For generations, dentures have helped people avoid the dire consequences of total teeth loss. Now, implant technology is making them even better.
Composed of life-like prosthetic teeth fixed within a plastic or resin gum-colored base, dentures are manufactured to fit an individual patient’s mouth for maximum fit, comfort and performance. But dentures also have a critical drawback—they can’t stop bone loss in the jaw.
Bone is constantly regenerating as older cells dissolve and then are replaced by newer cells. In the jawbone, the forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this new cell growth. When teeth are missing, though, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus and may not regenerate at a healthy rate, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can’t transmit this chewing stimulus to the bone. In fact, the pressure they produce as they rest on top of the gums may actually accelerate bone loss. Over time then, a denture’s once secure and comfortable fit becomes loose.
In the past, most patients with loose dentures have had them relined with new dental material to improve fit, or have new dentures created to conform to the changed contours of the jaws. But implant technology now offers another alternative.
Implants are in essence a tooth root replacement. Dentists surgically implant a titanium metal post directly into the jawbone that naturally attracts bone cells to grow and adhere to it over time (a process called osseointegration). This not only creates a secure and lasting hold, it can also stop or even reverse bone loss.
Most people know implants as single tooth replacements with a porcelain crown attached to the titanium post. But a few strategically placed implants can also support either removable or fixed dentures. Removable dentures (also called overdentures) usually need only 3 or 4 implants on the top jaw and 2 on the bottom jaw for support through built-in connectors in the dentures that attach to the implants. A fixed bridge may require 4-6 implants to which they are permanently attached.
There are pros and cons for each of these options and they’re both more expensive than traditional dentures. In the long run, though, implant-supported dentures could be more beneficial for your bone health and hold their fit longer.
While the sport of golf may not look too dangerous from the sidelines, players know it can sometimes lead to mishaps. There are accidents involving golf carts and clubs, painful muscle and back injuries, and even the threat of lightning strikes on the greens. Yet it wasn’t any of these things that caused professional golfer Danielle Kang’s broken tooth on the opening day of the LPGA Singapore tournament.
“I was eating and it broke,” explained Kang. “My dentist told me, I've chipped another one before, and he said, you don't break it at that moment. It's been broken and it just chips off.” Fortunately, the winner of the 2017 Women’s PGA championship got immediate dental treatment, and went right back on the course to play a solid round, shooting 68.
Kang’s unlucky “chip shot” is far from a rare occurrence. In fact, chipped, fractured and broken teeth are among the most common dental injuries. The cause can be crunching too hard on a piece of ice or hard candy, a sudden accident or a blow to the face, or a tooth that’s weakened by decay or repetitive stress from a habit like nail biting. Feeling a broken tooth in your mouth can cause surprise and worry—but luckily, dentists have many ways of restoring the tooth’s appearance and function.
Exactly how a broken tooth is treated depends on how much of its structure is missing, and whether the soft tissue deep inside of it has been compromised. When a fracture exposes the tooth’s soft pulp it can easily become infected, which may lead to serious problems. In this situation, a root canal or extraction will likely be needed. This involves carefully removing the infected pulp tissue and disinfecting and sealing the “canals” (hollow spaces inside the tooth) to prevent further infection. The tooth can then be restored, often with a crown (cap) to replace the entire visible part. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted (removed).
For less serious chips, dental veneers may be an option. Made of durable and lifelike porcelain, veneers are translucent shells that go over the front surfaces of teeth. They can cover minor to moderate chips and cracks, and even correct size and spacing irregularities and discoloration. Veneers can be custom-made in a dental laboratory from a model of your teeth, and are cemented to teeth for a long-lasting and natural-looking restoration.
Minor chips can often be remedied via dental bonding. Here, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to the surfaces being restored. The resin is shaped to fill in the missing structure and hardened by a special light. While not as long-lasting as other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can often be completed in just one office visit.
If you have questions about restoring chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin.”
You don’t have to be a dental professional to appreciate a beautiful smile. Likewise, you’ll also know when something’s not quite right with one.
Such can be the case when a tooth fails to erupt properly, causing most or all of the crown to remain below the gum line, a condition known as impaction. Upper canines (or “eyeteeth,” for their location in the arch under the eyes) are especially susceptible to impaction: located on either side of the lateral incisors, which are on either side of the central incisors (the two center front teeth).
