While crooked teeth are usually responsible for a malocclusion (poor bite), the root cause could go deeper: a malformed maxilla, a composite structure composed of the upper jaw and palate. If that’s the case, it will take more than braces to correct the bite.
The maxilla actually begins as two bones that fit together along a center line in the roof of the mouth called the midline suture, running back to front in the mouth. The suture remains open in young children to allow for jaw growth, but eventually fuses during adolescence.
Problems arise, though, when these bones don’t fully develop. This can cause the jaw to become too narrow and lead to crowding among the erupting teeth and a compromised airway that can lead to obstructive sleep apnea. This can create a cross-bite where the upper back teeth bite inside their lower counterparts, the opposite of normal.
We can remedy this by stimulating more bone growth along the midline suture before it fuses, resulting in a wider maxilla. We do this by installing a palatal expander, an appliance that incrementally widens the suture to encourage bone formation in the gap, which over time will widen the jaw.
An expander is a metal device with “legs” extending out on both sides and whose ends fit along the inside of the teeth. A gear mechanism in the center extends the legs to push against the teeth on both sides of the jaw. Each day the patient or caregiver uses a key to give the gear a quarter turn to extend the legs a little more and widen the suture gap. We remove the expander once the jaw widens to the appropriate distance.
A palatal expander is an effective, cost-efficient way to improve a bite caused by a narrow jaw, but only if attempted before the bones fuse. Widening the jaw after fusion requires surgery to separate the bones — a much more involved and expensive process.
To make sure your child is on the right track with their bite be sure to see an orthodontist for an evaluation around age 6. Doing so will make it easier to intervene at the proper time with treatments like a palatal expander, and perhaps correct bite problems before they become more expensive to treat.
If you would like more information on treating malocclusions, 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 “Palatal Expanders: Orthodontics is more than just Moving Teeth.”
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
You’ve lived most of your life with crooked teeth and an imperfect smile. You feel you should have done something about it years ago, but now you’re approaching your golden years — what would be the point?
Here’s the point: there’s a growing trend of older adults undergoing orthodontic treatment. People are discovering the life-changing benefits of straightening their teeth — even if they’re no longer teenagers.
So, what’s really holding you back?
I’m too old to have my teeth straightened. Not true — teeth can be straightened at any age, not just during childhood or adolescence. If anything would prevent orthodontic treatment it would be the state of your oral and general health, not your age. Your teeth’s supporting bone must be reasonably sound and healthy; likewise, systemic problems like bleeding disorders, leukemia and uncontrolled diabetes can make orthodontics difficult. But if you and your mouth are reasonably healthy, you can have your teeth straightened.
It’s too much to spend just to look better. Yes, orthodontic treatment can transform your smile — but it can also improve your oral health. Misaligned teeth are harder to keep clean, increasing the risks for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease; they also don’t work well together so chewing is more difficult. By correcting your bite, you can reduce your chances of dental disease and improve overall mouth function.
I’d look silly at my age in braces. Self-consciousness about wearing these traditional appliances is common at any age. It’s understandable — the glint of metal is the first thing people see when you smile. But there’s a good chance you may be able to wear an alternative appliance that’s barely noticeable: clear aligners. These are a series of removable, clear plastic trays that you wear in sequence to gradually move your teeth. Not only are they less noticeable than braces, you can take them out for special occasions.
Don’t let these or other excuses keep you from a more attractive smile and healthy mouth. Visit your dentist for an examination to see if orthodontics can work for you.
If you would like more information on transforming your 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
Everyone loves a concert where there's plenty of audience participation… until it starts to get out of hand.Â Recently, the platinum-selling band Fifth Harmony was playing to a packed house in Atlanta when things went awry for vocalist Camila Cabello. Fans were batting around a big plastic ball, and one unfortunate swing sent the ball hurtling toward the stage — and directly into Cabello's face. Pushing the microphone into her mouth, it left the “Worth It” singer with a chipped front tooth.
Ouch! Cabello finished the show nevertheless, and didn't seem too upset. “Atlanta… u wild… love u,” she tweeted later that night. “Gotta get it fixed now tho lol.” Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of ways to make that chipped tooth look as good as new.
A small chip at the edge of the tooth can sometimes be polished with dental instruments to remove the sharp edges. If it's a little bigger, a procedure called dental bonding may be recommended. Here, the missing part is filled in with a mixture of plastic resin and glass fillers, which are then cured (hardened) with a special light. The tooth-colored bonding material provides a tough, lifelike restoration that's hard to tell apart from your natural teeth. While bonding can be performed in just one office visit, the material can stain over time and may eventually need to be replaced.
Porcelain veneers are a more long-lasting solution. These wafer-thin coverings go over the entire front surface of the tooth, and can resolve a number of defects — including chips, discoloration, and even minor size or spacing irregularities. You can get a single veneer or have your whole smile redone, in shades ranging from a pearly luster to an ultra-bright white; that's why veneers are a favorite of Hollywood stars. Getting veneers is a procedure that takes several office visits, but the beautiful results can last for many years.
If a chip or crack extends into the inner part of a tooth, you'll probably need a crown (or cap) to restore the tooth's function and appearance. As long as the roots are healthy, the entire part of the tooth above the gum line can be replaced with a natural-looking restoration. You may also need a root canal to remove the damaged pulp material and prevent infection if the fracture went too far. While small chips or cracks aren't usually an emergency (unless accompanied by pain), damage to the tooth's pulp requires prompt attention.
If you have questions about smile restoration, please contact us and schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
So, you're about to have a tooth capped with a crown. Do you know what you need to know before you undergo this common dental procedure?
Here's a short true or false quiz to test your knowledge of dental crowns.
All crowns are the same. False — while all crowns have the same basic design — a life-like prosthetic tooth fitted over and bonded or cemented to a natural tooth — their compositions can vary greatly. Early metal crowns consisted mainly of gold or silver and are still used today. Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns — a metal interior for strength overlaid by a porcelain exterior for appearance — became popular in the latter 20th Century. Although still widely used, PFMs have been largely surpassed by newer all-ceramic materials that are stronger than past versions.
Crowns can differ in their artistic quality. True — all crowns are designed to replicate a natural tooth's function — in other words, enable the tooth to effectively chew again. But a crown's appearance can be a different story, depending on how much attention to detail and artistry goes into it. The higher the individual craftsmanship, the more lifelike it will appear — and the more expensive it can be.
With digital milling equipment, dental labs are obsolete. False — although technology exists that allows dentists to produce their own crowns, the equipment is not yet in widespread use. Â The vast majority of crowns are still produced by a trained technician in a dental laboratory. And just as you base your choice of a dentist on your confidence in and respect for them, dentists look for the same thing in a dental lab — good, reliable and consistent results.
Your insurance may not cover what your dentist recommends. True — dental insurance will typically pay for a basic, functional crown. Aesthetics — how it will look — is a secondary consideration. As a result, your policy may not cover the crown your dentist recommends to function properly and look attractive. A new crown, however, is a long-term investment in both your dental function and your smile. It may be well worth supplementing out of pocket your insurance benefit to get the crown that suits you on both counts.
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