Posts for: October, 2013
For decades, dental amalgam — the common “silver” fillings found in the mouths of millions — was the best option for restoring teeth after the removal of decay. This time-tested material is still going strong, but in recent years it's had serious competition from newer restoration techniques that use tooth-colored substances to make fillings. If you've heard of these new materials and want to know more, you can start with the following five facts.
1) Filling materials must match the properties of natural teeth.
When properly cared for, teeth are strong, resilient, and superbly functional. A good filling material should mimic the strength and durability of natural teeth under biting forces. It should also last a long time in the mouth, be relatively easy to place, and be economical in cost. In the past, amalgam fillings were the best choice to do the job. But that was then.
2) Tooth-colored filling materials offer similar benefits, plus aesthetic appeal.
Composite resins and dental porcelains are tough, durable materials that have been found to hold up well under years of use. Unlike traditional silver fillings, however, they match the appearance of natural teeth quite closely. This means that even a restoration in the front of the mouth may be virtually undetectable. And who wouldn't like that?
3) Tooth-colored resins may allow more conservative treatment in decay removal.
In order to keep them securely in place, amalgam (silver) fillings may require “undercutting,” which removes more of the tooth structure. The process involved in bonding tooth-colored restorations, however, generally requires removal of less tooth material. This means a stronger base for rebuilding the tooth's structure.
4) Different treatment methods are used for different degrees of tooth restoration.
Small cavities can be treated by direct “chairside” techniques, which are very similar to the methods used for traditional amalgam (silver) fillings: in one brief visit, it's all done. When a greater volume of tooth structure must be replaced, we may be able to create a larger tooth-colored filling in a longer visit. Or, we might need to have a special restoration made to match your teeth; then, you can come back to have it securely bonded for a natural and long-lasting result.
5) Both amalgam and tooth-colored fillings are safe and effective.
Each has advantages and disadvantages in particular cases. But as the technology of tooth-colored filling systems evolves, some dental researchers have heralded the beginning of the “post-amalgam era.” Are tooth-colored fillings right for your individual situation? We're the ones to ask.
If you would like more information about tooth-colored fillings, 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 “The Natural Beauty of Tooth-Colored Fillings.”
Although traditional porcelain laminate veneers are much less invasive than other cosmetic dental applications, they still often require the removal of some of the surface tooth enamel, a process known as tooth reduction. Now, an alternative veneer treatment known as “no-prep” veneers eliminates this initial step of tooth reduction for some patients.
Although most reductions take very little of the tooth enamel, they do permanently alter the tooth. No-prep veneers are growing in popularity because the tooth is not permanently altered, allowing for two benefits: if desired, the veneer application can be reversed and the tooth returned to its original state; and there's more flexibility for patients to “test-drive” their new look with prototype veneers worn while the permanent veneers are manufactured, with changes made easily during this tryout period.
Dentists have long regarded at least a minimum of tooth reduction as absolutely necessary for the proper adhesion of veneers, and to avoid a bulky or over-contoured smile. And, while advances in no-prep veneers have largely addressed these concerns, it is true this option isn't for every patient considering a veneer application.
For example, patients with large or forward-positioned teeth are not good candidates for no-prep veneers. Patients who choose a veneer treatment over orthodontic treatment for certain conditions will likely need some tooth preparation to achieve an acceptable aesthetic result. For patients generally, no-prep veneers have a limited application range on the bottom jaw due to space limitations.
Simply put, traditional veneers are a more versatile option for most patients. On the other hand, no-prep veneers can be a good choice for patients with genetically small or misshapen teeth, teeth reduced by erosion or grinding, or those with narrow or diminished smiles.
If you're considering this option, our first step is to conduct a complete examination of your teeth and mouth. We'll carefully evaluate every aspect of your mouth structure and overall dental condition. If you fit the criteria, you may be able to avoid tooth reduction and still gain the smile you desire.
If you would like more information on no-prep 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 Without the Drill.”
Metal braces for correcting teeth alignment have long been a fixture of adolescence. But although they're effective, they tend to put a crimp on a teenager's life with changes in diet and irritation and discomfort from the devices and regular adjustments. For many teens, though, these are minor compared to the change in their appearance that comes with traditional braces, and the embarrassment they may feel.
In recent years, there's been a growing use of another orthodontic device that reduces many of these inconveniences, especially regarding appearance. Known as the clear aligner, this transparent, “almost invisible” device can be taken out for eating, cleaning or important social events.
