As a saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is no more appropriate than when you have something caught between your teeth. And humans, as inventive and creative as we are, have used a weird assortment of items—usually within arms' reach—to dislodge a pesky bit of food.
According to a recent survey, more than three-fourths of Americans admit to using a number of “tools” to clean between teeth including twigs, nails (the finger and toe variety), business cards or (shudder!) screwdrivers. And it's one thing to do this alone, but among dinner companions and other folk it's a definite faux pas.
Usually, it's smarter and more economical if you can use a particular tool for many different applications. But when it comes to your teeth, you should definitely go with a “unitasker” designed specifically for the job: dental floss. It's not only the safest item you can use to clean your teeth, it's specifically designed for that purpose, especially to remove disease-causing plaque from between teeth.
Of course, the reason many of us use alternate items for cleaning between teeth is that they're the closest ones at hand. You can remedy this by keeping a small spool (or a short length) of dental floss or floss picks handy for those moments you encounter a wedged piece of food. In a pinch, you can use a rounded toothpick (better for your gums than the flat variety).
At home if you find flossing difficult, consider using a water flosser. This handheld device emits a pulsating stream of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque and bits of food remnant. It's ideal for people who have a hard time maneuvering floss or who wear braces, which can block regular floss thread from accessing between teeth as fully as possible.
In any case, use the other “tools” at hand for whatever they're intended. When it comes to what's best for your teeth, use floss to keep the in-between clear and clean.
As tough as teeth are, life can take its toll on them and sometimes lead to parts of them chipping off. Although it might not affect a tooth's overall health, it can certainly downgrade its appearance.
But we can restore a chipped tooth like new, and it may not require extensive dental work. Thanks to a versatile dental material called composite resin, we can often bring back a tooth's natural appearance in just one visit.
Tooth-colored resins have been around for decades, but their application has been limited due to issues with durability. Recently developed bonding techniques, though, have made them a workable option for restoring mild to moderate tooth defects.
We do this by applying and bonding the composite resin to a tooth to “fill in” the missing portion. While it's often a short process, it does require a thorough understanding of tooth anatomy, function and aesthetics.
We begin with a comprehensive exam to assess the true condition of a chipped tooth. Some dental defects might be better served with a porcelain restoration like a veneer or crown for best results. Still, there are a wide range of defects for which composite resins is a solid repair choice.
Once we've determined bonding is appropriate, we prepare the tooth by first roughening its outer surface and then etching it with an acid solution to increase bonding strength. We then apply a luting agent, a kind of dental cement, also to aid with bonding.
We then begin applying the composite resin in liquid form, one layer at a time. This layering process helps simulate the color depth and shape of the tooth, and to further incorporate strength into the restoration. We're also careful at this point to match the variations of color with those of the surrounding teeth so that it looks as natural as possible.
As we finish each layer, we apply a curing light to harden the resin. We can then polish the finished product and make adjustments for the bite. The end result is a tooth that not only looks whole, but natural and blended with the rest of your teeth. Bonding could truly change your smile in just one visit.
If you would like more information on cosmetic dental 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
If you or a family member has problems with teeth alignment or your bite, you may be considering braces. This tried and true method can straighten out most smiles — but there's more to braces than you may realize.
For one thing, orthodontic treatment wouldn't work if it weren't for the natural mechanism for tooth movement that already exists in the mouth. It may seem your teeth are rigidly set in the jawbone but that's not how they maintain their attachment: that's the job of an elastic connective tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. The ligament has tiny fibers that attach to the tooth on one side and to the bone on the other to actually hold the teeth in place, much like a hammock secured between two posts.
The ligament attachment also allows the teeth to move incrementally in response to environmental factors or the aging process. We harness this natural movement ability with braces to move teeth to a more desirable position. We first attach small brackets to the front crowns of the teeth (the visible portion) and then string arch wires through them. We then attach the wires to anchor points where we can adjust the amount of tension they're exerting through the brackets against the teeth. By gradually increasing that tension, the teeth respond as they would when any force is applied against them and begin to move.
By precisely controlling that movement we can transform a patient's smile. But we believe the advantages are more than cosmetic: the teeth will function better and will be easier to care for and keep clean. These benefits, though, have to be balanced with heightened risks for root resorption (something that occurs only about 10% of the time) in which the ends of the roots can shrink, or loss of mineral content in teeth enamel where the hardware makes it more difficult to remove bacterial plaque. These risks can be reduced by closely monitoring dental health during the entire treatment process and through stepped up efforts in daily oral hygiene.
The starting point for deciding on an orthodontic treatment is a thorough dental examination with x-rays or CT scan imaging. Once we have a complete picture of your misalignment problems and any other extenuating circumstances, we can recommend a treatment plan just for you.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
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.”
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