouth is dangerous to oral health.

Hormonal Changes Can Affect Teeth

Puberty, pregnancy, and menopause all come with major hormonal changes that can impact oral health. Gingivitis and gum inflammation are more common during puberty and pregnancy, which makes good daily dental health habits like brushing and flossing even more important under these conditions.

Menopause is associated with a higher incidence of dry mouth and bone loss in the jaw. This bone loss can compromise the gum tissue and the roots of teeth, which is why it’s important to discuss it with the dentist (preferably before any symptoms have even begun).

Eating Disorders Are a Serious Oral Health Problem

Women aren’t the only ones who struggle with eating disorders, but they are certainly twice as common among teenage girls as teenage boys. Eating disorders are incredibly dangerous and damage every system in the body, including teeth and gums. It’s a two-pronged attack on oral health: malnutrition weakens the oral tissues and the immune system while acid erosion (in the case of bulimia) destroys tooth enamel.

We encourage anyone struggling with an eating disorder to seek psychiatric help so that they can begin the mental recovery process. The dental health recovery process will likely require help in the form of a rigorous dental hygiene routine and professional attention from the dentist.

The Dentist Is the Expert on Women’s Oral Health

With all these risk factors women face in keeping their teeth and gums healthy, are there really any up-sides? Yes, actually, and it’s a big one. Women tend to be better than men at taking care of their teeth! Women are more likely to maintain good oral health habits, and they’re also better at keeping up with their regular dental exams and getting the dentist’s help when they experience tooth pain (as opposed to trying to tough it out), so even if they are more susceptible to certain problems, the impact is reduced!

We love working with our female patients!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

The History of Fluoride in Dentistry

IN ORDER TO EARN the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, a tube of toothpaste must contain fluoride as its active ingredient. We also add trace amounts of fluoride to our drinking water across the country to help keep our teeth healthy and strong. So what’s so special about fluoride?

The Wild Origin Story of Fluoridated Drinking Water

Our tale begins at the dawn of the 20th century in Colorado Springs. Local dentists were seeing so many cases of brown — but not decayed — teeth that they named the strange condition “Colorado brown stain.” They were observing what we now know to be fluorosis, and it was happening because of the abundance of naturally occurring fluoride in the town’s drinking water.

The residents of early-1900s Colorado Springs were clearly getting too much fluoride in their water, but dentists wanted to see if there was a level of fluoride that would help reduce cavities without staining the teeth. Happily, there was! The first town to add fluoride to its drinking water was Grand Rapids, Michigan. It brought down the rate of childhood caries by a staggering 60%, with no adverse effects aside from a few cases of mild fluorosis.

Fluoridated Water Today

More than half of the U.S. Population enjoys the dental health benefits of fluoridated drinking water today, something the CDC considers to be one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the last century. It benefits everyone, whether they’re rich or poor, young or old, male or female. It might seem strange if you aren’t familiar with it, but it’s about the same as using iodized salt, baking with enriched flour, or drinking milk with added vitamin D.

What Fluoride Does for Our Teeth

The processes of remineralization and demineralization are happening constantly in our tooth enamel, and the goal of dental health habits is to make sure that remineralization is winning. For that, we need the raw materials to rebuild enamel, and fluoride is one of them. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste is one way to get it, but the trace amounts in our drinking water ensures an continuous supply of fluoride in our saliva.

Fluoride: Not Too Much or Too Little

We saw in Colorado Springs that it’s possible for fluoride to do more harm than good to teeth when the exposure level is too high. Avoiding fluoride entirely, on the other hand,  leaves the teeth more vulnerable to decay. Drinking water only contains up to 1.2 parts per million of fluoride, and we should be spitting out our toothpaste after brushing and only using small amounts of it, especially for children. This is how we hit that Goldilocks zone of cavity protection without fluorosis!

Do You Have Fluoride Questions?

If you still have questions about the fluoride in toothpaste or in drinking water, you can check sources like the ADA and the CDC, or you could ask us! We want our patients to have all the information they need to feel confident in their dental care and the value of the daily habits we encourage.

