It often begins without you realizing it—spreading ever deeper into the gums and damaging tissue attachments, teeth and supporting bone in its way. In the end, it could cause you to lose your teeth.
This is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces. It in turn triggers chronic inflammation, which can cause the gum attachments to teeth to weaken. Detaching gum ligaments may then produce diseased voids—periodontal pockets—that can widen the gap between the teeth and the gums down to the roots.
There is one primary treatment objective for gum disease: uncover and remove any and all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). If the infection has advanced no further than surface gum tissues, it may simply be a matter of removing plaque at or just below the gum line with hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment.
The disease, however, is often discovered in more advanced stages: The initial signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums might have been ignored or simply didn't appear. Even so, the objective of plaque and tartar removal remains the same, albeit the procedures may be more invasive.
For example, we may need to surgically access areas deep below the gum line. This involves a procedure called flap surgery, which creates an opening in the gum tissues resembling the flap of an envelope. Once the root or bone is exposed, we can then remove any plaque and/or tartar deposits and perform other actions to boost healing.
Antibiotics or other antibacterial substances might also be needed for stopping an infection in advanced stages. Some like the antibiotic tetracycline can be applied topically to the affected areas to directly stop inflammation and infection; others like mouthrinses with chlorhexidine might be used to fight bacteria for an extended period.
Although effective, treatment for advanced gum disease may need to continue indefinitely. The better approach is to focus on preventing a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. And at the first sign of problems with your teeth and gums, see us as soon as possible—the earlier in the disease progression that we can begin treatment, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on preventing and 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Dentists remove millions of teeth each year, often because of tooth decay or gum disease. But disease isn't the only reason—a tooth extraction might make it easier to straighten a crooked smile.
Realigning teeth for therapeutic or cosmetic reasons is a regular undertaking in dentistry, but the process itself often differs from person to person. Each individual patient requires their own treatment plan taking into account factors like the kind of bite problem involved, the size of the jaw and the space available to move teeth.
This plan could indeed involve removing teeth. For example, an abnormally small jaw could cause crowding. Not only can crowding move teeth out of position, it may also leave little to no room for moving teeth. Although dentists can minimize crowding by influencing jaw development in early childhood, removing teeth for more space is usually the only option available to older adolescents and adults.
Similarly, teeth can fail to erupt properly and remain partially or fully submerged beneath the gums (known as impaction). There is an orthodontic method for pulling an impacted tooth fully onto the jaw, but only if the tooth isn't too far out of alignment. Otherwise, it may be better to remove the impacted tooth and then correct any gaps with braces or a dental implant.
There's also a situation on the opposite side of the spectrum that could benefit from teeth removal—when one or more permanent teeth fail to form, known as congenitally missing teeth. This can cause gaps in the smile or a “lopsided” appearance where a tooth on one side of the jaw is present while its counterpart on the opposite side of the jaw is missing.
The missing tooth can be replaced by an implant, bridge or other restoration. But another option may be to remove the existing counterpart tooth, and then close the gaps. This can result in a much more attractive smile that might be simpler and less costly than replacing the missing tooth.
Again, the decision to remove teeth to improve smile appearance depends on the patient and their particular dental condition. But in the right situation, it could make straightening a smile easier and more effective.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, 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.”
Teenagers can have the same smile-disrupting tooth flaws as adults. But not all cosmetic treatments available to adults are appropriate for teenagers—at least not until they get a little older. Dental veneers fall into that category.
A veneer is a thin porcelain shell custom-made by a dental lab, and bonded by a dentist to the face of a tooth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other imperfections. Because they're less invasive than other measures, veneers are highly popular as a cosmetic dental solution. They do, however, usually require some enamel removal so that they'll appear more natural.
This enamel removal typically won't impact an adult tooth other than it permanently requires it to have veneers or other restorations after alteration. But there is a risk of damage to a teenager's tooth, which hasn't fully developed.
Adolescent teeth usually have a larger pulp chamber (filled with an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels) than adult teeth. And because the enamel and dentin layers may not yet be fully developed, the pulp is much nearer to the tooth's surface.
We must be very careful then in removing enamel and dentin for veneers or we may penetrate the pulp and risk damaging it. Alternatively, there is the possibility of no-prep veneers which are very conservative but often are unable to be done because of the need to often remove tooth structure to make the veneers look natural.
Another cosmetic problem can occur if we place veneers on a patient's teeth whose jaws and mouth structures are still growing. Eventually, the gums could recede and an unsightly gap form between the veneer and the adjacent natural tooth.