Clear aligners are a sequential set of clear trays made of polyurethane plastic that are generated for an individual patient using information derived from x-rays, photographs or models. Each tray in the sequence is slightly different from the previous one to account for the tooth movement achieved wearing the previous tray. The patient will wear a tray for about two weeks and then, if all looks well, move to the next tray. This process continues until the teeth arrive at the proper alignment, a period of about six to twenty-four months depending on the patient's initial condition and their progress.
Up until recently, aligners were a viable option for a limited category of patients, mainly adults. Recent advances have changed that. Aligners now include tiny “power ridges” that enable them to move teeth in more than one plane, something previous versions were unable to do. “Eruption tabs” can also be incorporated into aligner sets to hold the space for permanent teeth that haven't erupted yet — a must for many younger patients. We can also temporarily bond attachments to the teeth known as buttons (made with a composite that blends in with the natural tooth color) that give more leverage and stability to the aligner.
With these changes, clear aligners are now an effective choice for a wider group of patients, including many teens. Aligners are comfortable to wear, easy to care for, and for teens acutely conscious of their appearance, less obtrusive than traditional metal braces.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
One of the most common parental concerns is the habit of many children, even late into childhood, to suck their thumbs or fingers. Many parents have asked us, “Could this affect their teeth?”
The answer, unfortunately, is yes — thumb sucking can contribute to a malocclusion (bad bite) that could eventually require orthodontic treatment. Before making any assumptions, however, we need to understand the bigger picture.
To begin with, infants have a different swallowing mechanism than adults and older children. When you as an adult swallow, you'll notice the tip of your tongue positions itself just above the back of the top front teeth. An infant, however, will thrust their tongue between their upper and lower jaw as they swallow (also known as an infantile swallowing pattern or primary tongue thrust). The infant normally begins changing to an adult swallowing pattern when their primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt.
However, if a child's swallowing transition is slower than normal and the tongue rests between the jaws for a longer duration, it can inhibit the full eruption of teeth, believed to be the main cause of an open bite (a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut). The thumb during sucking resting between the teeth can have the same effect.
Thumb sucking may not necessarily lead to a malocclusion — for example, an abnormally developing jawbone could be the culprit. If prolonged thumb sucking does become a concern, however, there are steps we can take to reduce the impact of the habit. We can install a thin metal “tongue crib” behind the upper and lower incisors that will not only discourage thumb sucking, but also help retrain the tongue not to rest between the upper and lower teeth. There are also exercise routines known as orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) that can retrain specific muscles in the mouth to encourage more normal chewing and swallowing patterns.
These steps may not prevent future orthodontic treatment, but they could reduce its extent. The key is regular dental checkups and consultation to ensure your child's teeth and bite are developing normally.
If you would like more information on the effects of chronic thumb sucking on the mouth, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Do you snore? You can admit it. Most everyone does, from time to time. But if snoring becomes a frequent and disturbing feature of your nighttime routine, it may be more than just an annoyance. Did you know that excessive snoring — when accompanied by irritability and depression, daytime sleepiness and confusion, and/or several other physical and mood problems — is one of the common symptoms of a sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD)?
SRBDs are potentially serious conditions, with consequences that can range from poor workplace performance to possible cardiovascular and brain damage. One of the most significant of these maladies is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, a condition in which the tongue and surrounding soft tissues fall back into the throat and obstruct air flow. This reduces oxygen levels in the blood, causing the body to wake suddenly — and in severe cases, it can happen up to 50 times an hour, without a person consciously realizing it.
Needless to say, that doesn't make for a good night's sleep. But even if it turns out your snoring problem isn't severe OSA, it can still prevent you (and your partner) from feeling refreshed in the morning. Did you know that we may be able to recommend an oral appliance that has been proven to alleviate problem snoring in many cases? This custom-made device, worn while you're sleeping, helps maintain an open airway in the throat and reduce breathing problems.
If you have this condition, it's critical that you get professional advice. Dentists who have received special training in sleep problems can evaluate you, provide medical referrals when needed, and help determine the type of appliance that may work best for you. Since sleep disorders can be problematic, a thorough evaluation and follow-up monitoring is essential.
Several treatments for SRBDs are available. But oral appliance therapy, when it's recommended, offers some distinct advantages. The small appliances are comfortable, easy to wear, and very portable — unlike more complex medical devices such as CPAP machines. They're a non-invasive and reversible treatment that should be considered before undertaking a more intensive treatment, like surgery. Could an oral appliance benefit you? Why not ask us if we can help you get a good night's sleep.
If you would like more information about oral appliance therapy for sleep problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders and Dentistry” and “Sleep Apnea FAQs.”