Approximately 4 million tweens and teens are currently undergoing orthodontic treatment for a poor bite (malocclusion) that can cost their families thousands of dollars in braces or clear aligners. But treatment doesn't always have to follow this track: Found early, many malocclusions can be corrected or minimized before they fully develop.
Known as interceptive orthodontics, this particular approach to bite correction often begins as early as 6-10 years of age. Rather than move existing teeth, interceptive orthodontics focuses instead on redirecting jaw growth and intervening in other situations that can cause malocclusions.
For example, a child's upper jaw may not be growing wide enough to accommodate all incoming permanent teeth, crowding later arrivals out of their proper positions. But taking advantage of a gap during early childhood that runs through the center of the palate (roof of the mouth), orthodontists can increase jaw width with a device called a palatal expander.
The expander fits up against the palate with “legs” that extend and make contact with the inside of the teeth. With gradually applied pressure, the expander widens the central gap and the body naturally fills it with new bone cells. The bone accumulation causes the jaws to widen and create more room for incoming teeth.
Another way a malocclusion can develop involves the primary or “baby” teeth. As one of their purposes, primary teeth serve as placeholders for the future permanent teeth forming in the gums. But if they're lost prematurely, adjacent teeth can drift into the vacant space and crowd out incoming teeth.
Dentists prevent this with a space maintainer, a thin metal loop attached to the adjoining teeth that puts pressure on them to prevent them from entering the space. This spacer is removed when the permanent tooth is ready to erupt.
These and other interceptive methods are often effective in minimizing the formation of malocclusions. But it's often best to use them early: Palatal expansion, for example, is best undertaken before the central gap fuses in early puberty, and space maintainers before the permanent tooth erupts.
That's why we recommend that children undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 to assess their early bite development. If a malocclusion looks likely, early intervention could prevent it and reduce future treatment costs.
If you would like more information on interceptive orthodontics, 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 “Interceptive Orthodontics.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Before implants, people often turned to a removable appliance to replace multiple missing teeth. Known as a removable partial denture (RPD), this appliance could restore both appearance and function at an affordable price.
But although implants may have diminished their use, RPDs haven't gone extinct. They're still a viable option for patients who can't afford implants or fixed bridgework, or who can't obtain implants due to the state of their dental health.
Although replacing only a few teeth rather than an entire arch, RPDs are similar in basic concept to full dentures. The prosthetic (artificial) teeth are anchored in a resin or plastic that's colored to resemble the gums, precisely placed to fit into the missing gaps. This assembly is further supported by a frame made of vitallium, a lightweight but strong metal alloy. The appliance fits upon the arch with the missing teeth, supported by vitallium clasps that grip adjacent natural teeth.
Each RPD must be custom designed for each patient to fit perfectly without excessive movement during chewing. Too much movement could warp the fit, reduce the RPD's durability or damage other teeth. To achieve this secure fit, dentists must take into account the number and location of missing teeth to be replaced, and then apply a specific construction pattern to balance the appliance.
There are RPDs that are meant to be used short-term, as with a teenager whose jaw isn't yet mature for dental implants. But the metal-framed RPDs we've described are designed for long-term use. There is, however, one primary downside: RPDs have a propensity to collect dental plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease that could further deteriorate your dental health.
To avoid this, you'll need to keep both the RPD and the rest of your teeth and gums as clean as possible with daily brushing and flossing, and appliance care. And like dentures, it's best to remove the RPD when you go to bed at night to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
To see if an RPD to replace your missing teeth is an option for you, visit us for a complete dental exam. From there, we can advise you further as to whether an RPD could affordably restore your missing teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on RPDs, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures.”
There are important reasons not to smoke, like minimizing your risk for deadly diseases like heart disease or lung cancer. But here's another good reason: Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and possible tooth loss. And although not necessarily life-threatening, losing your teeth can have a negative effect on your overall health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, individuals who smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop gum disease, and four times as likely the infection will become advanced. Your risk may also increase if you're regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.
There are a number of reasons for this increased risk. For one, smokers are less likely than non-smokers to recognize they have gum disease, at least initially, because they may not display classic symptoms of an infection like red, swollen or bleeding gums. This happens because the nicotine in tobacco smoke interferes with normal blood circulation. As a result, their gums may appear healthy when they're not.
That same circulation interference can also inhibit the production and supply of antibodies to fight infection. Not only can this intensify the infection, it can also slow healing and complicate treatment. In fact, smokers are more likely to have repeated episodes of infection, a condition called refractory periodontitis.
But there is good news—smoking's effect on your gum health doesn't have to be permanent. As soon as you stop, your body will begin to repair the damage; the longer you abstain from the habit, the more your gum health will improve. For example, one national study found that former smokers who had not smoked for at least eleven years were able to achieve an equal risk of gum disease with someone who had never smoked.
Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it can be done. If abrupt cessation (“cold turkey”) is too much for you, there are medically-supported cessation programs using drugs or other techniques that can help you kick the habit. And while it may be a long road, leaving smoking behind is an important step toward improving and maintaining good dental health.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum health, 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Although teeth are quite durable, we can still lose them—even all of them—to disease or injury. The good news, though, is that we have effective ways to restore teeth after they're lost. One of these, the removable denture, has given people their teeth back for several generations. And with recent advances in technology, today's dentures are even better.
Although more advanced, today's dentures share the same basic structure as those from a century ago: prosthetic (false) teeth set in a plastic resin colored to resemble the gums. The traditional denture is molded to fit snugly over an individual patient's alveolar jaw ridges, which once supported the former natural teeth. The denture stays in place primarily through a suction effect between the denture and the ridges.
Modern technology, though, has greatly improved today's dentures. Digital imaging can be used to generate highly accurate impressions of the dental ridges that can lead to denture bases with better fit. Dentists using photographs of the patient, especially in earlier years, are better able to identify facial landmarks, which enables them to position the new teeth to more closely recreate the patient's former smile.
These technological aids now help dentists to create more attractive dentures with better support and comfort. But the fit that makes this possible may not last due to a particular weakness inherent in traditional dentures—continuing bone loss. When teeth are missing, the underlying jawbone can lose bone volume over time. Dentures don't stop this process and can accelerate it due to constant friction and pressure on the dental ridges.
But a new modification incorporating dental implants with dentures can help solve these problems. By placing a few strategically positioned implants in the jawbone that then connect with the denture, the appliance not only gains more stability, but also produces less pressure on the dental ridges. In addition, bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the titanium implant posts, which helps to stop or slow bone loss.
If you've experienced total tooth loss, dentures are an affordable and effective option. Thanks to modern dental advances, you can get back the smile and dental function you once lost.
If you would like more information on denture 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 “Removable Full Dentures.”
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