It's a common practice among people slowly losing their teeth to have their remaining teeth removed. They find dentures to be less costly than replacing one tooth at a time or caring for those that remain. On the other hand, it's usually healthier for the mouth to preserve remaining teeth as long as possible, replacing them only as necessary.
This latter strategy has up to now been difficult and expensive to achieve. But dental implants are changing that—using these imbedded titanium metal devices with a variety of restorations, we're able to better plan and implement staged tooth replacement.
Most people associate implants with single tooth replacements of a life-like crown cemented or screwed into an abutment attached to the implant post. This can play an early role in a staged replacement plan, but at some point, multiple single-tooth implants can become quite expensive.
Implants, however, have a much broader range of use. A few strategically placed implants can support a variety of restorations, including bridges and removable or fixed dentures. Four to eight implants, for example, can secure a fixed denture replacing all teeth on a jaw, far fewer than the number needed to replace the teeth individually.
Implants may also improve the function of traditional restorations. For instance, dentures can't stop the bone loss that often results from tooth loss—in fact, they will accelerate it as they rub and irritate the bony ridges of the jaw. By contrast, implants stimulate bone growth, slowing or even stopping the process of bone loss.
In a traditional bridge, the outer crowns of the restoration are bonded to the teeth on either side of the missing tooth gap (the middle crowns fill the gap). These support teeth must be permanently altered to accommodate the crowns. But an implant-supported bridge doesn't depend on other teeth for support, thus eliminating the need to permanently alter any teeth.
More importantly, previously placed implants often become part of the next stages of tooth replacement, like building on an addition onto an existing house. All in all, including implants in your ongoing dental restoration can help you enjoy the benefits of preserving your natural teeth for much longer.
If you would like more information on dental restoration 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 “Replacing All Teeth but Not All at Once.”
If you think your smile is beyond hope, you might be in for a happy surprise: Today's dental cosmetics can improve even the most forlorn dental situation. It could be a one-visit tooth whitening—or a total “smile makeover.”
If it's the latter, your transformation journey could take months or even years—so you need some idea of where this journey will take you. That will come through initial discussions with your dentist about your dreams and desires for a new smile.
But you'll also need to consider what your dental condition will practically allow: Although your goal is a more attractive appearance, the higher priority is your long-term dental health. There's also cost—dental enhancements can be expensive, so you may have to adjust your dream smile to match the reality of your finances.
With the big picture in focus, the next step is to refine the details of your makeover plan. Nothing does this better—for you and your dentist—than to “see” your proposed smile ahead of time. This is possible with computer technology: Your dentist can modify a digitized photo of your face and smile to show the proposed changes to your teeth and give you a reasonable view of your future smile.
Another way is to create a “trial smile.” Using composite dental material, your dentist fashions a temporary restoration that fits over your teeth. Unlike the digitally enhanced still photo, a trial smile let's you see what your new appearance will look like while moving, talking or smiling. Although it's removed before you leave the office, you can have photos taken to show friends and family.
You and your dentist can use these methods to make adjustments to your makeover plan before applying the real enhancements. It also eliminates any unpleasant surprises after all the work is done—you'll already know what your future smile will look like.
These initial steps are just as important as the actual procedures you'll undergo. Through careful planning, you'll gain a new smile that can improve your life.
If you would like more information on smile transformations, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
The mouth is a crowded place with nerves, blood vessels and sinus cavities sharing common space with the teeth and gums. Although important in their own right, these structures can also hinder treatment for complex dental situations like dental implant surgery or impacted teeth.
Treating these and similar situations depends on getting an accurate depiction of “what lies beneath.” Conventional x-rays help, but their two-dimensional images don't always give the full picture. There's another way—cone beam computed tomography (CBCT).
Similar to CT scanning, CBCT uses x-ray energy to take hundreds of “sliced” images that are then re-assembled with special software to create a three-dimensional model viewable on a computer screen. CBCT is different, though, in that it employs a scanning device that revolves around a patient's head, which emits a cone-shaped beam of x-rays to capture the images.
A dentist can manipulate the resulting 3-D model on screen to study revealed oral structures from various angles to pinpoint potential obstacles like nerves or blood vessels. The detailed model may also aid in uncovering the underlying causes of a jaw joint disorder or sleep apnea.
CT technology isn't the only advanced imaging system used in healthcare. Another is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which excites hydrogen atoms in water molecules. This produces different vibration rates in individual tissue structures, which are then translated into detailed images of these structures. Unlike CT or CBCT, MRI doesn't use x-ray energy, but rather a magnetic field and radio waves to produce the atomic vibrations.
But while providing good detail of soft tissues, MRI imaging doesn't perform as well as CBCT with harder tissues like bone or teeth. As to the potential risks of CBCT involving x-ray radiation exposure, dentists follow much the same safety protocols as they do with conventional x-rays. As such, they utilize CBCT only when the benefits far outweigh the potential x-ray exposure risks.
And, CBCT won't be replacing conventional x-rays any time soon—the older technology is often the more practical diagnostic tool for less invasive dental situations. But when a situation requires the most detailed and comprehensive image possible, CBCT can make a big difference.
If you would like more information on advanced dental 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 “Getting the Full Picture With Cone Beam Dental Scans.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
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