Overbites, underbites, crossbites—these are just a few of the possible malocclusions (poor bites) you or a family member might be experiencing. But no matter which one, any malocclusion can cause problems.
Besides an unattractive smile, a malocclusion makes it more difficult to chew and to keep the teeth and gums clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. Thus correcting a malocclusion improves dental health; a more attractive smile is an added bonus.
This art of correction—moving teeth back to the positions where they belong—is the focus of a dental specialty called orthodontics. And, as it has been for several decades, the workhorse for achieving this correction is traditional braces.
Braces are an assembly of metal brackets affixed to the teeth through which the orthodontist laces a metal wire. The wire is anchored in some way (commonly to the back teeth) and then tightened to apply pressure against the teeth. Over time this constant and targeted pressure gradually moves the teeth to their new desired positions.
The reason why this procedure works is because teeth can and do move naturally. Although it may seem like they’re rigidly set within the jawbone, teeth are actually held in place by an elastic tissue network known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and keeps the tooth secure through tiny fibers attached to both it and the bone. But the ligament also allows teeth to continually make micro-movements in response to changes in chewing or other environmental factors.
In a sense, braces harness this tooth-moving capability like a sail captures the wind propelling a sailboat. With the constant gentle pressure from the wires regularly adjusted by the orthodontist, the periodontal ligament does the rest. If all goes according to plan, in time the teeth will move to new positions and correct the malocclusion.
In a way, braces are the original “smile makeover”—once crooked teeth can become straight and more visually appealing. More importantly, though, correcting a poor bite improves how the mouth works, especially while eating, and keeping things clean. A straighter smile isn’t just more attractive—it’s healthier.
If you would like more information on correcting misaligned 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”
Periodontal disease may start in the gums’ superficial layers, but it’s not likely to stay there. As the disease moves deeper it can wreak havoc on tooth roots and bone as well as gum tissue attachments. Teeth with multiple roots are in particular peril because of the “forks” called furcations that form where the roots separate from each other. Infected furcations can be very difficult to treat.
We primarily treat gum disease by removing its main source, a thin film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque that builds up on teeth. To remove it we most often use special hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to vibrate it loose. As the plaque and tartar diminish, the infection begins to wane.
But we can’t be completely successful in stopping the disease if any lingering plaque deposits remain. This especially includes furcations where the infection can cause significant damage to the roots. Although cleaning furcations of plaque can be difficult, it’s not impossible with the aforementioned tools and antimicrobial substances to disinfect the area.
The real problem, though, is access—effectively getting to the furcations to treat them. We may need to perform a surgical procedure called flap surgery where we create a hinged flap in the gum tissue to move it aside and access the root area beneath. Afterward we replace the flap and suture the tissue back in place.
In some cases, the infection may have already caused significant damage to the tissue and underlying bone. We may therefore need to graft gum or bone tissues to these damaged areas to stimulate re-growth. We may also need to surgically reshape the gum attachments around a tooth to make it easier in the future to access and clean the area.
These additional treatments around furcations can be very involved and labor-intensive. That’s why the best outcomes occur if we’re able to start treatment in the early stages of an infection. So, if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums contact your dentist as soon as possible. Treating gum disease as early as possible will help ensure your tooth roots won’t suffer extensive damage.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations? Branching Tooth Roots can be Periodontal Nightmares.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
National Fresh Breath Day is celebrated in August, but who doesn’t want fresh breath every day? Everyone has bad breath once in a while, so here are some tips to fight it.
1. Step up your oral hygiene routine.
Good oral hygiene is the first line of defense against bad breath. Brush your teeth morning and night and floss daily to remove much of the tiny food debris and plaque (colonies of oral bacteria) that can cause bad breath.
2. Don’t neglect your tongue.
A coated tongue can be a source of bad breath, so brush your tongue as well as your teeth or use a tongue scraper, which can be purchased in the oral health aisle of your local pharmacy.
3. Clean around your braces.
If you have braces, use an interdental brush or a water flosser to free trapped food particles.
4. Pay attention to your oral appliances.
If you wear dentures, be sure to clean them thoroughly every day, and brush your gums and the inside of your mouth as well. Bridgework also needs special attention: Clean carefully around the bridge and under the false tooth, as food can get stuck there.
5. Tackle dry mouth.
Dry mouth, a major cause of bad breath, can result from numerous medications, salivary gland problems, or breathing through the mouth instead of the nose due to sinus problems, sleep apnea, or other conditions. If your mouth is chronically dry, chew sugarless gum to stimulate saliva production, or ask about an over-the-counter or prescription saliva substitute.
6. Avoid extreme dieting.
Weight loss diets that advocate a stringent reduction in carbohydrates can lead to “keto breath.” This foul-smelling breath happens when the body burns fat instead of glucose for fuel.
7. Quit smoking.
In addition to smelling like cigarettes, people who smoke have less—as well as lower quality—saliva, which contributes to bad breath and poor oral health. If you need help quitting, talk with us or call (800) QUIT-NOW.
8. Be aware that some foods and beverages can leave stinky breath.
These include garlic, onions, strong spices, coffee, alcohol, cheese, and canned fish.
9. Keep up with regular dental visits.
Professional dental cleanings are necessary to get rid of hardened plaque (tartar) that can’t be removed by your brushing and flossing routine at home. We also check for gum disease, another cause of bad breath.
10. See your doctor.
Certain medical conditions like acid reflux, diabetes, and respiratory infections can cause bad breath. If you have an untreated health condition, make an appointment with your medical doctor.
If you are concerned about bad breath, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
About one-quarter of people have teeth that never developed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are wisdom teeth, they can also include premolars or lateral incisors (the teeth right next to the two front teeth, the central incisors).
Missing teeth can have an adverse effect on smile appearance. But that’s not all: because each type of tooth performs a specific function, one or more missing teeth can lead to bite problems and disruption of dental function. In the case of missing lateral incisors, the canines (eye teeth) normally positioned beside and toward the back of the mouth from them may begin to drift into the empty space and grow next to the central incisors. This can result in greater difficulty chewing and a smile that “doesn’t look right.”
To correct this situation, we must often first attempt to orthodontically move any out of place teeth to their normal positions. This re-establishes the space needed for the missing teeth to be replaced, which we can then restore with prosthetic (artificial) teeth. If the permanent restoration of choice involves dental implants, we’ll usually need to wait until the completion of jaw development around early adulthood. In the mean time, we can use a retainer appliance to hold the teeth in their new positions with prosthetic teeth attached to fill the empty space for a better smile appearance in the interim.
The real issue is timing—beginning orthodontic treatment when appropriate to a person’s oral development, as well as completing the implant restoration when the mouth has matured sufficiently. There are other considerations such as bone volume, which may have diminished due to the missing teeth. At some point we may need to consider grafting to build up the bone sufficiently to support dental implants.
This all may entail a team approach by various specialties like orthodontics, periodontics and implantology. Working together and coordinating within a timely schedule, a mouth and smile marred by undeveloped teeth can be transformed.
If you would like more information on treating smiles with underdeveloped permanent 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don’t Grow.”
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