Considering the costs, many people view replacing a back tooth as less important than a more visible front tooth. They’re rarely seen, so who will notice?
You might, eventually. A missing back tooth can set off a chain reaction of problems that can affect your overall dental health. Besides playing an important role in chewing food, back teeth also redistribute most of the chewing force away from the front teeth. Their absence can also affect the bite: adjacent teeth to the missing one will tend to migrate toward the open space, causing them to tip and rotate into an improper position. This can cause an increase in tooth mobility, excessive wear and erosion, and endanger their survival in the long run.
To avoid these and other problems you should consider some form of replacement. Most dentists prefer a dental implant for its life-like appearance and durability, and because its titanium post has a natural affinity with bone. Bone cells will grow around and permanently adhere to the implant, which may stop and even reverse bone loss in some cases.
Implants, though, require a certain amount of bone structure initially to anchor and position properly. If you have inadequate bone and don’t want to bone graft the area, the next best option is a fixed bridge, in which the missing tooth is replaced with an artificial crown known as a pontic. The pontic is fused between two support crowns that are permanently affixed to the natural teeth on either side of the missing tooth (also known as abutments). While fixed bridges restore function and inhibit tooth migration, they require the natural tooth supporting the bridge to be reduced to accommodate the crowns placed on them. This permanently alters them and places them at higher risk for future nerve damage, gum disease and decay.
One final option is a removable partial denture (RPD). Although RPDs restore function and improve appearance, their movement within the mouth may place additional stress on the teeth that hold them in place. This movement over time could damage or loosen them.
We can discuss which option is best for you after a complete dental exam. The important thing, though, is to replace the back tooth as soon as possible — doing nothing could cost you much more in the long run.
If you would like more information on tooth replacement, 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 “Replacing Back Teeth.”
After months of wearing braces it's time for the big reveal: your new and improved smile! Your once crooked teeth are now straight and uniform.
But a look in the mirror at your straighter teeth might still reveal something out of place: small chalky-white spots dotting the enamel. These are most likely white spot lesions (WSLs), points on the enamel that have incurred mineral loss. It happens because mouth acid shielded by your braces contacted the teeth at those points for too long.
Most mouth acid is the waste product of bacteria that thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up on tooth surfaces. High levels of acid are a definite sign that plaque hasn't been removed effectively through brushing and flossing.
But normal hygiene can be difficult while wearing braces: it's not easy to maneuver around brackets and wires to reach every area of tooth surface. Specialized tooth brushes can help, as well as floss threaders that help maneuver floss more easily through the wires. A water irrigator that uses pulsating water to remove plaque between teeth is another option.
However, if in spite of stepped-up hygiene efforts WSLs still develop, we can treat them when we've removed your braces. One way is to help re-mineralize the affected tooth surfaces through over-the-counter or prescription fluoride pastes or gels. It's also possible re-mineralization will occur naturally without external help.
While your teeth are sound, their appearance might be diminished by WSLs. We can improve this by injecting a liquid tooth-colored resin below the enamel surface. After hardening with a curing light, the spot will appear less opaque and more like a normal translucent tooth surface. In extreme cases we may need to consider porcelain veneers to cosmetically improve the tooth appearance.
In the meantime while wearing braces, practice thorough dental hygiene and keep up your regular cleaning visits with your general dentist. If you do notice any unusual white spots around your braces, be sure to see your dentist or orthodontist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care during orthodontic 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 “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
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.
It’s been a long road with your braces, but now they’re finally off. Hopefully the first glimpse of your new smile more than made up for the time and effort they required.
But while braces removal is a big milestone, it’s not the end of your treatment—not, that is, if you want to keep that new smile! You’ll now need to wear an appliance called a retainer for a few years or, in some cases, from now on.
Orthodontic retainers are a must after braces for the same reason braces work in the first place—your teeth can move. While the teeth attach to the jawbone via the roots, they’re firmly held in place by an elastic gum tissue network called the periodontal ligament. This tough but elastic tissue lies between the teeth and gums and attaches securely to both with tiny fibers.
While the ligament provides stability, it’s also dynamic—constantly remodeling to allow the teeth to move in response to biting pressure and other mouth factors. Orthodontists use this mechanism when moving teeth to better positions. The braces apply pressure on the teeth in the desired direction and the periodontal ligament responds as the teeth move.
Afterward, however, the ligament can still retain a kind of “muscle memory” for a time of the teeth’s old positions. Free of the pressure once supplied by the braces the teeth have a tendency, especially early on, to “rebound” to where they were.
A retainer helps prevent this by exerting just enough pressure to “retain” the teeth in their new positions. In the beginning this may require wearing the appliance around the clock, but you may be able later to reduce wear time to just a few hours a day. Rebounding is unpredictable, so you should continue to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations on retainer wear.
Wearing a retainer may seem like a drag, but it’s absolutely essential. Being diligent about it will help ensure that the beautiful smile you and your orthodontist worked so hard to obtain stays with you for years to come.
If you would like more information on getting a new smile through orthodontics, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
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