Losing all your teeth can dramatically impact your life for the worst. Fortunately, we can give you your "teeth" back. The most common way, at least until a few decades ago, is with custom dentures, which reasonably restore life-like appearance and dental function. But it does have one major drawback—it can't stop bone loss.
Loss of bone in the jaws often occurs with missing teeth. Normally, the bone continuously generates newer cells to replace older ones that have died. Chewing stimulates this growth as the force generated travels up through the teeth to the bone. But when teeth go missing, new bone growth slows, eventually causing the bone's volume and density to decrease.
Dentures can't reactivate this lost stimulation, and so bone loss may continue. Dentures even accelerate this loss as the compressive forces applied to the bony ridge are detrimental. This often leads to a "loosening" of a denture's fit that can make them uncomfortable and less secure to wear.
Today, however, patients with total tooth loss have another option that could alleviate the problem of bone loss—dental implants. Since their inception forty years ago, implants have become the preferred method of both dentists and patients for tooth replacement.
Implants consist of a titanium metal post that's surgically imbedded into the jawbone. Bone cells are attracted to this particular metal, readily multiplying and adhering to the implant's titanium surface. Because of this, an implant can slow or even stop bone loss.
Most people are familiar with the single tooth implant with an attached lifelike crown. Although this use of implants could be used to restore total tooth loss, it can be quite costly replacing over two dozen teeth individually.
But implants could still be part of the answer for someone with complete tooth loss, because they can also be used to support traditional restorations. A few implants strategically placed around the jaw can support either a removable denture or a fixed bridge.
Besides being a cost-effective way to add support to these traditional tooth replacements, the inclusion of implants will likely decrease continuing bone loss. Most importantly, it can give you back your dental function—and your smile to boot.
If you would like more information on dental implant options, 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 “New Teeth in One Day.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Advances in technology often lead to greater choices for things like automobiles or smartphones. In recent decades, advances in orthodontics have given families another choice besides braces for straightening teeth: clear aligners.
Clear aligners are a series of computer-generated mouth trays of clear plastic that are custom made for an individual patient's teeth. Like braces, these trays worn in the mouth put pressure on the teeth to move in a desired direction. Patients wear an individual tray for about two weeks and then change it out for the next tray in the series. Each subsequent tray is designed to pick up where the former tray left off in the progress of tooth movement.
Although treatment takes about as along as braces, clear aligners have some distinct advantages. First and foremost, their clear plastic construction makes them nearly invisible to outside observers. This makes them ideal for appearance-conscious teens (or adults) who may be embarrassed by the look of metallic braces.
And unlike their fixed counterpart, clear aligners can be removed by the wearer for meals, hygiene and the rare special occasion. As a result, patients with aligners aren't as restricted with food items and have an easier time keeping their teeth clean and avoiding dental disease than braces wearers.
But although definitely a benefit, removability can be potentially problematic depending on the maturity level of the patient. To be effective, an aligner tray must remain in the mouth for the majority of the time—too much time out negates the effect. Patients, then, must be responsible with wearing aligners as directed.
Clear aligners may also not work for treating difficult bites, especially those that require targeted movement (or non-movement) of select teeth. In those cases, braces may be the necessary treatment. But this situation has changed in recent years with the development of new devices and techniques that increase the range of bite problems clear aligners can treat.
Depending then on the bite problem and a patient's level of personal responsibility, clear aligners can be a viable orthodontic choice. And just like braces, they too can improve both dental function and appearance.
If you would like more information on orthodontic options for teens, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
The worst outcome of periodontal (gum) disease is tooth loss—but it isn't the only form of misery you might suffer. One of the more troublesome results associated with gum disease is gum recession.
Normal gum tissue covers teeth from just above the visible crown to the roots, providing protection against bacteria and oral acid similar to the enamel on the crown. But advanced gum disease can weaken these tissues, causing them to pull away or recede from the teeth.
Not only can this diminish your smile appearance, but the exposed areas are more susceptible to further disease and painful sensitivity. And it certainly can accelerate tooth loss.
But there are some things we can do to reduce the harm caused by gum recession. If we're able to diagnose and treat a gum infection early while the gums have only mildly receded, the tissues could stabilize and not get worse.
The chances for natural regrowth are unlikely, especially the more extensive the recession. In such cases, the gums may need some assistance via plastic periodontal surgery. Surgeons reconstruct gum tissues by grafting like tissues to the area of recession. These grafts serve as a scaffold for new tissues to gradually grow upon.
There are two general types of grafting procedures. One is called free gingival grafting. The surgeon completely removes a thin layer of skin from elsewhere in the mouth (such as the palate), then shapes and attaches it to the recession site. Both the donor and recession sites heal at approximately the same rate, usually within 14-21 days. This procedure replaces missing gum tissue, but doesn't cover exposed tooth roots to any great extent.
In cases of root exposure, dentists usually prefer another type of procedure, known as connective tissue grafting. The donor tissue is usually taken again from the palate, but the design of the surgery is different. A flap of tissue at the recipient site is opened so that after the connective tissue from the palate is placed at the recipient site to cover the exposed roots, the flap of tissue covers the graft to provide blood circulation to the graft as it heals.
Both kinds of procedures, particularly the latter, require detailed precision by a skilled and experienced surgeon. Although they can successfully reverse gum recession, it's much better to avoid a gum infection in the first place with daily oral hygiene and regular dental care.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession, 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.”
First, there were braces; then came removable clear aligners—both great ways to straighten teeth. But braces with their metal brackets and wires aren't the most attractive look. And, although nearly invisible aligners improve appearance, they don't work in every bite situation (although their range has improved of late).
But now a third choice has emerged: lingual braces. Like their traditional counterparts, lingual braces are fixed in place—but on the back side of the teeth rather than the front. Instead of "pushing" teeth toward new positions, they "pull" them, arriving at the same "destination" by another path.
This new method came about simultaneously by two different orthodontists a world apart and for different reasons. A Beverly Hills dentist was looking for an invisible form of treatment similar to clear aligners for his appearance-conscious patients. A Japanese dentist wanted an alternative that would reduce the risk of damage or injury posed by traditional braces to his martial arts patients.
Lingual braces (referring to their proximity to the tongue) address both of these concerns. All of the brackets and wiring are positioned out of sight. And because they're shielded by the teeth, they're not as likely to be damaged or cause injury following hard contact to the face—a great benefit for athletes, law enforcement officers and, yes, martial artists.
Even so, lingual braces won't replace the other two methods any time soon. You'll need to consider other factors, such as that lingual braces can cost up to a third more than traditional braces. And although their availability is steadily growing, not all orthodontists have been trained to offer lingual braces, so you may have to widen your search radius for a provider near you.
You may also find it takes a bit of time to get used to the feel of lingual braces. Upper braces can affect speech ability, at least initially, and the lower ones can interfere with tongue comfort. Most people, though, do adjust to them within a week or so.
But by and large, lingual braces do offer a fixed option that's out of sight, out of mind. With this newer orthodontic choice, you now have three good options for achieving a healthier mouth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on methods for straightening 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 “Lingual Braces.”
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