Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
If you’ve ever heard your dentist or hygienist talk about “calculus,” they’re not referring to a higher branch of mathematics. The calculus on your teeth is something altogether different.
Calculus, also called tartar, is dental plaque that’s become hardened or “calcified” on tooth surfaces. Plaque begins as soft food particles and bacteria that accumulate on the teeth, and more so if you don’t properly clean your teeth every day. This built-up plaque becomes both home and food source for bacteria that can cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Because of this direct link between plaque and/or calculus and dental disease, we encourage everyone to perform two important oral hygiene tasks every day. The first is to floss between your teeth to remove plaque as you are unable to effectively reach those areas with a toothbrush. Once you loosen all the plaque, the other really important task is a thorough brushing of all of the tooth surfaces to remove any plaque that may have accumulated since the last brushing. Doing so every day will catch most of the softer plaque before it becomes calcified.
Once it forms, calculus is impossible to remove by brushing and flossing alone. That’s why you should have regular cleanings performed by a dental professional. Dentists and hygienists have special tools called scalers that allow them to manually remove plaque and calculus, as well as ultrasonic equipment that can vibrate it loose to be flushed away with water.
In fact, you should undergo dental cleanings at least twice a year (or as often as your dentist recommends) even if you religiously brush and floss daily. Calculus forms so easily that it’s nearly inevitable you’ll accumulate some even if you have an effective hygiene regimen. Your dental team can remove hardened deposits of calculus that may have gotten past your own hygiene efforts.
If you haven’t been consistently practicing this kind of daily hygiene, see your dentist to get a fresh start. Not only will they be able to check for any emerging problems, they can clean your teeth of any plaque and calculus buildup so that you’ll be able to start with a “clean” slate.
Calculus can be tenacious, but it not impossible to remove. Don’t let it set you up for an unhealthy experience with your teeth and gums.
So you’re tearing up the dance floor at a friend’s wedding, when all of a sudden one of your pals lands an accidental blow to your face — chipping out part of your front tooth, which lands right on the floorboards! Meanwhile, your wife (who is nine months pregnant) is expecting you home in one piece, and you may have to pose for a picture with the baby at any moment. What will you do now?
Take a tip from Prince William of England. According to the British tabloid The Daily Mail, the future king found himself in just this situation in 2013. His solution: Pay a late-night visit to a discreet dentist and get it fixed up — then stay calm and carry on!
Actually, dental emergencies of this type are fairly common. While nobody at the palace is saying exactly what was done for the damaged tooth, there are several ways to remedy this dental dilemma.
If the broken part is relatively small, chances are the tooth can be repaired by bonding with composite resin. In this process, tooth-colored material is used to replace the damaged, chipped or discolored region. Composite resin is a super-strong mixture of plastic and glass components that not only looks quite natural, but bonds tightly to the natural tooth structure. Best of all, the bonding procedure can usually be accomplished in just one visit to the dental office — there’s no lab work involved. And while it won’t last forever, a bonded tooth should hold up well for at least several years with only routine dental care.
If a larger piece of the tooth is broken off and recovered, it is sometimes possible to reattach it via bonding. However, for more serious damage — like a severely fractured or broken tooth — a crown (cap) may be required. In this restoration process, the entire visible portion of the tooth may be capped with a sturdy covering made of porcelain, gold, or porcelain fused to a gold metal alloy.
A crown restoration is more involved than bonding. It begins with making a 3-D model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors. From this model, a tooth replica will be fabricated by a skilled technician; it will match the existing teeth closely and fit into the bite perfectly. Next, the damaged tooth will be prepared, and the crown will be securely attached to it. Crown restorations are strong, lifelike and permanent.
Was the future king “crowned” — or was his tooth bonded? We may never know for sure. But it’s good to know that even if we’ll never be royals, we still have several options for fixing a damaged tooth. If you would like more information, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Crowns and Bridgework.”
Chronic pain can turn your life upside down. While there are a number of disorders that fit in this category, two of them—fibromyalgia and temporomandibular disorders (TMD)—can disrupt your quality of life to the extreme. And it may be the two conditions have more in common than similar symptoms—according to one study, three-fourths of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia show symptoms of TMD.
To understand why this is, let’s take a closer look at these two conditions.
Fibromyalgia presents as widespread pain, aching or stiffness in the muscles and joints. Patients may also have general fatigue, sleep problems, mood swings or memory failures. TMD is a group of conditions that often result in pain and impairment of the temporomandibular joints that join the jaw with the skull. TMD can make normal activities like chewing, speaking or even yawning painful and difficult to do.
Researchers are now focusing on what may, if anything, connect these two conditions. Fibromyalgia is now believed to be an impairment of the central nervous system within the brain rather than a problem with individual nerves. One theory holds that the body has imbalances in its neurotransmitters, which interfere with the brain’s pain processing.
Researchers have also found fibromyalgia patients with TMD have an increased sensitivity overall than those without the conditions. In the end, it may be influenced by genetics as more women than men are prone to have either of the conditions.
Treating these conditions is a matter of management. Although invasive techniques like jaw surgery for TMD are possible, the results (which are permanent) have been inconclusive in their effectiveness for relieving pain. We usually recommend patients try more conservative means first to lessen pain and difficulties, including soft foods, physical therapy, stretching exercises and muscle relaxant medication. Since stress is a major factor in both conditions, learning and practicing relaxation techniques may also be beneficial.
In similar ways, these techniques plus medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy that may influence neurotransmission can also help relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia. Be sure then that you consult with both your physician and dentist caring for both these diseases for the right approach for you to help relieve the effects of these two debilitating conditions.
If you would like more information on managing TMD or fibromyalgia, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
While the term “plastic surgery” might bring to mind face lifts or tummy tucks, not all procedures in this particular surgical field are strictly cosmetic. Some can make a big difference in a person’s health.
One example is periodontal plastic surgery, which corrects gum tissue loss around the teeth. Although these procedures can indeed improve appearance, they more importantly help save teeth.
Gum loss is most often a consequence of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from a thin film of food particles on the teeth called dental plaque. As the disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth, they shrink back or recede, exposing the area around the roots. Without the protective cover the gums provide the roots, they become more susceptible to decay.
In milder cases of gum recession, treating the infection often results in the gums regaining their normal attachment to teeth. But with more advanced recession, natural gum healing may not be enough to reverse it. For such situations grafting donor tissue to the recessed area can help stimulate new tissue growth.
While gum tissue grafts can come from an animal or other human, the most likely source is from the person themselves. In one type of procedure, free gingival grafting, the surgeon locates and completely removes (or “frees”) a thin layer of skin resembling gum tissue, typically from the roof of the mouth, shapes it and then transplants it by suturing it to the recession site. Both donor and recipient sites heal at about the same rate in two to three weeks.
Another technique is known as connective tissue grafting. In this procedure the surgeon partially removes the donor tissue from its site while leaving a portion containing blood vessels intact. The palatal tissue is still used and transported to fit beneath the tissue that’s still attached to the blood supply. This connective tissue graft is then positioned and sutured to the recipient site while still maintaining its blood supply connection at the donor site. Maintaining this connection facilitates healing and increases the chances the graft will “take” and become firmly attached to the new site.
Grafting procedures require advanced techniques and skills. But with them we may be able to restore gum attachment to teeth with an impact on appearance and dental health that’s well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating gum 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
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