Dental implants have soared in popularity thanks to their life-likeness, functionality and durability. But these prized qualities have also created an ironic downside—people are much more likely to replace a tooth with an implant rather than go through the time and effort to preserve it.
We say downside because even though an implant is as close to a real tooth as we can now achieve in dentistry, it still can't rival the real thing. It's usually in your long-term health interest to save a tooth if reasonably possible. And, there are effective ways to do so.
Most dental problems arise from two common oral diseases. One is tooth decay, caused by contact with acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque. We can often minimize the damage by treating the early cavities decay can create. But if we don't treat it in time, the decay can advance into the tooth's pulp chamber, putting the tooth in danger of loss.
We can intervene, though, using root canal therapy, in which we drill into the tooth to access its interior. We clean out the decayed tooth structure, remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty chamber and root canals to seal the tooth and later crown it to further protect it from re-infection.
Periodontal (gum) disease also begins with bacteria, but in this case the infection is in the gum tissues. Over time the ensuing inflammation locks into battle with the plaque-fueled infection. This stalemate ultimately weakens gum attachment, the roots and supporting bone that can also increases risk for tooth loss.
We can stop a gum infection through a variety of techniques, all following a similar principle—completely removing any accumulated plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. This stops the infection and starts the process of gum and bone healing.
You should be under no illusions that either of these approaches will be easy. Advanced tooth decay can be complex and often require the skills of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals). Likewise, gum disease may require surgical intervention. But even with these difficulties, it's usually worth it to your dental health to consider saving your tooth first before you replace it with an implant.
If you would like more information on how best to treat a problem tooth, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
X-ray imaging is such an intricate part of dentistry, we usually don't think twice about it. Without it, though, the fight against dental disease would be much harder.
At the same time, we can't forget that x-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. It's that very quality and the difference in the absorption rate between denser bone and teeth and softer diseased tissue that makes disease diagnosis possible.
But this same penetrative power can potentially harm the tissues it passes through. For that reason when practicing any form of x-ray diagnostics, dentists follow a principle known as ALARA, an acronym for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable." In lay terms ALARA means getting the most benefit from x-rays that we can with the lowest dose and exposure time possible.
While practicing ALARA with x-rays is important for patients of any age, it's especially so for children who are more sensitive to radiological energy given their smaller size and anatomy. We can't use the same settings, dosages or exposure times with them as with an adult.
To protect children, dentists have developed techniques and protocols that lessen their exposure time and rate, while still providing usable images for diagnosing disease. The bitewing is a good example of safe and effective pediatric x-ray imaging.
A bitewing is a plastic device holding exposable film that patients bite down on and hold in their mouth while x-raying. The x-rays pass through the teeth and gums and expose the film behind them on the bitewing. Using a bitewing we can capture a set of two to four radiographs to give us a comprehensive view of the back teeth, while exposing the child less radiation than they normally receive daily from background environmental sources.
This and other advances in equipment and digital imaging greatly reduce the amount of radiation patients receive during x-rays. If, though, you're still concerned about your child's x-ray exposure, talk with your dentist who can explain in more detail the x-ray safety protocols they follow. Just like you, they want your child to be as safe as possible while still benefiting from the diagnostic power of x-rays.
If you would like more information on safety precautions using x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
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.”
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make if you want to reduce your risk of oral cancer, with quitting a tobacco habit at the top of the list. You should also moderate your alcohol consumption and practice safe sex to prevent the spread of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) linked to oral cancer.
And there's one other area that might be ripe for change—your diet. The foods we consume can work both ways in regard to cancer: some, especially processed products with certain chemicals, increase your cancer risk; more natural foods, on the other hand, can help your body fight cancer formation.
Although how cancer forms and grows isn't fully understood, we do know some of the mechanisms involved. One major factor in cancer growth is damage to DNA, the molecule that contains all the instructions for normal cell growth. Certain chemicals called carcinogens cause much of this DNA damage.
One example of these dangerous chemicals are nitrosamines, found in substances used to preserve meats like bacon or ham. Nitrosamines also occur in beer during the brewing process, some fish and fish products, processed cheese and foods pickled with nitrite salt. It's believed long-term consumption of foods with these chemicals can increase the risk of cancer.
On the other hand, there are foods with substances called antioxidants that help our bodies resist cancer. Antioxidants protect cells from unstable molecules called free radicals that can also damage DNA. You'll find antioxidants in abundance in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those high in fiber. Vitamins like C and E found in many natural foods also have antioxidant properties.
So, to help keep your risk of cancer and other diseases low, make sure your diet includes mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, along with plant-based fats found in nuts or olive oil. At the same time minimize your consumption of processed foods with preservatives and other chemicals, along with animal and saturated fats.
A change in eating not only reduces your cancer risk, it can also improve your overall health and well-being. You'll also find a healthy diet can be dental-friendly—it can help keep your teeth and gums disease-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on dental-friendly nutrition practices, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
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