The upper canines are important both for function and appearance. Working with their lower counterparts they help cut through food as we chew, so you lose some of that efficiency when they don’t erupt properly. Impacted teeth are susceptible to abscesses and cysts, and can impinge upon and damage the roots of other teeth. And just as importantly, their absence also disrupts the smile as nearby teeth tend to move or “drift” toward the open space.
Rather than remove the impacted canines as is often done with back teeth, it may be more advantageous for both function and appearance to “coax” them into full eruption. This requires first pinpointing their exact location below the gums using x-rays or cone beam 3-D imaging.
If the teeth are in reasonably good position we must first prepare them for orthodontic treatment by surgically exposing the crown from the gums and bonding a small bracket to it. We then attach a small gold chain to the bracket that extends outside of the gums when we suture them back into place. The chain is attached to orthodontic hardware that exerts pressure on the impacted tooth for several months to “pull” it out into the arch.
This procedure has the best chance of success if undertaken before the end of jaw development in early adulthood. Otherwise, it may be better to remove the impacted canines and replace them with dental implants, followed by orthodontic treatment of other teeth to restore their proper position and bite relationships. In either case, your impacted upper canines don’t have to be a problem — we can restore both your mouth function and your smile.
If you would like more information on impacted teeth and treatment options, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
The primary goal of dental care is to preserve teeth. But there are circumstances in which removing a tooth, even a relatively healthy one, could prove best in the long run.
A malocclusion (poor bite) related to crowding might fit such a circumstance. Crowding occurs when the size of the jaw is too small for the teeth coming in. With not enough space, some teeth could erupt out of their proper positions. Removing certain teeth frees up space to eventually allow braces or other orthodontic devices to re-align the teeth.
The teeth most frequently removed are the first bicuspids, located between the cuspid (the "eyeteeth" directly under the eyes) and the back teeth, and the second premolar. Removing these won't normally affect appearance or functionality once orthodontic or cosmetic treatments are complete.
Because of the mechanics of jaw development it might be necessary to perform these extractions several years before orthodontic treatment. This could create another potential problem: the time lag could adversely affect bone health.
This is because bone, as living tissue, has a life cycle with cells forming, functioning and then dissolving, and new cells taking their place. When teeth are chewing or in contact with each other they generate force that travels through the tooth roots to the bone and stimulates cell growth at a healthy replacement rate.
But when a tooth is missing, so is this stimulation. This slows the replacement rate and eventually leads to decreased bone volume. Too much bone loss could create obstacles for orthodontic treatment or a future dental implant.
To avoid this, the dentist will often place a bone graft with processed bone mineral within the empty tooth socket right after extraction. The graft serves as a scaffold for bone cells to grow upon. The graft (plus any other added growth boosters) can help maintain a healthy level of bone volume to facilitate future orthodontic or restorative treatments.
Since targeted extraction for orthodontics is time-sensitive, you should have your child's bite evaluated by an orthodontist by age 7 to see if any action is necessary. The earlier a malocclusion is detected, the more likely a more attractive and healthy smile will be the ultimate outcome.
If you would like more information on correcting poor bites, 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 “Tooth Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”
March is national nutrition month—a good time to look at the connection between diet and oral health. You probably know that sugar is a major culprit in dental problems. This is because bacteria feed on sugars and create acid that can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Avoiding sugary foods and drinks as much as possible is a good rule of thumb, but there are some food choices that actually benefit your oral health. Here are nutrition tips that will help keep your smile healthy for life:
Say cheese. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium and phosphorus to build teeth and strengthen the supporting bone. And cheese neutralizes acid in the mouth to help fight cavities and gum disease.
Choose lean proteins. Lean meats, poultry, fish, milk and eggs help strengthen teeth. They are rich in protein and phosphorous, which is essential for building strong bones and teeth.
Eat a rainbow. Fruits and vegetables provide many key nutrients, including vitamins necessary for healing, bone strength, and healthy gums. Besides being nutritious, fruits and veggies scrub your teeth while you chew and stimulate the production of saliva, which is necessary for neutralizing acid and rebuilding enamel.
Nibble on nuts. Nuts contain protein, fiber and healthy fats. They also contain essential vitamins and minerals to keep teeth strong and gums healthy. Further, chewing nuts stimulates saliva production, lowering the risk of tooth decay.
Go for the grains. Studies have shown that eating too many refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sweet bakery items can lead to chronic inflammation, which is a factor in gum disease, heart disease, stroke and other conditions. In contrast, eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains may reduce inflammation in the body.
What you put in your body can play a big role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease, so choose foods that provide the right building blocks for optimal dental and overall health.
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