Our patients’ healthy smiles are wonderful to see!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Oral Health in Cold and Flu Season

WHAT DOES A TOOTHBRUSH have to do with cold and flu season? More than you’d think! It’s never fun to battle a cold or a bout of flu, but that’s no reason to slack off on taking care of our teeth and gums.

Feel Better Through Dental Hygiene

It can feel like a lot of work to keep up with brushing and flossing when we’re not feeling well, but it’s worth it. Maintaining these simple daily habits is still important. They help us feel more normal, refreshed, and rejuvenated, and when we feel unwell, they can give us a small sense of accomplishment that does a lot for our overall sense of wellbeing. And getting rid of more oral bacteria can only help by giving your immune system less work to do!

Stuffy Noses Can Lead to Cavities?

Indirectly, not being able to breathe through our noses does make us more vulnerable to tooth decay. When we’re forced to breathe through our mouths, it dries up our saliva. This can be a major problem because saliva is the first line of defense against harmful oral bacteria. It washes away leftover food particles and keeps our oral pH neutral so that our enamel can stay strong.

Sometimes it’s the medicine we take that dries out our mouths (antihistamines, pain relievers, and decongestants are all big offenders), so make sure to drink plenty of water and breathe through your nose whenever possible.

Why Does Our Breath Smell When We’re Sick?

Have you ever gotten that snotty taste in your mouth when you have a cold? If you can taste it, then it’s probably what your breath smells like, and it comes from post-nasal drip (the excess mucus that leaks down the back of the throat during a runny nose). Bacteria can easily multiply in this situation, resulting in unpleasant smells. There’s one more reason to keep up with brushing and flossing while we’re sick!

Starve Bacteria by Cutting Back on Sugar

Harmful bacteria likes to live in our mouths because it can get plenty of access to its favorite food there: sugar. When we eat sugary cough drops, it might help with the cough, but it’s as bad for our teeth as hard candy. In addition to generally cutting back on sugary foods and drinks, we recommend choosing a sugar-free cough drop for combating a cough.

Likewise, use water or other sugar-free drinks to rehydrate when an illness is using up all your body’s fluids. When we do consume sugar, we should rinse with water after to wash away the leftovers. Drinking plenty of water is particularly important when we have a stomach bug, because it helps protect our teeth from the damage stomach acid can do to them if we’re vomiting frequently.

Bring Us Your Oral Health Questions

If we haven’t answered all your questions about how common illnesses and oral health interact with each other, just let us know! We want to make sure all our patients have the information they need to keep their teeth and gums in good shape, even when they’re not feeling well!

Take care this flu season!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Oral Health and What We Drink

WHAT WE DRINK can have a big impact on our oral health, sometimes in ways that seem counterintuitive. We want to take a look at some of the best and worst drinks for our teeth.

Sugary Drinks Versus Oral Health

It probably doesn’t surprise many people to hear that soda is pretty terrible for our teeth, but so are sports drinks and fruit juice. The main culprits within these types of tasty drinks are acid and sugar. Sugar feeds the harmful bacteria in our mouths, which then excrete acid on our teeth, where it erodes tooth enamel. Acid, whether it’s carbonic acid in soda or citric acid, essentially cuts out the middle man and erodes tooth enamel directly.

Sugar-free soda is a better option, but still not perfect because removing sugar doesn’t do anything about the acidity. A better way to get daily servings of fruit than glasses of fruit juice is by eating the actual fruit. The water and fiber helps diminish the effects of sugar and acid, more of the nutrients remain, and it’s much more filling.

Other Mouth-Unfriendly Drinks

Drinks like coffee, black tea, and alcohol are also pretty bad for oral health, particularly the varieties that are dark in color, as these can stain. With coffee and tee often comes a lot of added sugar, and alcohol dehydrates the mouth, which makes it more vulnerable to bacteria without the defense of saliva.

Good Drinks for Healthy Teeth and Gums

Milk is an excellent source of calcium, which we all need for keeping our teeth and bones strong. Some enamel remineralization is possible in our teeth, but only when our bodies have the right building blocks available, like calcium. For those who are lactose intolerant or dairy free, calcium-fortified soy milk is a great alternative.

