Calling someone "long in the tooth" is an unflattering way of saying they're getting old. The phrase refers to the effects of gum recession, in which the gums pull away from the teeth and cause them to appear longer. The problem, which makes the teeth vulnerable to disease as well as look unattractive, is a common problem for older people.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria and food particles, which make up dental plaque, trigger an infection. The deposits of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque) continue to fuel the infection as it continues to weaken gum tissue attachments.
As a result, the gums begin to lose their attachment to the teeth and pull away, exposing the root areas normally covered by the gums. Unlike the enamel-protected crowns (the parts of teeth you can see), the root is covered by a thin layer of material called cementum.
Although cementum offers less protection than enamel, this normally isn't a problem because the gums also act as a barrier against bacteria and other harsh aspects of the mouth environment. But without gum coverage, the root area becomes vulnerable to disease and is more prone to painful sensitivity.
Because gum disease is the main culprit, you can reduce your chances of gum recession by keeping your teeth clean of plaque through brushing and flossing, and regularly undergoing professional cleanings. If gum disease does occur, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible: The earlier it's treated the more likely that any recessed gum tissues can regenerate.
If the recession is extensive, however, you may need clinical intervention to assist with its regrowth. This can be done by grafting tissue at the site that then serves as scaffold for new tissue to grow upon. Though effective, these microsurgical techniques are quite complex and involved.
So, if you suspect you have gum disease or recession, see your dentist as soon as possible for a full examination. It may be possible to restore your gums and enhance your smile.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum health, 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 “Gum Recession.”
Bite problems aren't limited to teeth simply out of position. The problem could be some teeth aren't there—visibly, that is. They still exist below the gums and bone, but they've been crowded out and blocked from erupting. We call this condition impaction.
Any tooth can become impacted and affect the bite, but a person's smile suffers more if it involves visible front teeth. This is especially so if the teeth in question are upper canines or "eye teeth"—the smile doesn't look normal without these pointed teeth on either side of the central and lateral incisors.
Impacted teeth can also contribute to more than a cosmetic problem: they're more susceptible to abscesses (pockets of infection) or root damage both to themselves or neighboring teeth. To minimize these potential health issues, we'll often remove impacted teeth surgically (as is often done with wisdom teeth).
But because of their important role in not only appearance but also bite function, we may first try to assist impacted canines to fully erupt before considering extraction. It takes a bit of orthodontic "magic," but it can be done.
Before we can make that decision, though, we want to precisely locate the impacted teeth's positions and how it may affect other teeth. This initial evaluation, often with advanced diagnostics like CT scanning or digital x-rays, helps us determine if the impacted teeth are in a workable position to save. If they're not, we may then need to consider removing them and ultimately replacing them with a dental implant or similar restoration.
But if their position is workable and there are no other impediments, we can proceed with helping them erupt. To do this we'll have to first expose them by creating a small opening in the gums through minor surgery. We then bond a small bracket to the tooth, to which we'll attach a small chain that we then attach to orthodontic braces. This enables us to exert continuous pressure on the tooth.
Over time, the pressure coaxes the tooth to erupt. We may still need to apply other forms of orthodontics and cosmetic procedures, but using this procedure to rescue impacted canines can produce a healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating complex bite problems, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Once upon a time, braces were the way to straighten a smile. They were—and continue to be—an effective orthodontic treatment especially for younger patients. But braces do have a few drawbacks, one of the biggest being appearance: when you're wearing braces, everyone can see you're wearing them.
That changed a couple of decades ago with the introduction of clear aligners. Removable plastic trays that incrementally move teeth, aligners have quickly become popular for a number of reasons. Perhaps their biggest attraction is that they're barely noticeable.
There's now a third option for correcting crooked teeth: lingual braces. They're similar to the traditional version, but with one big difference: all of the hardware is on the back side of the teeth.
Ironically, two orthodontists an ocean apart developed the idea, and for different reasons. A Beverly Hills orthodontist was looking for an invisible tooth-moving method that would appeal to his image-conscious patients. The other in Japan wanted to offer his martial arts patients, who risked injury from facial blows with traditional braces, a safer alternative.
These two motivations illustrate the two biggest advantages to lingual braces. The brackets and other hardware are attached to the back of the teeth (on the tongue side, hence the term "lingual") and exert the tooth-moving force by pulling, in contrast to the pushing motion of labial ("lip-side") braces. They're thus invisible (even to the wearer) and they won't damage the soft tissues of the cheeks, lips and gums if a wearer encounters blunt force trauma to the mouth.
They do, however, have their disadvantages. For one, they're often 15-35 percent more expensive than traditional braces. They're also a little more difficult to get used to—they can affect speech and cause tongue discomfort. Most patients, though, get used to them within a week. And, being a relatively new approach, not all orthodontists offer them as a treatment option yet.
If you're interested in this approach to teeth straightening, speak with your orthodontist to see if they're right for you. But if you do take this route, you may have a more pleasing and safe experience.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment with lingual braces, 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 “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
True or false: there’s no cause for concern about tooth decay until your child’s permanent teeth erupt.
False—decayed primary teeth can lead to potentially serious consequences later in life.
Although “baby” teeth last only a few years, they’re essential to future dental health because they act as placeholders and guides for the incoming permanent teeth. If they’re lost prematurely due to decay, other teeth may drift into the empty space intended for the emerging permanent tooth. Because of this, inadequate space will crowd the out of proper alignment.
And because they have thinner enamel than permanent teeth, primary teeth are more susceptible to decay. Once decay sets in, it can spread rapidly in a matter of months.
Fortunately, we may be able to prevent this from happening to your child’s primary teeth with a few simple guidelines. It all begins with understanding the underlying causes of tooth decay.
Tooth decay begins with bacteria: As a result of their digestion, these microorganisms secrete acid that at high levels can erode tooth enamel. The higher the population of bacteria in the mouth, the higher the acidity and potential threat to the teeth.
The first objective then in preventing decay is to remove dental plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces, through daily brushing and flossing. And because bacteria feed on sugar as a primary food source, you should reduce your child’s sugar consumption by restricting it to only meal times and not sending your child to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula or breast milk).
To help boost your child’s protection, we can also apply sealants and fluoride to teeth to help protect and strengthen their enamel from acid attack. Because we’ll also monitor for signs of decay, it’s important to begin regular dental visits beginning around age one. If we do detect decay, we can then treat it and make every effort to preserve your child’s primary teeth until they’ve completed their normal life cycle.
By taking these steps, we can help make sure your child’s early teeth go the distance. Their current and future dental health will certainly benefit.
If you would like more information on prevention and treatment of tooth decay, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
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