People mainly identify orthodontics with braces. But while they’re a major part of it, braces aren’t the only way this important dental specialty can make a difference in a person’s bite.
For example, orthodontics can help guide the development of a younger patient’s facial structure that could head off future upper teeth misalignment. The area of focus is the upper jaw and palate (the roof of the mouth) that jointly make up a structure called the maxilla. The maxilla is actually formed by two bones fused together in the center of the palate along what is known as the midline suture running from front to back in the mouth.
The two bones remain separated until puberty, which helps accommodate rapid structural growth during childhood. But problems can arise if the upper jaw is too narrow, causing a “cross-bite” where the lower back teeth bite abnormally outside the upper ones. This can crowd upper permanent teeth and cause them to erupt improperly.
Using a technique called palatal expansion we can correct this abnormality if we act before the maxillary bones fuse. The technique employs a custom-made appliance called a palatal expander that attaches to the posterior teeth of the upper arch. Expanders have two halves joined by a small screw device to increase tension against the teeth to widen the jaw. A parent or the patient (if old enough) increases the tension by using a special key to turn the adjustment screw a tiny amount each day. This may cause minor discomfort that normally eases in a few minutes.
The patient wears the device until the jaw expands to the desired width and then allows the bones to stabilize in the new position. This can sometimes create a small gap between the upper front teeth, but it often closes on its own or it may require braces to close it.
While palatal expanders are not for every case, they can help normalize development and improve the bite, and thus preclude more extensive orthodontic treatment later. But time is of the essence: after the maxilla has fused, surgery will be necessary to separate them and widen the palate. It’s important then not to delay if your child could benefit from this effective treatment.
If you would like more information on palatal expanders and other 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 “Palatal Expanders.”
Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
- brushing the surgical area (if advised by your surgeon);
- rinsing too aggressively;
- drinking through a straw or consuming hot liquid;
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on oral surgery, 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 “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
After treating you for periodontal (gum) disease for some time, we may suggest you see a periodontist, a specialist in gum conditions and diseases. There are a number of reasons for a referral, including the specific type of gum disease you may have developed.
Here are 4 more reasons why seeing a periodontist might be advantageous at this stage in your dental care.
Advanced treatment. All dentists are skilled in basic treatment procedures for gum disease, particularly removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that cause and sustain infections. But if your disease has advanced deeper below the gum line and has resulted in infection-filled void pockets between teeth and gums or in gum recession (the tissues shrinking back from the teeth), you may need more advanced techniques and equipment provided by a periodontist.
Advanced Cleanings. Regular, twice-a-year office cleanings are part of every dental care program. But depending on the severity of your gum disease (and your own hygiene efforts) you may need more frequent and advanced cleanings to keep recurring infections at bay. A periodontist can provide this, as well as help you develop a daily hygiene plan that meets your needs.
Your general health. There are a number of systemic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or pregnancy that can affect gum health. Many of these issues are tied to tissue inflammation, a major component of chronic gum disease, as well as slower tissue healing. As specialists in the gums and their relationship with the rest of the body, a periodontist can develop a treatment approach that coordinates with these other health issues.
Future restoration preparation. One of our treatment goals with gum disease is to try to prolong the life of natural teeth for as long as possible. In reality, though, some or all of your teeth may have a shortened life expectancy. If a comprehensive dental restoration is in your future, a periodontist can help prepare your gums for the inevitable. They may also be able to repair or restore gum tissues that enhance the appearance of a restoration to create a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on advanced treatment for periodontal 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 “Referral to a Dental Specialist.”
Keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy may sometimes seem like “one step forward, two steps back.” You do all the right things like daily brushing and flossing, and keeping sugar consumption to a minimum. But they’re still getting too many cavities.
We can add something else to what you’re already doing to decrease their cavity rate: apply a concentrated fluoride mixture (stronger than what’s found in toothpaste or drinking water) directly to their teeth. Studies have shown that topical fluoride is effective at reducing the risk of new cavities in children at high risk for decay, and may even reverse early decay.
Topical fluoride can be applied as a gel, foam or varnish. The particular method used depends on factors like the child’s age or the preference of the dentist. But any of the three methods can deliver a short-term, high dose of fluoride to the teeth.
As a result, the burst of fluoride strengthens tooth enamel against decay, with plenty of evidence of its effectiveness. As such, the American Dental Association recommends periodic topical fluoride applications for children older than 6, and especially those that appear to be at higher risk for decay.
You might, however, be concerned about the long-term health effects of these stronger concentrations of fluoride. Again, research indicates that the only long-term hazard associated with too much fluoride is a condition called fluorosis, which produces heavy tooth staining. Fluorosis, though, is more of an appearance issue and doesn’t harm the tooth itself. And it can be avoided in the case of topical fluoride by performing the procedure correctly and conservatively.
There’s also a short-term risk of a reaction to the fluoride mixture if the child swallows too much during the procedure, which could cause stomach upset and pain, vomiting or headaches. We can avoid this by using precautions like dental dams and other isolation methods to prevent the child from ingesting it.
Using proper precautions and procedures, topical fluoride is a safe and effective way to give your child added protection against decay. Avoiding this destructive disease can help ensure they’ll enjoy good dental health for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
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