If you've ever had a run-in with cavities, you know the drill (no pun intended): After getting a local anesthetic for pain, the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. It's an effective treatment protocol we've been using for well over a century.
It does, however, have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn't cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.
But advances in dental tools, technology and techniques are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why.
Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in its earliest stages. By doing so, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we're beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it's visible to the naked eye.
Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it's undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We're also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don't require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.
These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you're in the dentist's chair.
If you would like more information on effectively treating dental 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
Regular dental visits are an important part of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. But it’s what goes on between those visits — daily hygiene and care — that are the real ounce of prevention.
Here are 4 things you should be doing every day to keep your mouth healthy.
Use the right toothbrush and technique. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least once every day is a must for removing plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles which is the main cause of dental disease. Your efforts are more effective if you use a soft-bristled, multi-tufted brush that’s replaced often, especially when bristles become splayed and worn. To remove the most plaque and avoid damaging your gums, brush with a gentle, circular motion for at least two minutes over all tooth surfaces.
Don’t forget to floss. Your toothbrush can get to most but not all the plaque on your teeth. Flossing — either with flossing string, pre-loaded flossers or a water irrigator — helps remove plaque from between teeth. Don’t rely on toothpicks either — they can’t do the job flossing can do to remove plaque.
Mind your habits. We all develop certain behavioral patterns — like snacking, for instance. Constant snacking on foods with added sugar (a major food source for bacteria) increases your disease risk. Consider healthier snacks with fresh fruits or dairy, and restrict sugary foods to mealtimes (and the same for sports and energy drinks, which have high acid levels). Stop habits like tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption or chewing on hard objects, all of which can damage your teeth and gums and create a hostile environment in your mouth.
Watch for abnormalities. If you pay attention, you may be able to notice early signs of problems. Bleeding, inflamed or painful gums could indicate you’re brushing too hard — or, more likely, the early stages of periodontal (gum) disease. Tooth pain could signal decay. And sores, lumps or other spots on your lips, tongue or inside of your mouth and throat could be a sign of serious disease. You should contact us if you see anything out of the ordinary.
If you would like more information on how to care for your teeth and gums, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Just like adults, teenagers experience chipped, stained or disfigured teeth. And during a life stage where issues with appearance can be acutely painful, these defects call out for a solution.
And, there is one: porcelain veneers. These thin wafers of custom-made porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to cover dental flaws. They’re one of the least invasive—and most affordable—methods for smile enhancement.
There is one caveat, though: The affected teeth will most likely need alteration. Veneers can look bulky when bonded directly to teeth, so we compensate for this by removing some of the surface enamel. This changes the tooth permanently, to the point that it will always require a veneer or some other form of restoration.
But although this may be a minor issue for an adult, it could pose a problem for a teenager. That’s because the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth containing nerves and blood vessels, is larger in a younger adolescent tooth than in an older adult tooth. Because of its size, it’s closer to the tooth’s surface. During enamel reduction for veneers on a young tooth, this could lead to inadvertent nerve damage. If that happens, the tooth may need a root canal treatment to preserve it.
If the adolescent tooth needing a “facelift” has already been root canaled or sustained significant structural damage, then altering it for veneers may not be too concerning. Likewise, if the teeth are smaller than normal, the bulkiness of a veneer may actually improve appearance and not require alteration. We’ll need to examine a young patient first before making any recommendations.
There are also alternatives to veneers for improving smile appearance. Enamel staining could be enhanced temporarily with teeth whitening. Small chips can be repaired with bonded dental material, or in skilled hands be used to “build” a veneer one layer at a time with no enamel reduction. Although not as durable as regular veneers, these bonding techniques could buy time until the tooth is more mature for veneers.
Whichever path we take, there are effective ways to transform a teenager’s flawed tooth. And that can make for an even better smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
Although teeth are quite durable, we can still lose them—even all of them—to disease or injury. The good news, though, is that we have effective ways to restore teeth after they're lost. One of these, the removable denture, has given people their teeth back for several generations. And with recent advances in technology, today's dentures are even better.
Although more advanced, today's dentures share the same basic structure as those from a century ago: prosthetic (false) teeth set in a plastic resin colored to resemble the gums. The traditional denture is molded to fit snugly over an individual patient's alveolar jaw ridges, which once supported the former natural teeth. The denture stays in place primarily through a suction effect between the denture and the ridges.
Modern technology, though, has greatly improved today's dentures. Digital imaging can be used to generate highly accurate impressions of the dental ridges that can lead to denture bases with better fit. Dentists using photographs of the patient, especially in earlier years, are better able to identify facial landmarks, which enables them to position the new teeth to more closely recreate the patient's former smile.
These technological aids now help dentists to create more attractive dentures with better support and comfort. But the fit that makes this possible may not last due to a particular weakness inherent in traditional dentures—continuing bone loss. When teeth are missing, the underlying jawbone can lose bone volume over time. Dentures don't stop this process and can accelerate it due to constant friction and pressure on the dental ridges.
But a new modification incorporating dental implants with dentures can help solve these problems. By placing a few strategically positioned implants in the jawbone that then connect with the denture, the appliance not only gains more stability, but also produces less pressure on the dental ridges. In addition, bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the titanium implant posts, which helps to stop or slow bone loss.
If you've experienced total tooth loss, dentures are an affordable and effective option. Thanks to modern dental advances, you can get back the smile and dental function you once lost.
If you would like more information on denture restorations, 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 “Removable Full Dentures.”
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