One caution about milk: it does contain natural sugars, which means it’s not a good idea to leave a child with a bottle or sippy cup of milk at bedtime. The remnants feed oral bacteria just like sugar in soda does, leading to a condition known as “bottle rot.”

Unlike black tea, coffee, and red wine, green and herbal teas don’t stain teeth! They actually have benefits for oral health, because they contain bacteria-fighting polyphenols. Just keep the added sugar low or use sugar-free sweeteners instead!

Water isn’t just a great mouth-healthy drink, it’s essential to good overall health! Without enough water, we can’t produce saliva, and the simple act of drinking water after we eat helps wash away the remaining food particles to keep our mouths clean until it’s time to brush our teeth!

Developing Good Mouth-Healthy Habits

We aren’t going to tell our patients that they must cut all the sugary and acidic drinks out entirely, but we do recommend cutting back and drinking more of the good ones: milk, green and herbal teas, and especially water. On top of that, don’t forget about brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and scheduling dental cleanings twice a year!

We love seeing those healthy smiles!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Pregnancy and Oral Health

ASIDE FROM THE OBVIOUS, there are all kinds of changes the body goes through during pregnancy. Some of them can even impact teeth and gums, from morning sickness to changing hormone levels that increase the risk of several oral health problems.

Hormones Can Lead to Pregnancy Gingivitis

Pregnancy is a very busy and exciting time, but make sure not to slack off on brushing and flossing, because those changing hormones can leave the gums vulnerable to the tenderness and swelling of gingivitis. 40% of pregnant women have gum disease, and studies link pregnancy gingivitis with lower birth weights and premature delivery. Fight back against pregnancy gingivitis by brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and flossing daily!

Enamel Erosion from Morning Sickness

Not every mom-to-be gets morning sickness, but the ones who do might experience oral health problems as a result. Frequent exposure to stomach acid erodes the protective enamel on teeth, leaving them vulnerable to decay. You can minimize the effects by swishing with baking soda and water to neutralize the acid after an episode of morning sickness. Once the acid is neutralized, it’s safe to brush!

Weird But Not Dangerous: Pyogenic Granuloma

Possibly the strangest way pregnancy can impact oral health is by causing raspberry-like growths between the teeth. These are pyogenic granulomas, or “pregnancy tumors.” Don’t worry, though, because they aren’t malignant. If they appear, it’s usually in the second trimester, and while they usually vanish after the baby is born, the dentist can remove them if they get too uncomfortable.

The Impact of Diet on Mom’s and Baby’s Dental Health

What we eat always plays a role in the health of our teeth and gums, and that is especially true during pregnancy. We recommend cutting back on sugary treats and focusing on getting plenty of essential nutrients. This will help keep your teeth in good shape, and it will also help the little one. Developing babies need vitamins A, C, and D, as well as protein, calcium, phosphorous to begin growing strong teeth.

The Dentist Is Your Friend

In addition to getting the right nutrition and maintaining good daily oral hygiene habits, it’s also important to keep the dentist in the loop. Fighting pregnancy gingivitis requires routine cleanings and checkups. Whether it’s been a while since your last appointment or you think you might be expecting an addition to your family soon, we encourage you to schedule a dental appointment soon!

Our patients are the best!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Why Our Spit Matters

WE DON’T USUALLY think very much about our spit, but it’s one of the biggest unsung heroes of our oral health. Just as a car engine can’t function for long without oil, our mouths need saliva for chewing, swallowing, and even tasting our food, as well as speaking clearly and defending against a variety of oral health problems.

How We Make Spit

When everything is working the way it should, the salivary glands under our tongues and in our cheeks are continuously producing saliva, with an output between two and six cups a day. Saliva is almost entirely water, but the final 1-2% is made up of proteins, antimicrobial factors, electrolytes, and digestive enzymes to begin breaking down food.

