There are plenty of options today for replacing missing teeth, including dental implants. But if the teeth have been missing for some time, complications can arise that limit your restorative options.
The most consequential possibility is bone loss. Bone has a life cycle: old cells dissolve (resorb), and are then replaced by new cells, stimulated to grow by the forces applied to the teeth during chewing. But the bone won't receive this stimulation if a tooth is missing — so growth slows down, which causes the bone volume to diminish with time.
Another complication can occur involving other teeth around the open space. These teeth will naturally move or “drift” out of their normal position into the missing tooth space. As a result we may not have enough room to place a prosthetic (false) tooth.
If either or both of these complications occur, we'll need to address them before attempting a restoration. Bone loss itself could eliminate dental implants as an option because they require a certain amount of supporting bone for correct placement. Bone loss could also make correcting misaligned teeth difficult if not impossible.
It might be possible, though, to regenerate lost bone with a bone graft. The graft is placed, sometimes along with growth stimulating substances, within the diminished bone area. It then serves as a scaffold upon which new bone can form.
If the bone becomes healthy again, we can then attempt to move any drifted teeth back to where they belong. Besides braces, there's another treatment option especially popular with adults: clear aligners. These are a series of removable, clear plastic trays that, like braces, exert gradual pressure on the teeth to move them. Patients wear each individual tray for about two weeks, and then switch to the next tray in the series to continue the process.
Unlike their traditional counterparts, clear aligners can be removed for cleaning or for special occasions. More importantly, they're much less noticeable than traditional braces.
Once any problems with bone health or bite have been addressed and corrected, you'll have a fuller range of options for replacing your missing teeth. With a little extra time and effort, you'll soon be able to regain a smile you'll be proud to display.
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Radiographic (x-ray) images are an indispensible diagnostic tool in dentistry. One of the most routine and useful types of x-rays dentists take is the so-called bitewing. Here are some things you may want to know about this common diagnostic procedure.
What are bitewing x-rays?
Bitewings reveal the presence and extent of decay in the back teeth, specifically in areas where adjacent teeth touch each other. Unlike other areas of the teeth, these contacting surfaces between adjacent teeth can’t be examined visually. Bitewings can also show areas of bone loss around teeth — a sign of periodontal disease; however, they are not taken for that purpose because bitewings will not show the complete root surface that is surrounded by bone.
Why are they called that?
The name “bitewing” refers to how the film — or sensor, in the case of a digital x-ray — is positioned in the mouth: The patient bites down on a little tab or wing that holds the apparatus in place.
How often do I need them?
This is determined on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of not exposing you to any more radiation than necessary — even the minimal amount found in a series of bitewing x-rays. Your individual susceptibility to caries (tooth decay) and personal dental history will play a major role in determining how frequently you need radiographic examination — and, for that matter, how often you need to come in for routine cleanings and exams.
Are they safe?
The safety of bitewing x-rays is best illustrated with a comparison to the regular daily radiation exposure we get every day from environmental sources, which is about 0.01 millisieverts — the unit of measure we use for radiation. A series of 4 bitewing x-rays exposes you to 0.004 millisieverts of radiation — less than half of the daily exposure. Undetected tooth decay, which can spread quickly through the softer inner layers of teeth, is considered much more dangerous!
If a bitewing x-ray shows that there is tooth decay, what happens next?
If the cavity is very small, we may be able to treat it during the same appointment. If not, we will make a separate appointment to make sure it is taken care of promptly. The sooner tooth decay is treated, the better!
During his former career as a professional footballer (that's a soccer star to U.S. sports fans) David Beckham was known for his skill at “bending” a soccer ball. His ability to make the ball curve in mid-flight — to avoid a defender or score a goal — led scores of kids to try to “bend it like Beckham.” But just recently, while enjoying a vacation in Canada with his family, “Becks” tried snowboarding for the first time — and in the process, broke one of his front teeth.
Some fans worried that the missing tooth could be a “red card” for Beckham's current modeling career… but fortunately, he headed straight to the dental office as soon as he arrived back in England. Exactly what kind of treatment is needed for a broken tooth? It all depends where the break is and how badly the tooth is damaged.
For a minor crack or chip, cosmetic bonding may offer a quick and effective solution. In this procedure, a composite resin, in a color custom-made to match the tooth, is applied in liquid form and cured (hardened) with a special light. Several layers of bonding material can be applied to re-construct a larger area of missing tooth, and chips that have been saved can sometimes be reattached as well.
When more tooth structure is missing, dental veneers may be the preferred restorative option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that are bonded to the front surface of the teeth. They can not only correct small chips or cracks, but can also improve the color, spacing, and shape of your teeth.
But if the damage exposes the soft inner pulp of the tooth, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. In this procedure, the inflamed or infected pulp tissue is removed and the tooth sealed against re-infection; if a root canal is not done when needed, the tooth will have an increased risk for extraction in the future. Following a root canal, a tooth is often restored with a crown (cap), which can look good and function well for many years.
Sometimes, a tooth may be knocked completely out of its socket; or, a severely damaged tooth may need to be extracted (removed). In either situation, the best option for restoration is a dental implant. Here, a tiny screw-like device made of titanium metal is inserted into the jaw bone in a minor surgical procedure. Over time, it fuses with the living bone to form a solid anchorage. A lifelike crown is attached, which provides aesthetic appeal and full function for the replacement tooth.
So how's Beckham holding up? According to sources, “David is a trooper and didn't make a fuss. He took it all in his stride." Maybe next time he hits the slopes, he'll heed the advice of dental experts and wear a custom-made mouthguard…
If you have questions about restoring damaged teeth, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Children's Dental Concerns and Injuries.”
A critical part of effective, daily oral hygiene, flossing removes bacterial plaque from between teeth that can’t be accessed with brushing. Unfortunately, it’s often neglected — string flossing requires a bit more dexterity than brushing and can be difficult to do properly.
It can be even more difficult for people with implants or who wear orthodontic appliances. For brace wearers in particular, getting access to areas between teeth with string floss is next to impossible; the metal brackets and tension wire also have a tendency to catch and retain food debris that’s difficult to remove with brushing alone.
Water flossing, using a device called an oral irrigator, is an effective alternative that addresses many of these difficulties. First available for home use in the 1960s, an oral irrigator delivers pulsating water at high pressure through a handheld applicator that forcefully flushes material from between teeth.
There’s no question that string flossing is effective in plaque removal between teeth — but what about oral irrigators? A 2008 study looked at a group of orthodontic patients with braces who used oral irrigators and compared them with a similar group that only brushed. The study found that five times as much plaque was removed in the group using the oral irrigators as opposed to the group only brushing.
Oral irrigators may also be effective for people who’ve developed periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, oral irrigators coupled with ultra-sound devices are routinely used by dental hygienists to remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) in periodontal patients. As with regular oral hygiene, though, it’s important for patients with gum disease to include water flossing with daily brushing (at least twice a day) and regular cleaning sessions at the dentist to ensure removal of all plaque and calculus.
If you’re interested in using an oral irrigator, be sure to consult with us at your next appointment. Not only can we recommend features to look for in equipment, but we can also instruct you on the techniques to make water flossing an effective plaque remover.
If you would like more information on water flossing, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
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