X-rays are such a routine part of dental care that it's easy to overlook how much this technology has revolutionized detecting and treating tooth decay. It's safe to say x-rays have helped save hundreds of millions of teeth over the last hundred years.
Thanks to its unique properties these invisible electro-magnetic waves give us precise images of the interior structure of teeth and gums. It's so precise that we can clearly detect even a small spot of softened, decayed tooth structure on an exposed x-ray film, often before it becomes visible to the naked eye. As a result, we can begin treating the decay earlier, minimizing the damage and increasing the chances for preserving the tooth.
There are a variety of ways we can utilize x-ray technology in diagnosing dental problems. The one, though, that's used the most is called the bitewing. The name comes from wing-like tabs extending out from a thin frame holding a segment of unexposed film. A technician places the frame inside the patient's mouth with the film on the tongue side of the teeth, and has them bite down on the tabs to hold the frame still. They then aim a camera at the patient's outer cheek, which then emits a very short burst of x-ray energy to expose the film.
Bitewings are popular because they give a full view of the back and side teeth, where decay is often hard to detect, with very little radiation exposure to the patient. And as x-ray technology has progressed over the years with digital processing and more efficient equipment, we can acquire sharper images with even less exposure. We've also developed standard protocols for when and how often we perform x-rays, so that we're getting the most diagnostic benefit for the least amount of exposure time.
Those few minutes getting an x-ray may seem routine, but the benefits to your dental health are truly amazing. The bitewing and other forms of x-rays play a huge role in helping us keep your teeth as healthy as they possibly can.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics, 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.”
Although primary (“baby”) teeth have a lifespan of only a few years, they’re still important to a child’s current and future dental health. In the present, they help a child eat, speak and smile properly. They also help create a healthy future as placeholders for developing permanent teeth yet to come in.
If, however, a child loses a primary tooth prematurely due to decay, the corresponding permanent tooth could come in misaligned. That’s why we do what we can to help a decayed primary tooth reach its full lifespan. And there are different ways to do this depending on the type of tooth.
With front teeth, which don’t encounter the same chewing forces as those in the back, we may use a tooth-colored filling. This approach is also preferable for appearance’s sake since front teeth are highly visible when a child speaks or smiles.
Primary molars, on the other hand, need a more robust solution. A filling may not be able to withstand the level of long-term chewing forces that these back teeth normally encounter. And because they’re less visible than front teeth, there’s less concern about aesthetics.
That’s why many pediatric dentists prefer stainless steel crowns for molars. Just like their permanent teeth counterparts, a primary crown fits over and completely covers a tooth. They’re typically pre-formed, coming in different shapes and sizes that can then be customized for the tooth in question. After preparing and removing any decayed material from the tooth, we can usually install the crown in one visit with local anesthesia and a sedative (if the child needs it for anxiety).
While a steel crown isn’t the most attractive restoration, it typically handles the higher chewing forces in the back of the mouth better and longer than a filling. That’s especially critical for primary molars, which are some of the last teeth to fall out (as late as ages 10-12). And besides preserving it as a permanent tooth placeholder, a crown also helps the tooth function effectively in the present.
Regardless of what method we use, though, preserving primary teeth is a primary goal of pediatric dentistry. And with a stainless steel crown, we can keep those important back molars functioning for as long as they’re intended.
If you would like more information on caring for primary 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids.”
Dairy foods have played a role in human diets for thousands of years. More than one kid—whether millennia ago on the Mesopotamian plains or today in an American suburb—has been told to drink their milk to grow strong. This is because milk and other dairy products contain vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy body, including healthy teeth and gums. In honor of National Dairy Month in June, here are four ways dairy boosts your oral health:
Dental-friendly vitamins, minerals and proteins. Dairy products are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals that are important for good dental health. They are packed with calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that work together to strengthen tooth enamel. In addition to the vitamins they contain naturally, milk and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D, which aids in calcium and phosphorus absorption; cheese contains a small amount of vitamin D naturally. What's more, dairy proteins have been shown to prevent or reduce the erosion of tooth enamel and strengthen the connective tissues that hold teeth in place.
Lactose: a more tooth-friendly sugar. Sugars like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, which are routinely added to processed foods, are a primary trigger for tooth decay. This is because certain oral bacteria consume sugar, producing acid as a by-product. The acid weakens tooth enamel, eventually resulting in cavities. Dairy products—at least those without added sugar—are naturally low in sugar, and the sugar they contain, lactose, results in less acid production than other common sugars.
The decay-busting power of cheese. We know that high acidity in the mouth is a major factor in decay development. But cheese is low in acidity, and a quick bite of it right after eating a sugary snack could help raise the mouth's pH out of the danger zone. Cheeses are also rich in calcium, which could help preserve that important mineral's balance in tooth enamel.
Dairy for gum health. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who regularly consumed dairy products had a lower incidence of gum disease than those who did not. And since gum health is related to the overall health, it's important to do all we can to prevent and manage gum disease.
For those who cannot or choose not to consume dairy products, there are other foods that supply calcium naturally, such as beans, nuts and leafy greens—and many other foods are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients. It may be wise to take a multivitamin or calcium with vitamin D as a supplement as well.
If you would like more information about nutrition and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
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.”
Losing teeth continues to be an all too common experience for people, especially those in their senior years. Fortunately, there are several ways to replace them, ranging from partial or full dentures to implants.
Some, though, postpone or simply choose not to replace a lost tooth, often because of the cost. But putting off a dental restoration could have a long-term impact on your health, and not in a good way. Continuing bone deterioration is one of the top consequences of delayed restoration.
Like other bones in the body, the jawbone is living tissue with cells that form, grow and eventually wear out. At the end of their life, these older cells give way to new cells. Eating and chewing play an important role in maintaining this growth cycle: the forces we generate as we chew travel up through the tooth roots to stimulate bone growth in the jaw.
When a tooth goes missing, though, the stimulus ends. Over time the bone cell replacement rate can fall off and the bone slowly loses volume. To make matters worse, bone loss can continue beyond the immediate bone underlying the tooth and affect the rest of the jawbone. The jaw can shrink in height and width, and in time become weaker overall and more susceptible to fracture.
But dental implant restorations in particular could help stop or even reverse bone deterioration at the site of the missing teeth. The titanium post implanted in the jaw attracts bone cells, which grow and adhere to its surface. Over time the bone fills in and becomes stronger.
You don't want to wait too long, though, because implants depend on a minimum amount of bone present for secure placement. You should therefore undergo an implant restoration as soon as it's practical after tooth loss. Otherwise, although we may be able to restore some of the lost bone with bone grafting, you may need to consider another restorative option.
When it comes to replacing missing teeth, time isn't on your side. But the right kind of dental restoration undertaken promptly can make for a brighter, healthier future.
If you would like more information on restoring lost 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
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