Sometimes you need only a single solution to improve your smile: teeth whitening to brighten stained teeth; porcelain veneers or crowns to mask dental flaws; or a life-like dental implant to replace a missing tooth. But not all dental situations are that simple and sometimes require a combination of treatments.
A case in point: restoring a missing tooth within a poor bite. The absent tooth itself may be the cause of the bite problem if it’s been missing for some time: The nearby teeth tend to move or “drift” into the empty space, leaving no room for implant placement.
When this happens, you’ll first need orthodontic treatment to correct the bite problem. Not only will this open the space for the implant, it also comes with its own benefits. It obviously improves your smile appearance—but straighter teeth are also easier to keep clean of bacterial plaque, which reduces your disease risk. You may also experience better digestion after your teeth are properly aligned and able to function as they should during eating.
The traditional way to improve a bite is through metal braces. But there are some downsides: For one, braces can make it difficult to keep teeth adequately clean, making wearers more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. Braces are also quite visible and can detract from a person’s appearance (even more so if a missing tooth is involved).
Unless your situation requires braces, you can choose clear aligners as an alternative. These clear, computer-generated plastic trays are worn in sequence to gradually move teeth to their desired positions. Unlike braces, you can remove aligners for eating, cleaning or rare special occasions. And, they’re barely noticeable to others.
If you also have a missing tooth, you can have a temporary prosthetic (“false”) tooth built into your aligner trays. In this way you can still enhance your smile while undergoing aligner treatment.
Once your bite has been corrected, we can then proceed with restoring your missing tooth permanently with a dental implant. Although orthodontics adds to the time and expense of restoration, its often necessary to achieve the best result. Your future smile will be the better for it.
Most of us are quite familiar with what traditional braces look like. But occasionally we see more complex-looking devices being worn by young orthodontic patients: thicker wires that extend outside the mouth, with straps that may go behind the neck or over the chin. What are these devices, and why are they sometimes needed?
In general, orthodontic appliances with external parts braced by the head, neck or chin are referred to as “headgear.” These devices may be used to handle a number of particular orthodontic situations, but they all have one thing in common: They provide the additional anchorage needed to move teeth into better positions.
It may come as a surprise that teeth, which seem so solid, can actually be moved fairly easily over time. This is because teeth are not fixed directly into bone, but are instead held in place by a hammock-like structure called the periodontal ligament. Using a light, controlled force — such as the force of springy wires and elastics in traditional braces — teeth can be moved slowly through the jaw bone, like a stick being pulled through sand.
Of course, to pull a stick through sand, you need a firm anchorage — your legs, for example, bracing against a rock. Most of the time, the back teeth, with their large, multiple roots, provide plenty of support. But sometimes, the back teeth alone aren’t enough to do the job.
If a very large space between teeth is being closed, for example, the back teeth might be pulled forward as the front teeth are pulled back; this could result in poor alignment and bite problems. In other cases, the front teeth may need to be pulled forward instead of back. The back teeth can’t help here; this is a job for headgear.
Some types of headgear have a strap that goes behind the head or neck; they use the entire head as an anchorage. Other types, called “reverse pull” headgear, have a strap that comes over the chin or the forehead; they can pull teeth forward. Headgear can even influence the proper growth of facial structures — that’s why it is usually seen on preteens, whose growth isn’t yet complete.
Headgear is usually worn for 12 hours per day, for a limited period of time. In some cases, rather than headgear, appliances called “temporary anchorage devices” (TADS) may be recommended. These are tiny screws that are implanted into the jawbone in a minimally invasive procedure, and serve a similar function.
While it may not look pretty, orthodontic headgear is capable of moving teeth into their proper positions in a relatively short period of time — and ending up with a great-looking smile is what orthodontics is all about.
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Your sweet, good-natured baby has seemingly gone from zero to grumpy overnight. The reason is simple: They’re teething.
Teething is a natural process in which a baby’s first teeth (primary teeth) begin to break through the gums, usually between six and nine months of age. This process continues intermittently until all twenty of the primary teeth erupt, sometime around age 3.
This uncomfortable and sometimes painful experience can cause gum swelling, biting and gnawing, chin rash and drooling. Your child may become irritable not only from this physical discomfort but also from disrupted sleep patterns and decreased appetite that often accompanies teething.
While you may have an unhappy baby while they’re teething, there’s usually no cause for concern. This is a natural process all children encounter, and the best thing you can do is make them as comfortable as possible. An exception would be accompanying diarrhea, fever or lingering crankiness—these could be symptoms of a more serious condition. If you begin to notice these, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
During teething there are a number of things you can do to reduce irritation. For one, allow your child to chew on clean, chilled (not frozen) teething rings, or a cold wet washcloth. The cold will help numb their irritated gum tissues. Massaging their gums with a clean finger can also help counteract the pressure caused by the incoming tooth.
If your doctor advises, you can also give your child over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen in an age-appropriate dosage. But be sure you give these medications orally and not rub them on the gums—some ingredients in them could burn the tissues. You should also not apply rubbing alcohol to the gums for the same reason. And avoid products with the numbing agent Benzocaine® in children less than two years of age unless your doctor advises otherwise.
Teething isn’t always a pleasant time for your baby or you, but it’s necessary—and temporary. In no time at all this discomfort will pass, and in its place will be their first set of teeth.
If you would like more information on teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep Your Baby Comfortable.”
Dental amalgam—also known as “silver fillings”—has been used for nearly a hundred years to treat cavities. There are several reasons why this mixture of metals has been the go-to material among dentists: Malleable when first applied, dental amalgam sets up into a durable dental filling that can take years of biting forces. What’s more, it’s stable and compatible with living tissue.
But there’s been growing concern in recent years about the safety of dental amalgam, with even some wondering if they should have existing fillings replaced. The reason: liquid mercury.
Mercury makes up a good portion of dental amalgam’s base mixture, to which other metals like silver, tin or copper are added to it in powder form. This forms a putty that can be easily worked into a prepared cavity. And despite the heightened awareness of the metal’s toxicity to humans, it’s still used in dental amalgam.
The reason why is that there are various forms of mercury and not all are toxic. The form making headlines is known as methylmercury, a compound created when mercury from the environment fuses with organic molecules. The compound builds up in the living tissues of animals, particularly large ocean fish, which have accumulated high concentrations passed up through their food chain.
That’s not what’s used in dental amalgam. Dentists instead use a non-toxic, elemental form of mercury that when set up becomes locked within the amalgam and cannot leach out. Based on various studies, treating cavities with it poses no health risks to humans.
This also means there’s no medical reason for having an existing silver fillings removed. Doing so, though, could cause more harm than good because it could further weaken the remaining tooth structure.
The most viable reason for not getting a dental amalgam filling is cosmetic: The metallic appearance of amalgam could detract from your smile. There are newer, more life-like filling options available. Your dentist, though, may still recommend dental amalgam for its strength and compatibility, especially for back teeth. It’s entirely safe to accept this recommendation.
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