While tooth decay is a potential problem at any age, the risk increases as you grow older. Not only are senior adults more susceptible, decay is often more difficult to treat. That’s because cavities can occur at or below the gum line, often due to gum recession.
If that’s the case, we won’t be able to fill the cavity in the usual way because the gum tissue is in the way. To make it possible to treat, we may need to perform a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening.
As the name implies, the procedure helps expose more of the crown, the tooth’s visible part, from the surrounding gum tissue. In basic terms, we’re repositioning the gum tissue away from the biting surface of a tooth to make room for a filling. It’s also useful for improving a tooth’s appearance by making it look longer, or creating room for a crown or other dental restoration.
After applying a local anesthesia, the dentist (or periodontist, a specialist in the gums) creates a tiny flap of gum tissue with a series of incisions. This allows the dentist to move the affected gums out of the way to access the underlying bone. The dentist then reshapes the bone to adequately support the gum tissue when it’s finally repositioned to expose the crown. In its new and improved position, the dentist sutures the gum tissue in place.
For a few days afterward, the patient will need to restrict their diet to soft foods, avoid strenuous activities and apply an ice pack to help reduce swelling the day of surgery. They will also prescribe a pain reliever and possibly an antibiotic to reduce the chances of infection.
While most people return to normal activities a few days later, you’ll usually have to wait a few weeks for the gums to heal before undergoing any further treatments for the affected teeth. But even with the wait, crown lengthening could make it possible to not only save your tooth but improve your smile as well.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
While we often associate tooth decay with cavities forming in a tooth’s visible or biting surfaces, the occurrence of this all too common disease isn’t limited to those areas. Cavities can develop in any part of a tooth exposed to bacteria.
Gum recession, the shrinking back of the gums from the teeth, can cause such exposure in areas normally covered by the gums. Because these areas are usually more vulnerable to infection when exposed, cavities can develop at or right below the gum line. Because of their location it can be difficult to fill them or perform other treatments.
One way to make it less difficult is to perform a crown lengthening procedure. While the term sounds like we’re increasing the size of the tooth, we’re actually surgically altering the gums to access more of the affected tooth surface for treatment. It’s typically performed in a dental office with local anesthesia by a general dentist or a periodontist, a specialist in the gums.
During the procedure, the dentist starts by making small incisions in the gums to create a tissue “flap” that can be lifted out of the way. This exposes the underlying bone, which they then reshape to support the gum tissue once it’s re-situated in its new position. The dentist then sutures the gums back in place. Once the gums heal, the decayed area is ready for treatment.
Crown lengthening is also useful for other situations besides treating cavities. If a tooth has broken off at the gum line, for example, there may not be enough remaining structure to support a crown. Crown lengthening can make more of the underlying tooth available for the crown to “grab” onto. It’s also useful in some cases of “gummy smiles,” in which too much of the gum tissue is visible in proportion to the tooth size.
Because crown lengthening often involves removing some of the bone and is thus irreversible, you should discuss this procedure with your dentist in depth beforehand. It could be, though, this minor procedure might make it easier to preserve your teeth and even make them look more attractive.