Today’s healthcare patients are asking questions. They want to know the “why” behind the “what” that their care providers are recommending for their health.
There’s a similar trend in dentistry — and it’s one we dentists encourage. We want you to know the “why” behind your treatment options — because you’re as much a participant in your own dental health as we are. The more informed you are, the better equipped you’ll be to make decisions to maintain or improve your health and the appearance of your smile.
As your dental care partner, it’s also essential we help you develop a long-term care plan based on your needs. There are aspects of dental care that are routine: daily brushing and flossing, an oral-friendly diet, and regular dental cleanings and checkups to assess your oral health. But we also need to think strategically, especially if you have risk factors that could impact your future dental health.
To do this we follow a four-step dental care cycle. In Step 1 we identify all the potential risk factors you personally face. These include your potential for dental disease, which could lead to bone and tooth loss, and the state of your bite and jaw structure that could complicate future health. We’ll also take into account any factors that could now or eventually affect your smile appearance.
Once we’ve identified these various factors, we’ll then assess their possible impact on your health in Step 2, not just what may be happening now but what potentially could happen in the future. From there we move to Step 3: treating any current issues and initiating preventive measures to protect your future health.
In Step 4 we’ll monitor and maintain the level of health we’ve been able to reach with the preceding steps. We’ll continue in this stage until we detect an emerging issue, in which we’ll then repeat our cycle of care.
Maintaining this continuum will help reduce the chances of an unpleasant surprise in your dental health. We’ll be in a better position to see issues coming and help reduce their impact now so you can continue to have a healthy mouth and an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on planning your dental 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 “Successful Dental Treatment: Getting the Best Possible Results.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
Let’s say you’re traveling to Italy to surprise your girlfriend, who is competing in an alpine ski race… and when you lower the scarf that’s covering your face, you reveal to the assembled paparazzi that one of your front teeth is missing. What will you do about this dental dilemma?
Sound far-fetched? It recently happened to one of the most recognized figures in sports — Tiger Woods. There’s still some uncertainty about exactly how this tooth was taken out: Was it a collision with a cameraman, as Woods’ agent reported… or did Woods already have some problems with the tooth, as others have speculated? We still don’t know for sure, but the big question is: What happens next?
Fortunately, contemporary dentistry offers several good solutions for the problem of missing teeth. Which one is best? It depends on each individual’s particular situation.
Let’s say that the visible part of the tooth (the crown) has been damaged by a dental trauma (such as a collision or a blow to the face), but the tooth still has healthy roots. In this case, it’s often possible to keep the roots and replace the tooth above the gum line with a crown restoration (also called a cap). Crowns are generally made to order in a dental lab, and are placed on a prepared tooth in a procedure that requires two office visits: one to prepare the tooth for restoration and to make a model of the mouth and the second to place the custom-manufactured crown and complete the restoration. However, in some cases, crowns can be made on special machinery right in the dental office, and placed during the same visit.
But what happens if the root isn’t viable — for example, if the tooth is deeply fractured, or completely knocked out and unable to be successfully re-implanted?
In that case, a dental implant is probably the best option for tooth replacement. An implant consists of a screw-like post of titanium metal that is inserted into the jawbone during a minor surgical procedure. Titanium has a unique property: It can fuse with living bone tissue, allowing it to act as a secure anchor for the replacement tooth system. The crown of the implant is similar to the one mentioned above, except that it’s made to attach to the titanium implant instead of the natural tooth.
Dental implants look, function and “feel” just like natural teeth — and with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Although they may be initially expensive, their quality and longevity makes them a good value over the long term. A less-costly alternative is traditional bridgework — but this method requires some dental work on the adjacent, healthy teeth; plus, it isn’t expected to last as long as an implant, and it may make the teeth more prone to problems down the road.
What will the acclaimed golfer do? No doubt Tiger’s dentist will help him make the right tooth-replacement decision.
If you have a gap in your grin — whatever the cause — contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation, and find out which tooth-replacement system is right for you. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Porcelain crowns have been used to restore problem teeth since at least the early 20th Century. Crown technology has gradually progressed from the early use of precious metals like gold or silver to more life-like porcelain crowns, often with a metal interior for added strength. Today, most crowns are all-porcelain, made with newer materials that not only look attractive but can endure under the pressures of daily chewing or biting.
While crowns are often part of restorations for missing teeth, they’re also commonly used to cap or fit over a viable tooth with structural or appearance problems. Here are 4 situations where a crown could improve a tooth’s form and function.
Traumatized teeth. A significant blow to the face or mouth could generate enough force to chip away or fracture a significant amount of structure from a tooth. If the root remains healthy and firmly attached within the jaw, however, a crown can replace the missing structure and restore the tooth’s function and appearance.
Root canal treatments. Root canal treatments remove infected or dead tissue within a tooth’s pulp chamber, its inner core, and the root canals. The procedure rescues the tooth but can in the process significantly alter the tooth’s structure and appearance. A crown not only restores the tooth but also provides added protection against further decay or tooth fracture.
Teeth with multiple fillings. We can effectively treat cavities caused by tooth decay by filling them. But with each filling we must remove more of the decayed structure and shape the cavity to accommodate the filling. After a number of times, a tooth may not have enough structure left to support another filling. If the tooth is still viable, a crown could solve this dilemma.
Abnormally developed teeth. Teeth sometimes don’t erupt in the jaw as they should and may be only partly visible. The tooth not only looks out of place but it can’t fully function like a normal tooth. Capping an abnormally developed tooth with a crown will help normalize it and allow it to blend in with surrounding teeth.
If you would like more information on crown 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
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