May is National Save Your Tooth Month, and tooth decay is a leading cause of lost teeth. It all begins with oral bacteria growing rapidly in built-up deposits of dental plaque, and in turn producing high levels of acid. At these levels, acid can erode the minerals in tooth enamel to create holes (“cavities”) that allow bacteria to enter the tooth and infect it.
If at all possible, we need to try to stop tooth decay early by disinfecting and filling these cavities. If not, decay can spread through the teeth to the underlying nerve (pulp) tissue, following passageways known as root canals. If this happens, the chances for saving the tooth are extremely low.
But if the decay does reach the tooth’s innermost layer—the pulp—filling the cavities won’t be enough. Decay this advanced requires a procedure known as root canal therapy, or a root canal for short.
If you winced a little, it’s understandable: Root canals have gained an unfair reputation as an unpleasant experience. In reality, a root canal performed by a skilled dentist or endodontist (a specialist in root canals) isn’t painful. In fact, if you come in with a painful tooth, you’re very likely to leave after the procedure without any pain.
Root canal procedures can vary depending on the type of tooth and the intricacy of its root canal network. Essentially, though, we remove the diseased pulp tissue, and then clean and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals. This stops the infection and, along with sealing and crowning the tooth, helps prevent a future re-infection.
How do you know if you need a root canal? You may find out from us if we discover advanced decay during a checkup or cleaning appointment. But you may encounter signs yourself like a throbbing toothache, pain during and after eating and drinking, or gum tenderness around a tooth. These are all possible indications of tooth decay.
If you experience any of these signs, you should see us as soon as possible for an examination. And don’t cancel your appointment if the pain goes away—this could simply mean the nerves in the pulp have died and are no longer transmitting pain signals. The infection, though, could still be there and continuing its rampage beyond the tooth and into the surrounding bone tissue.
Root canal therapy may not seem glamorous, but it’s an excellent option for a diseased tooth that would otherwise have to be removed. A root canal could get rid of your pain and give your troubled tooth a new lease on life!
If you would like more information about treating advanced tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Your teeth are sound and healthy—but appearance-wise, they're nothing to write home about. It's nothing major: a chip, some heavy staining or perhaps a slight gap between the front teeth. But whatever the blemish, it bothers you every time you look in the mirror.
There's an affordable way to improve your smile without a lot of extensive treatment: porcelain veneers. These thin layers of dental porcelain are bonded to the teeth's exterior to mask the blemishes beneath. All you and others can see, though, are beautiful teeth blending seamlessly with the rest of your natural teeth.
Changing your smile with veneers begins with a consultation with your cosmetic dentist. During your visit you'll discuss what you would like to improve and how you would like your smile to appear afterward. It's helpful to take along magazine photos or other images of how you'd like your teeth to look.
After making impressions and getting other necessary measurements, your dentist may then be able to show you what your new veneers will look like. One way is through computer software that superimposes your proposed new look onto a photograph of your face. Your dentist may also be able to create test veneers with acrylic or other dental materials and apply them to your teeth. These aren't your permanent veneers, but they can still give you a realistic view of your future smile.
Once your measurements are on the way to the dental lab to custom create your veneers, your dentist must prepare your teeth for bonding. Although veneers are quite thin, they may still appear bulky when bonded to the teeth. To create a more natural look, you'll probably need some of the enamel layer of your teeth removed to accommodate the extra width. Even though this is a small amount, it will permanently alter your teeth and require some form of restoration from then on.
After your veneers arrive, the dentist will attach them with a translucent cement that will bond them seamlessly to the natural teeth. You and others won't be able to see where the veneer ends and the natural tooth begins. What you will see, though, is a new look for your teeth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
Applying braces or clear aligners to move misaligned teeth is only part of an orthodontist's overall mission to eliminate poor bites (malocclusions). Sometimes a malocclusion isn't caused by the teeth at all—the size of the jaw is the problem!
One type in particular, a cross-bite, often happens because the upper jaw has developed too narrowly. As a result, many of the upper teeth fit inside the lower, the opposite of normal. But a tool called a palatal expander can alleviate the problem if it's applied at an early enough age.
The device works because the upper jawbone initially forms as two halves that fit together along a center line in the roof of the mouth (the palate) running from the back of the mouth to the front. These two bone halves remain separate during childhood to facilitate jaw growth, but eventually fuse around puberty.
Consisting of two sets of wire arms joined together by a hinge mechanism in the middle, the expander device is positioned up against the palate. The orthodontist extends each arm to press against the inside of the back teeth, then adds more outward pressure by turning the mechanism in the middle with a small key. During wear, the patient or caregiver will turn the mechanism in the same way to keep up the pressure on the two sides of the jaw.
This continual pressure keeps the two bones moving away from each other and maintaining a center gap between them. In response, more bone forms on the two halves to fill the gap. In time, the newly formed bone should widen the jaw enough to correct any developing malocclusion.
Timing is everything with a palatal expander—if not used before the jaw bones fuse, the patient will need a surgical procedure to separate the bones to pursue treatment. To catch the problem early enough, children should have an orthodontic evaluation on or before they turn six. An orthodontist may be able to identify this or other emerging bite problems and intervene before it becomes worse. Taking this approach can help save you and your child more expensive orthodontic treatment down the road.
If you would like more information on correcting poor bites, 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 “Palatal Expanders: Orthodontics is more than just Moving Teeth.”
Even with modern prevention and treatment advances, losing teeth in later life is still a sad but common part of human experience. Just as generations have before, many today rely on dentures to regain their lost dental function and smile.
But although effective, dentures have their weaknesses. The most serious: they can't prevent jawbone deterioration, a common problem associated with tooth loss.
Bone health depends on chewing forces applied to the teeth to stimulate replacement growth for older bone cells. When teeth are gone, so is this stimulation. Dentures can't replicate the stimulus and may even accelerate bone loss because they can irritate the bone under the gums as they rest upon them for support.
But there's a recent advance in denture technology that may help slow or even stop potential bone loss. The advance incorporates implants with dentures to create two hybrid alternatives that may be more secure and healthier for the supporting bone.
The first is known as an overdenture, a removable appliance similar to a traditional denture. But instead of deriving its support from the gums alone, the overdenture attaches to three to four implants (or only two, if on the lower jaw) that have been permanently set into the jawbone. This not only increases stability, but the implants made of bone-friendly titanium attract and foster increased bone growth around them. This can help slow or even stop the cycle of bone loss with missing teeth.
The second type is a fixed denture. In this version, four to six implants are implanted around the jaw arch. The denture is then secured in place to these implants with screws. It's a little more secure than the overdenture, but it's also more expensive and requires good quality bone at the implant sites.
If you've already experienced significant bone loss you may first need bone grafting to build up the implant sites for these options, or choose traditional dentures instead. But if you're a good candidate for an implant-supported denture, you may find it provides better support and less risk of continuing bone loss than traditional dentures.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dental restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
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