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.”
Your gums can take a lot — they’re resilient and they endure a variety of abrasive foods over a lifetime. But resilience isn’t the same as invulnerability: your gums can be weakened by periodontal (gum) disease or by over-aggressive brushing that causes them to shrink away (recede) from the teeth they protect.
Unfortunately, it’s not a rare problem — millions suffer from some degree of gum recession, caused mainly by gum disease. This aggressive infection arises from bacteria in dental plaque, a thin film that builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. Fortunately, gum disease can be effectively treated in its early stages by removing plaque above and below the gum line. Diseased gums will quickly rebound to their normal health.
Unfortunately, though, heavily recessed gums from advanced stages of gum disease (as well as those who’ve inherited thinner gum tissues and are more susceptible to recession) may not come back fully without help. This can affect the health and survival of affected teeth, as well as your appearance.
Plastic periodontal surgery can help restore these lost tissues. There are a number of procedures that can be used depending on the exact nature of the recession, and most involve some form of tissue grafting. A specimen of donated gum tissue (either from another portion of the patient’s gums or a thoroughly cleansed and properly processed donation from another person) is surgically attached to the gums at the recession site.
The graft can be completely freed from the harvest area or in some cases a part of it remains attached to receive blood supply while the rest is grafted to the site. These procedures, especially the latter, require meticulous skill and sophisticated microsurgical techniques to make an effective attachment. If the tooth root is involved, it must be thoroughly prepared beforehand through polishing and decontamination to ensure the new graft will take. The graft is sutured in place and sometimes covered with a moldable dressing for protection.
As the area heals, the tissues begin to grow around the graft, restoring better coverage for the tooth. Coupled with comprehensive gum disease treatment, this form of plastic surgery can restore new health to teeth and a transformed smile.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession with plastic surgery, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air, but is the end result of bacteria feeding on sugar, multiplying and producing acid. High acidity erodes tooth enamel and creates an environment for cavity development.
Modern dentistry can effectively treat cavities and often save the tooth from further damage. But you don't have to wait: You can reduce your chances of cavities by managing risk factors that contribute to decay.
Here are 4 top risk factors for tooth decay and what you can do about them.
Poor saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acid and helps restore minerals to enamel after acid contact. But your enamel may not have full protection against acid if you have diminished saliva flow, often due to certain medications. You can help increase your saliva by consulting with your doctor about drug alternatives, drinking more water or using a saliva boosting product. Smoking can also inhibit saliva, so consider quitting if you smoke.
Eating habits. High sugar content in your diet can increase bacterial growth and acid production. Reducing your overall sugar consumption, therefore, can reduce your risk of decay. Continuous snacking can also increase your decay risk, preventing saliva from bringing your mouth back to its normal neutral pH. Instead, limit your snack periods to just a few times a day, or reserve all your eating for mealtimes.
Dental plaque. Daily eating creates a filmy buildup on the teeth called dental plaque. If not removed, plaque can then harden into a calcified form called calculus, an ideal haven for bacteria. You can help curtail this accumulation by thoroughly brushing and flossing daily, followed by dental cleanings at least every six months. These combined hygiene practices can drastically reduce your cavity risk.
Your genetics. Researchers have identified up to 50 specific genes that can influence the risk for cavities. As a result, individuals with similar dietary and hygiene practices can have vastly different experiences with tooth decay. Besides continuing good lifestyle habits, the best way to manage a genetic disposition for dental disease is not to neglect ongoing professional dental care.
If you would like more information on managing your tooth decay risk factors, 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 Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
It’s February and time for a little heart love. And not just the Valentine’s Day kind: February is also American Heart Month, when healthcare providers promote cardiovascular health. That includes dentists, because cardiovascular health goes hand in hand with dental health.
It just so happens that February is Gum Disease Awareness Month too. If that’s a coincidence, it’s an appropriate one: Although different in nature and health impact, heart disease and gum disease are linked by a common thread: chronic inflammation.
Inflammation (or tissue swelling) in and of itself is beneficial and often necessary. When cells in the body are injured or become diseased, the immune system isolates them from healthier cells through inflammation for the protection of the latter. Once the body heals, inflammation normally subsides.
But conditions surrounding both heart disease and gum disease often prevent a decrease in inflammation. With heart disease, for example, fatty deposits called plaque accumulate within blood vessels, impeding blood flow and triggering inflammation.
A different kind of plaque plays a pivotal role with gum disease. Dental plaque is a thin biofilm that builds up on tooth surfaces. It’s home to bacteria that can infect the gums, which in turn elicits an inflammatory response within those affected tissues. Unless treated, the infection will continue to grow worse, as will the inflammation.
The bad news is that these two sources of chronic inflammation are unlikely to stay isolated. Some recent studies indicate that cardiovascular inflammation worsens gum inflammation, and vice-versa, in patients with both conditions.
The good news, though, is that treating and managing inflammation related to either condition appears to benefit the other. Patients with cardiovascular disease can often reduce their inflammation with medical treatment and medications, exercise and a heart-friendly diet.
You can also ease gum disease inflammation by undergoing dental plaque removal treatment at the first signs of an infection. And, the sooner the better: Make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
You can lower your gum disease risk by brushing and flossing daily to remove accumulated plaque, and visiting us at least twice a year for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups. If you’ve already experienced gum disease, you may need more frequent visits depending on your gum health.
So this February, while you’re showing your special someone how much you care, show a little love to both your heart and your gums. Your health—general and oral—will appreciate it.
If you would like more information about gum health, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
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