The Stages of Saliva

Saliva production operates in different ways depending on how far our food is in the digestive process. These stages are cephalic, buccal, oesophageal, gastric, and intestinal. Has your mouth ever watered when you smelled your favorite food? That’s the cephalic stage! Once we start eating, the buccal stage begins, helping us to swallow our food. Then, the oesophageal stage helps move the food to the stomach.

The final two stages, gastric and intestinal, are also important even if they seem kind of gross. Before vomiting, the salivary glands work overtime in the gastric stage to protect the mouth and esophagus from the stomach acid that comes up with the partially digested food. The intestinal stage activates when the body doesn’t agree with food that makes it to the upper intestine.

The Connection Between Saliva and Oral Health

It should be clear by now that saliva plays a big role in may functions of digestion, but we want to focus on what it does for our teeth. Saliva neutralizes the mouth’s pH when we eat acidic foods, which protects our tooth enamel. Even though enamel is the hardest substance in the body, it’s very vulnerable to acid erosion. Saliva also washes away any food remnants that stick to our teeth.

Those antimicrobial factors we mentioned are also important for oral health, as they help fight gum disease and bad breath. Have you ever noticed that an injury in your mouth, such as a burned tongue or bitten cheek, tend to heal more quickly than other injuries? You can thank the growth factors in saliva for that!

The Dangers of Dry Mouth

With saliva doing so much for our mouths and our digestion, dry mouth can pose a major threat to oral health. Dry mouth has a variety of causes, from high stress situations to aging to drug use, smoking, and drinking. Even prescription drugs can cause dry mouth as a side effect.

Do You Have Enough Spit?

If you’re living with dry mouth, schedule a dental appointment right away. The dentist can discover what’s causing your saliva to run dry and work together with you to get it flowing again so that you can enjoy all the great health benefits that come with having plenty of spit!

Thank you for being part of our practice family!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Spotlight on Men’s Oral Health

WE SHOULD ALL BE taking good care of our teeth and gums, but did you know that this can mean different things for men than for women? That’s right: one of the ways men and women are different is their oral health, which is why we’re giving guys some tips for how to keep those handsome smiles clean and healthy.

Make Brushing and Flossing a Priority

One major difference between men and women’s oral health is that men have a tendency to be less diligent in taking care of their smiles than women — up to 20 percent less likely to brush twice a day, and less likely to change their toothbrushes regularly. This is such a simple problem to address: just make sure you’re taking the time every morning and evening to brush! Flossing once a day is important too.

Oral Disease Risk Factors for Men

On average, men are more likely to drink, smoke, and chew tobacco than women, which puts them at much greater risk of periodontitis (advanced gum disease), tooth loss, and oral cancer. Avoiding these harmful substances will go a long way to protecting your teeth and gums. We recommend drinking less and not smoking or chewing tobacco at all.

Men Are More at Risk of Dry Mouth

Because men are more prone to high blood pressure and heart disease than women, they are more likely to be taking medications for these conditions. A common side effect of these medications is dry mouth, which can pose serious problems for oral health. We need our saliva to wash away bacteria and food particles and keep the pH of our mouths neutral. Less saliva means a greater chance of cavities, gum disease, and halitosis.

Manly Men Go to the Dentist

Another problem that affects men more than women is that men tend to neglect scheduling regular dental exams. Even if they suspect something might be wrong, there’s a dangerous tendency to want to tough it out in case it goes away. This is not an effective or safe strategy when it comes to dental problems. We recommend twice-yearly dental exams even when you’re confident nothing is wrong. When it comes to dental health, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!

Together, We Can Keep Those Charming Smiles Healthy!

In taking care of their teeth and gums, men should be wary of getting into a “tough guy” mindset. There’s nothing tough about not getting needed treatment for cavities or gum disease, and there’s nothing manly about skipping brushing and flossing or not scheduling regular dental appointments. Keep up with those great oral hygiene habits and don’t be a stranger to the dentist!

Helping patients is what we do!

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The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Oral Health and Eating Disorders

OUR BODIES NEED a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in order to function effectively, all the way to the cellular level. Eating enough food and the right types of food is crucial to stay healthy, and this is a big part of what makes eating disorders such a dangerous problem. Not only is it harmful to overall health, though; it can also damage teeth and gums.

