If you've ever had a run-in with cavities, you know the drill (no pun intended): After getting a local anesthetic for pain, the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. It's an effective treatment protocol we've been using for well over a century.
It does, however, have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn't cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.
But advances in dental tools, technology and techniques are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why.
Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in its earliest stages. By doing so, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we're beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it's visible to the naked eye.
Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it's undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We're also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don't require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.
These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you're in the dentist's chair.
If you would like more information on effectively treating dental 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
While anyone can lose a permanent tooth, the cause often varies by age group. Adults usually lose their teeth to disease, while those under twenty lose a tooth to accidents.
For adults, a dental implant is usually the best way to replace a missing tooth. Teenagers and younger, on the other hand, must wait to get implants until their jaws fully develop. An implant placed on an immature jaw will eventually look and feel out of place.
For most, their jaws won't reach full maturity until their early twenties. Even so, they still have a couple of good options for restoring their smiles in the meantime, albeit temporarily.
One is a removable partial denture or RPD, a device with the replacement prosthetic (false) tooth or teeth set in a gum-colored acrylic base. Of the various types of RPDs, most teenagers do well with a rigid but lightweight version called a “flipper,” called so because it can be flipped in and out of place with the tongue.
These RPDs are affordable, their fit easily adjusted, and they make cleaning the rest of the teeth easier. But they can break while biting down hard and—because they're dentures—aren't always well accepted among teenagers.
The other option is a bonded bridge. Unlike a traditional bridge secured with crowns cemented to natural teeth, a bonded bridge uses a strip of dental material affixed to the back of the prosthetic tooth with the ends of the strip extending outward horizontally. With the prosthetic tooth inserted into the empty space, these extended ends are bonded to the backs of the natural teeth on either side.
Though not as secure as a traditional bridge, a bonded bridge is more aesthetic and comfortable than an RPG. On the other hand, patients who have a deep bite or a teeth-grinding habit, both of which can generate abnormally high biting forces, run a higher risk of damaging the bridge. A bridge can also make hygiene tasks difficult and time-consuming, requiring a high degree of self-discipline from the patient.
Whichever you choose, both options can effectively replace a teenager's missing tooth while waiting for dental implants. Although temporary, they can make the long wait time for a teenager more bearable.
What a difference forty years can make: Dental bridges once occupied the top spot for choices to replace missing teeth until the arrival of dental implants in the 1980s. Today, dental implants are the gold standard for dental restoration.
But although bridgework may have lost “first chair” in the orchestra of restorations, it's still a viable option. In fact, it can be the best option in certain situations.
Bridges consist of a series of porcelain crowns fused together like fence pickets. The center crowns, known as the pontics, “bridge” the gap left by a missing tooth or teeth. The crowns on each end, the abutment teeth, crown the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge.
Bridges are effective and durable, but with a major downside: To accommodate the abutment crowns, we must reduce the size of the natural teeth to which they'll be attached. This alteration can weaken those teeth's structure and require them from then on to have some form of restoration. They're also at higher risk for tooth decay.
Implants, on the other hand, don't require this alteration, and may also be more durable than bridges. Why then consider a bridge?
Price can be a factor: Implants may be more expensive, especially involving multiple teeth. Keep in mind, though, that this only compares the initial cost: Because implants have a 95% or more ten-year success rate, with further evidence they could potentially last for decades, they may actually cost less in the long-run than bridge restorations that have a higher chance of being replaced sooner.
But the prime reason is that some dental situations aren't suitable for dental implants. For instance, implants require a certain amount of bone for proper placement, so people with extensive bone loss may not be able to acquire them. Health conditions like uncontrolled diabetes or a compromised immune system can also complicate implant installation. A bridge in these cases may represent a better alternative.
With the help of your dentist, you'll need to consider your individual situation, dental and financial, in deciding between an implant or a bridge. And, if a dental bridge is your best option, it will be a solid choice for restoring your missing teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on various dental restoration methods, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Most dental problems arise from tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But they aren't the only source of danger to your teeth—gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be just as damaging to your tooth enamel as dental disease.
GERD usually occurs when a ring of muscles at the top of the stomach weaken, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This resulting acid reflux can make life unpleasant and pose potential health dangers—over time it can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause ulcers and pre-cancerous cells. It can also erode tooth enamel if acid enters the mouth and raises its level of acidity.
This can be a problem because acid can soften and dissolve the mineral content of tooth enamel. This is the primary cause of tooth decay as acid produced by oral bacteria attack enamel. The more bacteria present, often thriving in dental plaque, the higher the potential levels of acid that can damage enamel. Stomach acid, which is strong enough to break down food, can cause similar harm to enamel if it causes higher than normal acidity in the mouth.
There are some things you can do to protect your teeth if you have GERD, namely manage your GERD symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. You may need to avoid alcohol, caffeine or heavily acidic or spicy foods, all known to aggravate GERD symptoms. Quitting smoking and avoiding late night meals might also ease indigestion. And your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help control your acid reflux.
You can also boost your teeth's enamel health by practicing daily brushing and flossing—but not right after a reflux episode. The enamel could be softened, so brushing can potentially remove tiny particles of mineral content. Instead, rinse with water mixed with or without a little baking soda to help neutralize acid and wait about an hour—this will give saliva, the mouth's natural acid neutralizer, time to restore the mouth's normal pH level.
And be sure you're using a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens enamel—in fact, your dentist may recommend topical fluoride applications to boost the effect.
These and other tips can help minimize the effects of GERD on your dental health. With an ounce of prevention, you can keep it from permanently damaging your teeth.
If you would like more information on managing your dental health with GERD, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Soon after the primary (baby) teeth begin to give way, the teeth a child will have the rest of their lives start erupting into the mouth. But while they’re permanent, they’re not as strong and developed as they will be in adulthood.
That’s why we treat young permanent teeth differently from older adult teeth. For example, a decayed adult tooth may need a root canal treatment; but this standard treatment would often be the wrong choice for a child’s tooth.
The reason why involves the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth, which plays a critical role in early development. Young permanent teeth continue to grow in sync with the jaws and facial structure. Most of this growth is in the dentin, the layer between the enamel and pulp, which increases proportionally to the other layers as the tooth matures. The pulp generates this new dentin.
A root canal treatment completely removes the diseased tissue of the pulp. This isn’t a major issue for a mature tooth because it no longer needs to generate more dentin. But it can have long-term consequences for an immature tooth whose growth may become stunted and the roots not fully formed. The tooth may thus become brittle and darkened, and might eventually require removal.
Because of these potential consequences, a root canal treatment is a last resort for a young permanent tooth. But there are modified alternatives, depending on the degree of pulp exposure or infection. For example, if the pulp is intact, we may be able to remove as much soft decayed dentin as we can, place an antibacterial agent and then fill the tooth to seal it without disturbing the pulp. If the pulp is partially affected, we can remove that part and place substances that encourage dentin growth and repair.
Our main goal is to treat a young tooth with as little contact with the pulp as possible, so as not to diminish its capacity to generate new dentin. Avoiding a full root canal treatment if at all possible by using these and other techniques will help ensure the tooth continues to develop to full maturity.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.