Posts for: September, 2014
A loose permanent tooth isn’t normal — it represents a serious threat to the tooth’s survival. There may be a chance to save the tooth, however, if we can determine the cause of the looseness and treat it appropriately.
Teeth are normally held securely in place by the periodontal ligament, an elastic tissue that attaches to both the teeth and the bone. Certain conditions, however, can disrupt this attachment. The most common is advanced periodontal (gum) disease, an infectious condition caused by bacterial plaque. It can severely inflame and damage the surrounding gum tissues resulting in bone loss. As the bone is lost, the periodontal ligament is lost as they detach from the teeth. In fact, tooth looseness may be a fairly late sign of the disease.
Another major cause is teeth grinding (bruxism) and clenching habits that result in excessive biting forces. Usually stress-related, teeth grinding and clenching generate forces on the teeth outside of their normal range. As a result the periodontal ligament can become stretched, inducing tooth looseness.
Our treatment approach depends on which condition is causing the looseness, best assessed with a thorough dental examination. If gum disease is the culprit, the main treatment is to remove as much bacterial plaque and calculus (tartar) as possible using various techniques such as scaling or root planing (accessing and cleaning root surfaces). It’s also imperative for you the patient to start and maintain an effective hygiene regimen of daily brushing and flossing, along with professional cleanings every three to six months depending on your degree of vulnerability to gum disease. Subsequent healing will stimulate tissue reattachment to the teeth.
In the case of excessive biting forces, we primarily want to reduce their effect on the teeth. Treatment can include muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs, or a custom-fitted bite guard to minimize biting forces from teeth grinding during sleep. In some cases we may opt to reshape the biting surfaces of teeth through removal of small amounts of surface enamel: this will reduce the biting force by altering how the upper and lower teeth contact. It’s also possible to splint loose teeth to more stable teeth, joining them like pickets in a fence. This helps relieve the biting force on teeth with significant loss of bone support.
If you notice a loose tooth, you should make an exam appointment with us as soon as possible. The sooner we can diagnose the cause and begin treatment, the less chance you’ll lose your tooth.
If you would like more information on loose teeth, 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 “Loose Teeth.”
If you think you'd rather wrestle a pack of porcupines than go to the dentist for a root canal treatment — then maybe it's time to think again! This common procedure has been the butt of jokes for a long time. Let's set the record straight by answering some common questions about the much-maligned procedure.
Q: What is a root canal?
A: Coursing through the central part of each root is a hollow space or canal, which contains the pulp tissue. The pulp tissue contains the nerves which respond to temperature changes transmitted through the tooth. When the temperatures are extreme the nerves signal sensitivity and pain. It's also shorthand for the dental procedure that is performed when the pulp tissue that fills these canals develops a disease.
Q: Why do I need to get a root canal?
A: Because an infection or inflammation has developed deep inside one or more of your teeth. When the living pulp tissue — which contains nerves and blood vessels — becomes inflamed or infected, it can cause intense pain. It also releases bacterial toxins, which can lead to further problems.
Q: What happens if I don't get a root canal?
A: Your acute pain may temporarily go away, but the infection won't. It will eventually travel through the tooth's roots into the surrounding tissues. If left untreated, it may result in an abscess or even a systemic infection. That's why you need to take care of it now.
Q: Will it be painful?
A: Generally, a root canal procedure is no more painful than getting a filling. In fact, it starts the same way: An anesthetic is given to numb the tooth and the surrounding area. Then a small hole is made through the tooth's chewing surface and down into the canal. Diseased pulp tissue is removed through the hole via a set of tiny instruments. Finally, the root canal is cleaned, disinfected, filled with inert biocompatible material and sealed up.
Q: What happens after that?
A: Your tooth may be sensitive for a few days after the treatment, but the acute pain will be gone. Over-the-counter pain relievers generally work well for pain relief at this point. To restore your tooth to its fully-functioning state, a crown or other restoration is usually needed after root canal treatment. Properly done, the restored tooth can last as long as any of your natural teeth.
Q: Is there an alternative?
A: Yes. You can relieve the pain by having the tooth removed. But you don't want to go there. Tooth loss can lead to unwanted side effects, like migration of teeth, bone loss and eventually the inability to chew properly. It's far better to save your natural teeth when you can.
If you would like more information about root canals, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment” and “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”
By the time you reach adulthood, roughly 100 trillion microscopic organisms will have taken up residence in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. Most are bacteria, a domain of the animal kingdom considered synonymous with disease. But only a few of the thousands of bacterial species cause us harm; the rest are either benign or actually beneficial to our health, including in our mouths.
Dentistry pioneered much of our knowledge about bacteria, developing processes used to identify, classify and understand those species inhabiting our mouths. Science as a whole is catching up with the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) begun in 2007. Through HMP, researchers have catalogued and begun to study more than 10,000 bacterial species.