The Role of Malnutrition in Poor Overall Health

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are often devastating to the mental, emotional, and physical health of the people who struggle with them. They impact the entire body, including the mouth. The dental health effects aren’t always the first ones people think of when discussing eating disorders, but as dental health professionals, we want to give our patients as much information about this as possible.

How Anorexia Starves the Oral Tissues

The eating disorder anorexia nervosa is characterized by extremely limited food consumption, sometimes paired with purging, compulsive exercising, or both. Anorexia harms oral health through malnutrition. Without enough nutrients, osteoporosis can develop in the jaw bones, increasing the likelihood of tooth loss. The salivary glands may not be able to produce as much saliva, leading to dry mouth, which in turn increases the risk of tooth decay. Gums are also more vulnerable to bleeding.

Bulimia Brings Stomach Acid into Contact with Teeth

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, but it is vulnerable to erosion by acid. This is what makes bulimia (an eating disorder characterized by overeating followed by forced purging of food by vomiting or laxatives) so dangerous to oral health. Frequent exposure to the strong acid in the stomach can erode the enamel, leading to discoloration of the teeth, decay, and tooth loss.

Promoting Good Oral Health

A good oral hygiene routine is important for everyone, but particularly for anyone fighting or recovering from an eating disorder. In the case of purging by vomiting, the best way to minimize enamel erosion from acid is to wait at least thirty minutes before brushing so that saliva has a chance to neutralize the mouth’s pH and begin remineralizing the teeth.

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and for many who struggle with them, recovering isn’t as simple as deciding to stop and then stopping. It’s important to get the right help, which can be everything from a supportive family and friend group to the advice of licensed psychologists.

A good first step to take down the road of recovery would be to contact the National Eating Disorders Helpline. No matter what stage of recovery someone is in, they can always turn to the dentist for help keeping their teeth and gums healthy during and after this fight.

The dentist is your best ally for good oral health!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

What Are Tongue Ties and Lip Ties?

BEING “TONGUE-TIED” is a common expression in the English language, but it’s also a real medical condition. Being lip-tied is another, and both are caused by thin pieces of tissue called frenula. One frenulum connects the upper lip to the upper gums, and another connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. We have other frenula, but these are the two we’re going to focus on.

Normal and Abnormal Frenula

For most people, these frenula are thin and very stretchy, allowing plenty of mobility for the lips and tongue. This is important, because it lets us talk, chew, and swallow normally. Sometimes, however, the upper lip or tongue frenulum is unusually thick or tight, restricting movement. This is what we call a tongue tie or a lip tie.

Tongue ties can make it impossible to lift the tongue to touch the roof of the mouth, which creates significant difficulties for pronouncing words and being able to properly chew and swallow food. Lip ties can cause a large gap between the upper front teeth, increase the risk of gum recession, and even prevent an infant from latching effectively while breastfeeding.

Treating Lip and Tongue Ties

There is an easy solution to the problems of lip and tongue ties: a simple surgery called a frenectomy, which removes or reduces an abnormal frenulum. The procedure is definitely worth considering in cases of restricted lip or tongue movement, especially if it’s causing discomfort or pain.

A frenectomy can be done quickly and the recovery time is short. Typically, they are performed by periodontists and oral surgeons. The doctor numbs the area and makes a small incision in the frenulum in question in order to make it smaller or simply remove it. Sometimes the doctor uses laser surgery to remove it, which shortens recovery time and reduces the (already small) risk of complications. Be sure to follow any post-operation instructions carefully to ensure the best results and quickest recovery.

The Dentist Can Diagnose a Tongue or Lip Tie

Most of us will never have to think about our frenula because they are thin and elastic enough never to be in the way, but if you think yours or your child’s might be unusual and causing difficulties, schedule a dental appointment to find out. The dentist can take a look and determine if a frenectomy is necessary and recommend the best next steps.

We love taking care of our patients’ smiles!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.