While tooth decay is a potential problem at any age, the risk increases as you grow older. Not only are senior adults more susceptible, decay is often more difficult to treat. That’s because cavities can occur at or below the gum line, often due to gum recession.
If that’s the case, we won’t be able to fill the cavity in the usual way because the gum tissue is in the way. To make it possible to treat, we may need to perform a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening.
As the name implies, the procedure helps expose more of the crown, the tooth’s visible part, from the surrounding gum tissue. In basic terms, we’re repositioning the gum tissue away from the biting surface of a tooth to make room for a filling. It’s also useful for improving a tooth’s appearance by making it look longer, or creating room for a crown or other dental restoration.
After applying a local anesthesia, the dentist (or periodontist, a specialist in the gums) creates a tiny flap of gum tissue with a series of incisions. This allows the dentist to move the affected gums out of the way to access the underlying bone. The dentist then reshapes the bone to adequately support the gum tissue when it’s finally repositioned to expose the crown. In its new and improved position, the dentist sutures the gum tissue in place.
For a few days afterward, the patient will need to restrict their diet to soft foods, avoid strenuous activities and apply an ice pack to help reduce swelling the day of surgery. They will also prescribe a pain reliever and possibly an antibiotic to reduce the chances of infection.
While most people return to normal activities a few days later, you’ll usually have to wait a few weeks for the gums to heal before undergoing any further treatments for the affected teeth. But even with the wait, crown lengthening could make it possible to not only save your tooth but improve your smile as well.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
Teeth crowding is a difficult bite problem (malocclusion) that often involves the entire jaw structure to be evaluated. Normally occurring when the jaw doesn’t have adequate space for normal tooth eruption, teeth coming in later put pressure on other teeth, causing them to develop improperly.
Crowding also makes it difficult to realign teeth with braces because there’s simply not enough room for sufficient movement to take place. The solution may then be to consider the removal of some of the teeth to create enough space for orthodontic treatment.
Not just any tooth can be removed, however — we must first conduct a careful analysis to determine which can be removed to facilitate optimum movement of the remaining teeth without disrupting normal mouth function or affecting appearance. The teeth most frequently removed for this purpose are the bicuspids, located between the cuspids or eyeteeth (which are positioned directly under the eyes) and the molars, the largest teeth in the back of the mouth. Sometimes one premolar tooth on each side of the jaw can be removed without sacrificing future form or function.
There are a few important considerations we must keep in mind when extracting teeth for orthodontic reasons; perhaps the most important is preserving bone at the extraction site. Because continuing bone growth depends on the forces generated by teeth when we bite or chew, bone near a missing tooth socket will tend to diminish over time. If there’s insufficient bone during orthodontic treatment, it may result in gum recession and root exposure — not only damaging to the teeth themselves but also to a person’s smile appearance. To avoid this, we sometimes will consider inserting a bone graft, which will stimulate bone growth, into the empty socket immediately after extraction. While this isn’t commonly done, it’s being considered if the patient’s bone is thin and a concern during healing.
We must also consider how to accommodate other, unrelated tooth loss to assure the final result is visually appealing. It may be necessary in these cases to maintain the space at the missing tooth site for a future restoration once the orthodontics is completed. This takes planning as well as the use of restorations like dental implants, bridges or partial dentures.
Regardless of your bite issues, the field of orthodontics has the appliances and techniques to overcome even the most complicated condition. When necessary, using procedures like tooth extraction can help turn an unappealing, dysfunctional bite problem into a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic teeth extractions, 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 “Tooth Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”
Nothing grabs your attention like a sharp tooth pain, seemingly hitting you out of nowhere while you’re eating or drinking. But there is a reason for your sudden agony and the sooner you find it out, the better the outcome for your oral health.
To understand tooth sensitivity, we need to first look at the three layers of tooth anatomy. In the center is the pulp filled with blood vessels and nerve bundles: it’s completely covered by the next layer dentin, a soft tissue filled with microscopic tubules that transmit sensations like pressure or temperature to the pulp nerves.
The third layer is enamel, which completely covers the crown, the visible part of a tooth. Enamel protects the two innermost tooth layers from disease and also helps muffle sensations so the tooth’s nerves aren’t overwhelmed. The enamel stops at about the gum line; below it the gums provide similar protection and sensation shielding to the dentin of the tooth roots.
Problems occur, though, when the dentin below the gums becomes exposed, most commonly because of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection caused by dental plaque triggers inflammation, which over time can weaken gum tissues and cause them to detach and shrink back (or recede) from the teeth. This can leave the root area vulnerable to disease and the full brunt of environmental sensations that then travel to the nerves in the pulp.
Tooth decay can also create conditions that cause sensitivity. Decay begins when certain oral bacteria multiply and produce higher than normal levels of acid. The acid in turn dissolves the enamel’s mineral content to create holes (cavities) that expose the dentin. Not treated, the infection can eventually invade the pulp, putting the tooth in danger of being lost unless a root canal treatment is performed to remove the infection and seal the tooth from further infection.
So, if you begin experiencing a jolt of pain while eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, see your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. And protect your teeth from dental disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing, as well as seeing your dentist for regular dental cleanings and checkups. Don’t ignore those sharp pains—your teeth may be trying to tell you something.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Periodontal (gum) disease can cause a number of devastating effects that could eventually lead to tooth loss. However, you may be more prone to a particular effect depending on the individual characteristics of your gums.
There are two basic types of gum tissues or “periodontal biotypes” that we inherit from our parents: thick or thin. These can often be identified by sight — thinner gum tissues present a more pronounced arch around the teeth and appear more scalloped; thicker tissues present a flatter arch appearance. While there are size variations within each biotype, one or the other tends to predominate within certain populations: those of European or African descent typically possess the thick biotype, while Asians tend to possess the thin biotype.
In relation to gum disease, those with thin gum tissues are more prone to gum recession. The diseased tissues pull up and away (recede) from a tooth, eventually exposing the tooth’s root surface. Receding gums thus cause higher sensitivity to temperature changes or pressure, and can accelerate tooth decay. It’s also unattractive as the normal pink triangles of gum tissue between teeth (papillae) may be lost, leaving only a dark spot between the teeth or making the more yellow-colored root surface visible.
While thicker gum tissues are more resilient to gum recession, they’re more prone to the development of periodontal pockets. In this case, the slight gap between teeth and gums grows longer as the infected tissues pull away from the teeth as the underlying bone tissue is lost. The resulting void becomes deeper and more prone to infection and will ultimately result in further bone loss and decreased survivability for the tooth.
Either of these conditions will require extensive treatment beyond basic plaque control. Severe gum recession, for example, may require grafting techniques to cover exposed teeth and encourage new tissue growth. Periodontal pockets, in turn, must be accessed and cleaned of infection: the deeper the pocket the more invasive the treatment, including surgery.
Regardless of what type of gum tissue you have, it’s important for you to take steps to lower your risk of gum disease. First and foremost, practice effective daily hygiene with brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the main cause of gum disease. You should also visit us at least twice a year (or more, if you’ve developed gum disease) for those all important cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on hereditary factors for gum disease, 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 “Genetics & Gum Tissue Types.”
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