Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 and Why Teeth Wear.”
Before we begin correcting a malocclusion (poor dental bite), we need to ask a few questions: How extensive is the malocclusion? How far must we move the teeth to correct it? How might the patient's jaw size impact treatment?
Answering these and other questions help us develop an effective treatment plan. And depending on the answers, we might need to look at other procedures before we install braces—like removing one or more of the teeth.
This isn't a subject to approach lightly: All teeth play an important role in dental function and smile appearance, and ordinarily we want to preserve teeth, not remove them. Sometimes, however, it may be a necessary action to achieve our goal of an improved dental bite.
For example, it might be necessary for correcting a malocclusion caused by severe teeth crowding. This occurs when one or both of the jaws hasn't grown to a sufficient size to accommodate all of the teeth erupting on it. As a result, some of the teeth could come in out of their proper alignment.
If caught early before puberty, we may be able to use other techniques to alleviate crowding, like a device called a palatal expander that influences an upper jaw to widen as it grows. If successful, it could provide later teeth more room to erupt in their proper positions.
But even if additional jaw growth occurs, it may not be enough to avoid a malocclusion or treatment with braces. Alleviating further crowding by removing teeth in little noticed areas could help with subsequent orthodontics.
Removing teeth may also be the answer for other problems like an impacted tooth, in which the tooth has not fully erupted and remains submerged in the gums. It's sometimes possible to use a technique to “pull” the tooth down where it should be; but again, that will still require jaw space that may not be available. The more effective course might be to remove the impacted tooth.
Whether or not tooth extraction will be needed can depend on a thorough orthodontic evaluation and full consideration of all the available options. Even though the ideal situation is to correct a bite with all teeth present and accounted for, it may be for the better good to sacrifice some.
If you would like more information on orthodontic techniques, 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 “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
As the old Fifties song goes, “Little things mean a lot.” They can also be the most irritating, like a hangnail, a papercut—or a certain kind of oral sore. Although rarely concerning to health, this particular kind of “bump” in the mouth can be unnerving.
Although known as a traumatic fibroma, it's not as dire as it sounds: It's simply a small wound created when your inside cheek gets in the “line of fire” between your teeth while biting or chewing. It's an experience most of us have had, and though it's a minor occurrence, it can make us wince with pain.
But the pain usually lasts only a few seconds—until the next time, which is a distinct possibility. The body creates a protective callous over the wound made of fibers (hence the name fibroma) of a protein called collagen. This creates a rise in the skin surface that increases the chances the area will again get in the way of the teeth and be bitten. Each bite leads to another layer of collagen, a more prominent rise and even greater probability of another bite.
Rather than let this irritating situation repeat itself, you can undergo a minor surgical procedure to remove the fibroma. Usually performed be an oral surgeon or periodontist, the area is numbed first with a local anesthetic and the fibroma removed with a scalpel; the resulting wound is then closed with a few stitches or a laser, in which case no stitches are necessary. As a result, the cheek surface flattens out and becomes less likely to get in between the teeth.
The dentist may also preserve some of the removed tissue and submit it for a biopsy to check for any cancer cells or other abnormalities. You shouldn't be concerned about this: Examining excised tissue is a routine step performed for a variety of surgical procedures. It's used to verify the tissue in question is benign, which in this case is the vast majority of the time.
After the procedure, you might experience some minor discomfort for a few days, usually manageable with a mild pain reliever like aspirin or ibuprofen. The procedure itself only takes about fifteen minutes, but it can provide you lasting relief from that bedeviling little sore in your mouth.
If you would like more information on treating mouth sores, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
Even the simplest, everyday things can be challenging for a child with special needs. Dental care is no exception.
If you have a child with a chronic condition that affects their physical, intellectual or behavioral abilities, you know how difficult keeping up with dental care practices can be. Here are 4 tips to help make dental care easier and ensure your child has healthy teeth and gums.
Take an active role in hygiene. Depending on their abilities, you may need to take a more active role in daily teeth cleaning. If you have to brush their teeth for them, it's usually easier to have them face you “knee-to-knee.” You can also use a second brush to keep their mouth propped open if they tend to bite or clench down while brushing.
Model behavior. If your child could eventually brush for themselves, it may still be a long training road. It can be an easier task if you make a habit of brushing your teeth together, or have them brush with a sibling. Not only does this allow you to monitor their progress, their learning process may be easier watching another person brush and then mimicking their actions.
Find the right dentist. Many children with special needs are subject to anxiety surrounding healthcare visits, including going to the dentist. Choosing the right dentist, skilled in the technical aspects of treatment for a special needs child and providing a “kid-friendly” environment, can make all the difference in the world. A pediatric dentist is often a good fit for children with chronic conditions.
Coordinate medical and dental care. A special needs child could have underlying health problems that complicate dental care, so keep your dentist well-informed about their overall health. Do likewise with their medical providers, particularly if their condition or treatments impact dental health, as in the case of medications they're taking that could inhibit saliva flow.
Ongoing dental care for a child with a chronic health condition can be difficult. But keeping their teeth and gums healthy is an important part of fostering greater overall health.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs children, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”
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