Advances in technology often lead to greater choices for things like automobiles or smartphones. In recent decades, advances in orthodontics have given families another choice besides braces for straightening teeth: clear aligners.
Clear aligners are a series of computer-generated mouth trays of clear plastic that are custom made for an individual patient's teeth. Like braces, these trays worn in the mouth put pressure on the teeth to move in a desired direction. Patients wear an individual tray for about two weeks and then change it out for the next tray in the series. Each subsequent tray is designed to pick up where the former tray left off in the progress of tooth movement.
Although treatment takes about as along as braces, clear aligners have some distinct advantages. First and foremost, their clear plastic construction makes them nearly invisible to outside observers. This makes them ideal for appearance-conscious teens (or adults) who may be embarrassed by the look of metallic braces.
And unlike their fixed counterpart, clear aligners can be removed by the wearer for meals, hygiene and the rare special occasion. As a result, patients with aligners aren't as restricted with food items and have an easier time keeping their teeth clean and avoiding dental disease than braces wearers.
But although definitely a benefit, removability can be potentially problematic depending on the maturity level of the patient. To be effective, an aligner tray must remain in the mouth for the majority of the time—too much time out negates the effect. Patients, then, must be responsible with wearing aligners as directed.
Clear aligners may also not work for treating difficult bites, especially those that require targeted movement (or non-movement) of select teeth. In those cases, braces may be the necessary treatment. But this situation has changed in recent years with the development of new devices and techniques that increase the range of bite problems clear aligners can treat.
Depending then on the bite problem and a patient's level of personal responsibility, clear aligners can be a viable orthodontic choice. And just like braces, they too can improve both dental function and appearance.
If you would like more information on orthodontic options for teens, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
Wearing braces can ultimately give you a healthier and more attractive smile. In the short-term, though, your gums in particular may be in for a rough ride.
While we're all susceptible to gum disease, braces wearers are more likely to encounter it. This stems from two related factors: the difficulty braces pose to oral hygiene; and the potential irritation of soft tissues by the braces themselves.
The main cause for any form of gum disease is dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque through brushing and flossing greatly reduces the risk of any dental disease. But braces wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss—as a result, some plaque deposits may escape cleaning, which makes a gum infection more likely.
To exacerbate this, braces hardware can irritate the gums and cause swelling and tissue overgrowth, also known as hyperplasia. The one-two punch of ineffective hygiene with hyperplasia are why braces wearers have a higher incidence of gum problems compared to the general population.
To guard against this, patients with braces need to be extra vigilant about keeping their teeth and gums clean of plaque. It may be helpful in this regard to use specialized tools like interproximal brushes with narrower bristle heads that are easier to maneuver around braces.
And rather than using traditional flossing thread, orthodontic patients may find it easier and more effective to use pre-loaded flossing picks or an entirely different method called oral irrigation. The latter involves a handheld wand that directs a stream of pulsating water between teeth to loosen and flush away plaque.
It's also important for patients to see their dentist as soon as possible for any gum swelling, bleeding or pain. The dentist can determine if it relates to gum disease, hyperplasia or a combination of both, and recommend treatment. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces until the gums heal, so catching and treating any gum problem early is a priority.
Regardless of the risk for gum disease, orthodontic treatment is still well worth the investment in your health and appearance. Practicing effective oral hygiene and keeping a watchful eye on your gums will help further lower that risk.
If you would like more information on oral care during 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Dental implants have revolutionized restorative dentistry. Not only are they the top choice for individual tooth replacement, implants also improve upon traditional dental work.
Dental bridges are a case in point. A few well-placed implants can support a fixed bridge instead of natural teeth, as with a traditional bridge. Furthermore, a fixed, implant-supported bridge can replace all the teeth on a jaw.
But although convenient, we can't simply install an implant-supported bridge and forget about it. We must also protect it from what might seem at first an unlikely threat—periodontal (gum) disease.
Although the bridge materials themselves are impervious to infection, the natural tissues that underly the implants—the gums and bone—are not. An infection plaguing the gums around an implant can eventually reach the bone, weakening it to the point that it can no longer support the imbedded implants. As the implants fail, so does the bridge.
To guard against this, patients must regularly remove any buildup of plaque, a thin biofilm that feeds disease-causing bacteria, adhering to the implant surfaces in the space between the bridge and the gums. To do this, you'll need to floss—but not in the traditional way. You'll need some form of tool to accomplish the job.
One such tool is a floss threader. Similar to a large needle, the threader has an eye opening at one end through which you insert a section of floss. You then gently pass the threader between the bridge and the gums toward the tongue.
Once through, you release the floss from the threader, and holding each end, you work the floss along the implant surfaces within reach. You then repeat the threading process for other sections until you've flossed around all the implants.
You might also use a water flosser, a device that directs a spray of water between the bridge and gums. The pressure from the spray loosens and flushes away any plaque around the implants.
Whatever the method, it's important to use it every day to reduce the threat of gum disease. You should also see your dentist regularly for further cleanings and checkups. Keeping your implants clean helps ensure gum disease won't ruin your fixed bridge—or your attractive smile.
If you would like more information on keeping your dental work clean, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Although kids are resilient, they're not indestructible. They're prone to their share of injuries, both major and minor—including dental injuries.
It's common for physically active children to suffer injuries to their mouth, teeth and gums. With a little know-how, however, you can reduce their suffering and minimize any consequences to their long-term oral health.
Here are 4 types of dental injuries, and what to do if they occur.
Chipped tooth. Trauma or simply biting down on something hard can result in part of the tooth breaking off, while the rest of it remains intact. If this happens, try to retrieve and save the chipped pieces—a dentist may be able to re-bond them to the tooth. Even if you can't collect the chipped pieces, you should still see your dentist for a full examination of the tooth for any underlying injury.
Cracked tooth. A child can experience intense pain or an inability to bite or close their teeth normally if a tooth is cracked (fractured), First, call the dentist to see if you need to come in immediately or wait a day. You can also give the child something appropriate to their age for pain and to help them sleep if you're advised to wait overnight.
Displaced tooth. If a child's tooth appears loose, out of place or pushed deeper into the jaw after an accident, you should definitely see a dentist as soon as possible—all of these indicate a serious dental injury. If they're unavailable or it's after hours, your dentist may tell you to visit an emergency room for initial treatment.
Knocked-out tooth. Minutes count when a tooth is knocked completely out. Quickly locate the tooth and, holding it only by the crown and not the root, rinse off any debris with clean water. Place it in a glass of milk or attempt to place it back into the socket. If you attempt to place it back into the socket, it will require pressure to seat the tooth into position. You should then see a dentist or ER immediately.
A dental injury can be stressful for both you and your child. But following these common-sense guidelines can help you keep your wits and ensure your child gets the care they need.
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