During your lifetime you’ll eat thousands of meals — and generate a lot of force from chewing over the years. But thanks to a support system of gum tissues and bone, your teeth can normally handle it.
What your teeth can’t handle, though, are higher than normal chewing forces on a continual basis. This can happen if you grind your teeth, which can produce 20-30 times the normal force. The habit often arises in adults because of high stress and often occurs during sleep.
These abnormal forces can stretch the periodontal ligaments that hold teeth in place, cause the teeth to become loose and at increased risk for loss. The best treatment strategy is to reduce clenching with, for example, muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs or lower the effects with a mouth guard that won’t allow the teeth to make solid contact during clenching.
Your teeth can also become loose even with normal chewing forces if you have advanced periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease arises from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on teeth due to poor oral hygiene. As it builds up, it causes inflammation of the gum tissues resulting in bone loss and causing the gums to detach from the teeth, increasing pocket depth.
Our first step in this case is to treat the gum disease by removing plaque and calculus (tartar) from all tooth and gum surfaces. This includes infected areas below the gum line and around the roots, a circumstance that could require surgical access.
As treatment progresses in either of these scenarios the gum tissues heal and often regain their attachment to the teeth. But that can take time, so we may need to stabilize any loose teeth in the short term. The most common way is to splint them to other secure teeth. This is done by using a clear acrylic bonding material to join the loose teeth together with a strip of metal or other rigid material (like joining pickets in a fence).
When symptoms arise, quick action is the key to preventing lost teeth. If you notice swollen, painful or bleeding gums or especially loose teeth, don’t delay — contact us so we can begin treatment as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for loose teeth, 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 “Loose Teeth.”
Every year dentists place over 5 million dental implants for lost teeth, often removing the problem tooth and installing the implant at the same time. But getting a “tooth in a day” depends on a number of health factors, especially whether or not there’s adequate bone available for the implant. Otherwise, the implant’s placement accuracy and success could be compromised.
Bone loss can be a similar problem when a tooth has been missing for a long period of time. If this describes your situation, you may have already lost substantial bone in your jaw. To understand why, we need to know a little about bone’s growth cycle.
When bone cells reach the end of their useful life, they’re absorbed into the body by a process called resorption. New cells then form to take the older cells’ place in a continuous cycle that keeps the bone healthy and strong. Forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this growth. But when a tooth is missing, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus. As a result, the bone may not replace itself at a healthy rate and diminish over time.
In extreme cases, we may need to consider some other dental restoration other than an implant. But if the bone loss isn’t too severe, we may be able to help increase it through bone grafting. We insert safe bone grafting material prepared in a lab directly into the jaw through a minor surgical procedure. The graft then acts like a scaffold for bone cells to form and grow upon. In a few months enough new bone may have formed to support an implant.
Bone grafting can also be used if you’re having a tooth removed to preserve the bone even if you’re not yet ready to obtain an implant. By placing a bone graft immediately after extraction, it’s possible to retain the bone for up to ten years—enough time to decide on your options for permanent restoration.
Whatever your situation, it’s important that you visit us as soon as possible for a complete examination. Afterward we can assess your options and hopefully come up with a treatment strategy that will eventually include smile-transforming dental implants.
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.”
Question: What oral health issue do teenagers who wear orthodontic retainers and older folks who wear dentures have in common?
Answer: Both need to pay particular attention to cleaning their oral appliances.
The same goes for anyone who wears a nightguard to control tooth grinding, a mouthguard to protect teeth while playing sports, or a clear aligner for orthodontic treatment. Yet many people aren’t sure how to properly clean their appliances — so here are a few handy tips:
- Use toothpaste on your appliance — the ingredients in toothpaste, which are designed to polish the hard enamel of your teeth, are too abrasive for the soft plastic of oral appliances, and will cause scratches.
- Boil your appliance, or use bleach to clean it — both will end up breaking down and destroying the appliance. Don’t even use very hot water, as it can deform the plastic and make the appliance useless.
- Leave your appliance out on the nightstand, or anywhere else — pets and small children have been known to find (and destroy) oral appliances left lying around. Instead, store it properly in its special case.
- Use liquid dish detergent or hand soap to clean your appliance. A little mild soap plus warm water will do a great cleaning job. While you’re at it, get a brush just for the appliance — because, while it’s fine for plastic, you don’t want to brush your teeth with soap!
- Put a towel in the sink basin when you clean your appliance. Soapy appliances (especially dentures) can be slippery, and can be damaged by dropping — and that’s an expensive mishap.
- Consider investing in an ultrasonic cleaner. These inexpensive countertop devices are an excellent way to get the tiny ridges and crevices of your appliance really clean.
Whether you rely on dentures for everyday use, or just need to wear a retainer for a period of time, your oral appliance serves an important function. It may also represent a significant investment. That’s why it’s worthwhile to spend a few minutes each day giving these important items the care they need.
While it may not be one of your favorite features in the dental office, the dental drill is nevertheless necessary for treating problem teeth. It’s used primarily for removing decayed or damaged structure and preparing a tooth for fillings or other restorations.
Dental drills have been used for decades and are quite effective — but they have their drawbacks. Their rotating burrs often remove portions of healthy tooth structure along with decayed material. Friction from the drill action can cause discomfort, so local anesthesia is usually needed. Drills can also emit a high-pitched machine noise that’s unsettling to many patients.
There’s a growing alternative to the drill, known as air abrasion. Although the technology has been around since the 1950s, the development of new suction pumps that capture the resulting dust from its use has made it more palatable as an option to the traditional drill.
Also known as particle abrasion, the technique uses a pressurized stream of fine particles (usually aluminum oxide, an abrasive powder) directed at teeth to wear away (abrade) the tooth’s structural surface. We can be quite precise in the amount of surface material removed, so it’s useful for diminishing stains or roughing the surface for bonding materials like composite resin. We’re also able to remove decayed material with very little impact on surrounding healthy structure, and you may not need anesthesia during the procedure.
While this quiet alternative to the noisier drill is quite versatile, it does have its limitations. It’s not that efficient for preparing larger cavities for restoration or for removing older amalgam fillings. The teeth to be treated must be carefully isolated to prevent the fine particle dust produced from being swallowed by the patient or spread into the air. High-volume suction equipment is a must or the procedure will create a “sandstorm” of particles in the room.
Still, for situations suited to it and with proper isolation measures, air abrasion can be effective and comfortable. If the technology continues to improve, the dental drill may soon become a relic of the past.
If you would like more information on procedures using air abrasion, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
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