Poor bites, also known as “malocclusions,” can have a dramatic impact on mouth function and appearance. Moving teeth to better positions will solve most of these bite problems — but not all.
A case in point is a malformed maxilla, the skeletal structure formed by the union of the upper jaw and the roof of the mouth (the palate). If the rear portion of the maxilla develops too narrowly, the back teeth will bite abnormally inside the lower teeth while the front teeth bite normally, creating what’s known as a crossbite. People with this kind of malocclusion often shift their lower jaw to one side to bite down completely.
This can be corrected without too much intervention if the problem is diagnosed while the person is young. This is because the maxilla is actually formed from two bones that don’t completely fuse together in the center of the palate until just after puberty. An orthodontic appliance known as a palatal expander takes advantage of this slight gap. The metal appliance is placed along the narrowed portion of the palate in the rear of the mouth: four metal “arms,” two on each side, attach to the inside of the back teeth with a tension device between them that extends the arms outward to put pressure against the teeth.
Every day the patient or a parent uses a special key to turn the tension device and cause it to expand slightly, placing additional outward pressure on the jaw. This will widen the gap in the center of the palate and new bone will grow to fill in the increased space. Over time this will cause the rear portion of maxilla to widen.
While effective, a palatal expander may not work in every case, and it must be done before the two bones fuse permanently. When it can be used, though, it’s a proven treatment that can restore proper bite function, as well as improve your child’s smile.
If you would like more information on palatal expanders to correct certain bite problems, 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.”
As a parent, you’re all about helping your kids grow up healthy. But there are some obstacles that can make that difficult. One in particular is tooth decay, which could interfere with their dental development.
A bacterial infection, tooth decay destroys dental tissue—and untreated it could lead to tooth loss. This could severely derail a child’s normal development, even if it’s one of their primary (“baby”) teeth. That’s why preventing tooth decay or treating it promptly when it occurs should be one of your top priorities for your child’s dental health.
Here are 3 things you can do to minimize your child’s risk of tooth decay.
Start oral hygiene early. Your best defense against tooth decay is to clean your child’s teeth daily of dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that’s the main driver for dental disease. The best way to do this is with brushing and flossing, so begin performing these tasks with your child as soon as their teeth begin to appear. Oral hygiene is also important before their teeth come in—simply wipe your infant’s gums after nursing with a clean damp cloth to reduce bacteria in the mouth.
Start dental visits early. By age 1, most children already have quite a few teeth, making it the recommended time to schedule their first dental visit. Not only will this and subsequent visits support your plaque removal efforts, they also give your dentist an opportunity to catch any emerging dental issues. Early visits can also help get your kids used to seeing the dentist, reducing the chances they’ll develop dental visit anxiety later in life.
Avoid “baby bottle decay.” Sugar is one of decay-causing bacteria’s favorite food sources, so restricting your child’s intake of this carbohydrate can lower their decay risk. Besides limiting sugary snacks and sweets, be sure you do one more thing: eliminate sugar from the nighttime or naptime baby bottle. Parents often lay babies down to sleep with a bottle filled with sugary liquids like juice, milk or formula. Either avoid giving the bottle or make sure it only contains water.
If you would like more information on how to help your kids’ dental development stay on a healthy track, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Dental implants are the ideal tooth replacement with their life-like appearance, high success rate and durability. If you have significant dental issues, they may seem like the perfect answer. But before you choose to replace a problem tooth with an implant, it might be to your benefit — financially and health-wise — to consider saving the tooth first.
Tooth decay can be a formidable enemy, destroying both tooth structure and the tooth’s connectivity to the jaw. But there are treatment options even for heavily decayed teeth, including cavity filling with composite resins or porcelain that look and function like natural teeth. For decay deep within a tooth’s interior, root canal therapy can rid the pulp chamber and root canals of decay and seal them from future occurrences. The treatment’s success rate is comparable to and less expensive than implants.
While decay damage can be significant, adult teeth are more at risk from periodontal (gum) disease, a gum infection caused by bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces. This disease can weaken gum tissues until they eventually detach from the teeth and lead to loss. Gum disease, though, can often be brought under control by techniques called scaling and root planing that deep clean tooth and root surfaces of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
Scaling may require multiple sessions and will require a greater effort from the patient in performing daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist regularly to closely monitor gum health. And more advanced cases may require surgery to access deep pockets of infection or repair damaged tissues. But even with this effort, treating gum disease rather than replacing a tooth could be much less costly — and you’ll be able to preserve your own teeth.
On the other hand, the disease process may have gone on too long and caused too much damage for the tooth to be saved. In these cases, the best option is to remove it and install a restoration like an implant. By first completing a complete dental examination, we’ll be better able to advise you whether your best course is a “tooth rescue” or a replacement.
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
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.”
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