We’re finding that our bodies develop a symbiotic relationship with many of these creatures invisible to the naked eye. During our infancy the bacteria we ingest from birth and breast feeding begin to interact with our body’s immune system, “teaching” it to refrain from attacking friendly organisms that contribute to health and searching and destroying enemy species that cause disease.
We’re also learning that an imbalance with our individual population of bacteria has links with disease. Our digestive system is a prime example: bacteria related to obesity can overpopulate our digestive tract, while malnutrition can create an environment that produces too many bacteria that inhibit digestion of vitamins and other nutrients.
The same microbial imbalance can occur in the mouth. For example, our typical Western diet encourages the growth of bacteria most associated with tooth decay (Streptococcus mutans). We’re also finding that tobacco smoking creates a mouth environment more conducive to the bacteria that cause gum disease. Just by quitting smoking you can alter that environment to encourage growth of health-promoting bacteria and inhibit growth of malevolent species.
The desired outcome of this knowledge is to develop treatments that target disease-causing bacteria without harming those beneficial to us (as often occurs with traditional antibiotics). In dentistry, such possibilities could help stop the spread of tooth decay, gum disease or similar bacterial infections, while fostering a healthier oral environment that prevents disease and protects health.
While dental implants are the preferable choice for teeth replacement, your life circumstances may cause you to postpone it or some other permanent restoration. In the meantime, you need a temporary solution for your tooth loss.
Removable partial dentures (RPDs) have met this need for many years. RPDs are traditionally made of rigid, acrylic plastic resin and fasten to existing teeth with metal clasps. While effective as temporary tooth replacements, RPDs do have their drawbacks: they can be uncomfortable, develop a loose fit and are prone to wear and staining.
Recently, though, new RPDs made of a flexible type of nylon are addressing some of these drawbacks. Because the nylon material is thermoplastic (able to change shape under high heat), it can be injected into a cast mold of a patient’s mouth to create the denture base, to which life-like replacement teeth are then attached. And rather than a metal clasp, these RPDs have thin, finger-like nylon extensions that fit snugly around existing teeth at the gum line.
The new RPDs are lightweight, resistant to fracture and offer a more comfortable, snugger fit than the older RPD. And because the nylon material can be made to closely resemble gum tissue, the base can be designed to cover receding gum tissue, which may further improve the appearance of a patient’s smile.
On the downside, these new RPDs are difficult to reline or repair if they’re damaged or the fit becomes loose. And like all RPDs, they must be regularly removed and cleaned thoroughly to prevent any accumulating bacterial biofilm that could increase the risk of gum disease or tooth decay (the attachment extensions are especially susceptible to this accumulation). They should also be removed at night, since the reduction in saliva flow while you sleep can worsen bacterial buildup.
Still, the new flexible RPD is a good choice to bridge the time gap between lost teeth and a permanent restoration. They can restore lost function and improve your smile during the transition to implants or a fixed bridge.
Regardless of culture, the smile is a universal gesture of friendship and openness, and an important communication tool in your social and career relationships. But what if you’re not comfortable with your smile because of misaligned, damaged or missing teeth? That could have a dampening effect on your interactions with people and your own self-confidence.
Cosmetic dentistry can change all that — we have an arsenal of treatments that can rejuvenate your smile. We must first, though, develop a design plan, often involving multiple dental disciplines. It will definitely involve you — your desires, expectations and choices.
It begins with a thought-provoking discussion with our office. Generalities — “I want a beautiful smile” — aren’t enough. Effective planning begins with a clear perspective about your teeth: What do you like or dislike about them? If you could change anything, what would it be? These initial discussions help us specify your expectations.
While the initial discussion envisions the future, the next step focuses on the present — the current condition of your teeth, mouth and entire facial structure. This requires a comprehensive examination to identify any health issues like tooth decay, periodontal gum disease or bone loss. We must also take in the “big picture,” like the shape of your face, out-of-balance features (asymmetries), skin complexion, eye shape and color, or the form and posture of your lips.
Considering all these factors, we then develop a treatment plan with specifics on how to achieve the desired transformation. We will offer our prognosis for what we believe is achievable and maintainable for your specific situation. Here we provide various models, perhaps even including computer simulation, to depict your future smile. In the end, we create a workable plan that meets both reality and your expectations.
With the design plan completed, we can then harness all the techniques and materials available to achieve it. These range from less invasive procedures like whitening, tooth reshaping, cosmetic bonding or porcelain veneers, to more involved restorations like crowns, bridgework or dental implants. In some cases, orthodontics may be necessary to correct bad bites or other malformations of your oral structures.
Smile design ensures we’re employing the right techniques for your particular situation. It all serves the end goal — a new smile that can transform your life.
If you would like more information on smile design, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”