Dr. Thanos Kristallis in the News (Cosmetic Gums)

BACKGROUND: Roughly 95 percent of all Americans suffer from some form of tooth decay or gum disease, making dental disease the most common chronic disorder in the United States. Dentists have long known how to replace missing teeth, but damaged gums are a different story. After sustaining six oral surgeries, dental patient Elise Kestenbaum wound up with several embarrassing holes in her gums.

“I had a dentist who thought I had an abscess and destroyed the bone [beneath my gums] 10 to 15 years ago,” explains Kestenbaum. “It eroded all of the tissue, and the bone there disappeared, so I was left with a big hole in the front of my mouth that was very hard to cover.

It was pretty devastating.” Like many patients with craters in their gums, Kestenbaum found herself unable to smile with confidence and began to look for procedures that could remedy her situation.

TRADITIONAL TREATMENTS: Cosmetic gum surgery is generally reserved for people with gummy smiles or long-toothed grins. People with gummy smiles may complain their teeth look too short in relation to their gums, so dentists may use lasers to remove excess tissue and further expose a patient’s teeth.

People with toothy grins have the opposite problem and feel that receding gums have exposed too much of the tooth. In this situation, a cosmetic dentist can conduct periodontal plastic surgery to lengthen the gums and make a patient’s smile more aesthetically pleasing. Though there are several surgical procedures that can remedy almost any gingival disorder, there are few, if any, quick and easy fixes for people with crevice-laden or abnormal-looking gums.

NEW TREATMENT: Now, a strong ceramic material called zirconia is making it possible for dentists to create long-lasting, realistic looking ceramic gums for dental patients like Kestenbaum. These gums can be attached to a patient’s teeth, or they can be bound to implants in the mouth. The process of creating ceramic gums begins when the dentist takes an impression of a patient’s mouth and creates a model.

The ceramic gums are formed around the model to ensure the gums will fit properly once implanted. Once the ceramic gums have been created, the dentist begins his painstaking work of getting the coloring, texture, and tints of the gums exactly right. He also adds some veneer to make the gums look shiny and wet. When the ceramic gums are complete, it only takes 10 minutes to glue them to the tooth.

The procedure is completely painless, and the gums are said to last up to 30 years. “We can replace a small, little part in between the teeth, and we can go all the way and replace a full arch,” explains Thanos Kristallis, D.D.S., the cosmetic dentist who pioneered this particular procedure.

Dr. Kristallis says the gums don’t just look good, they’re also durable. “[The cosmetic gums] are just as strong as metal,” he explains. “That’s a huge breakthrough in our field. For the last 30 years, we didn’t have a material strong enough. And though we tried to use ceramics, they were just very weak.”

Kestenbaum says she is very pleased with her ceramic implants. “Everything was covered,” she says. “[The gum] was in one piece, so I could eat. I could talk. There was no pain or surgical recovery. Now I smile more, and I smile bigger, and I don’t worry about it.”

Though effective, Dr. Kristallis says his technology is still very cutting-edge and new. “This [procedure] is very new. Every case is progress, and it’s a breakthrough. It’s very exciting,” Dr. Kristallis says.