Fortunately, there are other techniques we can use to improve a tooth's appearance. Mild chipping can be repaired by bonding composite resin material to the tooth. Some forms of staining may be overcome with teeth whitening. These and other methods can address a teenager's smile appearance until their teeth are mature enough for veneers.
Whether or not a tooth is ready for veneers will depend on its level of development, something that can often be ascertained with x-rays or other diagnostic methods. And if a tooth has already undergone a root canal treatment, there isn't as much concern. In the meantime, though, it may be better for your teen to wait on veneers and try other techniques to enhance their smile.
If you would like more information on dental restoration 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.”
If you're well past your teen years, you probably have several reasons for not straightening your crooked smile: the expense, the time and the embarrassment of being a 30-, 40- or 50+- something wearing braces. But we have five reasons why adult orthodontic treatment can be a smart choice: Tom Cruise, Kathy Bates, Carrie Underwood, Danny Glover and Faith Hill.
That's right: Each of these well-known entertainers and performers—and quite a few more—underwent treatment to improve a poor dental bite. And not as teenage unknowns: Each on our list wore braces or clear aligners as famous adults (the paparazzi don't lie!).
Here are a few of the reasons why these celebrities chose to change their smile through orthodontics—and why you can, too.
Age isn't a factor. Straightening misaligned teeth isn't reserved only for tweens and teens—there are a growing number of adults well into their middle and senior years undergoing orthodontic treatment. As long as your teeth are relatively sound and your gums are healthy, it's altogether appropriate to undergo bite correction at any age.
A boost to your dental health. Gaining a more attractive smile through orthodontics is in some ways an added benefit. The biggest gain by far is the improvement straightening your teeth can bring to your long-term health. Misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean of dental plaque, which can increase your disease risk. They also may not function as well as they should while chewing food, which can affect your digestion.
Traditional braces aren't the only way. If the thought of displaying all that hardware makes you cringe, it's not your only option. One of the most popular alternatives is clear aligners, custom plastic trays that are nearly invisible on your teeth—and you can take them out, too. Another method growing in popularity are lingual braces: All the hardware is behind the teeth and thus out of sight. And you can, of course, opt for traditional braces—just ask Tom Cruise!
Oh, yes—a new smile! Orthodontics was truly the first “smile makeover.” It can improve your appearance all by itself, or it can be part of a comprehensive plan to give you an entirely new look. While the gains to your health are primary, don't discount what a more attractive smile could do for you in every area of your life.
The best way to find out if orthodontics will work for you is to visit us for an initial exam and consultation. Just like our A-list celebrities, you may find that orthodontics could be a sound investment in your health and self-confidence.
If you would like more information about orthodontic treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “The Magic of Orthodontics: The Original Smile Makeover.”
If you're into social media, you might have run across the idea that there's nothing to straightening your teeth. According to some SM influencers, you can even do it yourself with a few rubber bands. But the truth is, the mechanics of moving teeth are much more complex—and taking orthodontics into your own hands can cause extensive dental damage.
In reality, all bite problems (malocclusions) require the advanced knowledge and expertise of an orthodontist to correct them safely and effectively. Some, in fact, may require other devices along with braces or clear aligners to achieve the desired outcome for a particular malocclusion.
Here are a few of those additional tools an orthodontist may use and why they may be needed.
Headgear. Some malocclusions result not just from misaligned teeth, but problems with jaw or facial structure development. To accommodate additional factors like this, an orthodontist may include headgear during treatment, usually a strap running around the back of a patient's head or neck and attached in the front to brackets bonded to the teeth (usually the molars). Wearing this headgear for several hours a day can improve jaw and facial development.
Elastics. Unlike basic rubber bands DIYers might use to move their teeth (often with damaging results), elastics are specialized bands designed for targeted tooth movement. They're needed for bite problems that require moving some teeth and not moving others. As such, elastics can be applied in conjunction with braces to perform either intended task—move or prevent movement for specific teeth.
Anchorage. One of the tools often used with elastics for targeted tooth movement are temporary anchorage devices (TADs). These are typically tiny screws imbedded into the jawbone a short distance from fixed braces. An elastic band connected to the braces at a specific point is then attached to the TAD, which serves as an anchor point for the elastic.
These and other devices can help orthodontists achieve a successful correction for certain individual bite problems. And unlike the DIY methods touted on the Internet, these additional tools help them do it safely.
If you would like more information on straightening teeth through orthodontics, 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 “Orthodontic Headgear & Other Anchorage Appliances.”
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