Dental implants have soared in popularity thanks to their life-likeness, functionality and durability. But these prized qualities have also created an ironic downside—people are much more likely to replace a tooth with an implant rather than go through the time and effort to preserve it.
We say downside because even though an implant is as close to a real tooth as we can now achieve in dentistry, it still can't rival the real thing. It's usually in your long-term health interest to save a tooth if reasonably possible. And, there are effective ways to do so.
Most dental problems arise from two common oral diseases. One is tooth decay, caused by contact with acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque. We can often minimize the damage by treating the early cavities decay can create. But if we don't treat it in time, the decay can advance into the tooth's pulp chamber, putting the tooth in danger of loss.
We can intervene, though, using root canal therapy, in which we drill into the tooth to access its interior. We clean out the decayed tooth structure, remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty chamber and root canals to seal the tooth and later crown it to further protect it from re-infection.
Periodontal (gum) disease also begins with bacteria, but in this case the infection is in the gum tissues. Over time the ensuing inflammation locks into battle with the plaque-fueled infection. This stalemate ultimately weakens gum attachment, the roots and supporting bone that can also increases risk for tooth loss.
We can stop a gum infection through a variety of techniques, all following a similar principle—completely removing any accumulated plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. This stops the infection and starts the process of gum and bone healing.
You should be under no illusions that either of these approaches will be easy. Advanced tooth decay can be complex and often require the skills of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals). Likewise, gum disease may require surgical intervention. But even with these difficulties, it's usually worth it to your dental health to consider saving your tooth first before you replace it with an implant.
If you would like more information on how best to treat a problem tooth, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
The change from primary teeth to permanent is an announcement to the world that a boy or girl is "growing up." "Growing up," though, is still not "grown"—the new teeth are still in a period of development that can affect how we treat them if they're injured or diseased.
While a new tooth erupts with all its anatomical layers, the middle dentin is somewhat thinner than it will be after it matures. The pulp, the tooth's innermost layer, produces new dentin and gradually increases the dentin layer during this early development period. While the pulp continues to produce dentin over a tooth's lifetime, most of it occurs in these early years.
To prevent or stop any infection, we would normally perform a root canal treatment in which we remove the pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals. This poses no real issue in an older tooth with mature dentin. Removing the pulp from an immature tooth, though, could interrupt dentin development and interfere with the tooth's root growth. Besides a higher risk of discoloration, the tooth could become more brittle and prone to fracture.
That's why we place a high priority on preserving a younger tooth's pulp. Rather than a root canal treatment, we may treat it instead with one of a number of modified techniques that interact less with the pulp. Which of these we use will depend on the extent of the pulp's involvement with the injury or disease.
If it's unexposed, we may use a procedure called indirect pulp therapy, where we remove most of the tooth's damaged dentin but leave some of the harder portion intact next to the pulp to avoid exposure. If, though, some but not all of the pulp is damaged, we may perform a pulpotomy: here we remove the damaged pulp tissue while leaving the healthier portion intact. We may then apply a stimulant substance to encourage more dentin production to seal the exposure.
These and other techniques can help repair an injured young tooth while preserving most or all of its vital pulp. Although we can't always use them, when we can they could give the tooth its best chance for a full life.
If you would like more information on caring for your child's 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. If all of your teeth are missing, it’s especially critical to replace them as soon as possible.
There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth, including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures:
Removable dentures are the classic replacement teeth that you put in during the day and take out at night. (However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, research has found that keeping dentures in at night may help keep the airway open, so if you have this condition, be sure to mention it to your doctor and dentist it). Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining) or a remake.
Overdentures are removable dentures that attach onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. The ability to maintain hygiene is easier because you can remove them for cleaning.
Fixed implant-supported dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally after a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
If you would like more information about tooth-replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures” and “Removable Full Dentures.”
There's no doubt treating dental problems can improve your health. But because the mouth is among the most sensitive areas of the body, many dental procedures can be potentially uncomfortable after treatment.
We rely on pain medication to alleviate any dental work discomfort, especially during recuperation. Our arsenal of pain-relieving drugs includes strong opioid narcotics like morphine or oxycodone which have effectively relieved dental pain for decades. But although they work wonders, they're also highly addictive.
We've all been confronted in the last few years with startling headlines about the opioid addiction epidemic sweeping across the country. Annual deaths resulting from opioid addiction number in the tens of thousands, ahead of motor vehicle accident fatalities. Although illegal drugs like heroin account for some, the source for most addiction cases—an estimated 2 million in 2015 alone—is opioid prescriptions.
Dentists and other healthcare providers are seeking ways to address this problem. One way is to re-examine the use of opioids for pain management and to find alternative means that might reduce the number of narcotic prescriptions.
This has led to new approaches in dentistry regarding pain relief. In a trend that's been underway for several years, we've found managing post-discomfort for many procedures can be done effectively with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. They don't share the addictive quality of narcotics and are regarded as safer when taken as directed.
There's also been a recent modification with using NSAIDs. Dentists have found that alternating the use of ibuprofen and acetaminophen often amplifies the pain relief found using only one at a time. By doing so, we may further reduce the need for narcotics for more procedures.
The trend now in dentistry is to look first to NSAIDs to manage pain and discomfort after dental work. Narcotics may still be used, but only in a secondary role when absolutely needed. With less narcotic prescriptions thanks to these new pain management protocols, we can reduce the risk of a dangerous addiction.
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