If you press your tongue against your teeth, unless something is badly wrong they won't budge. In fact, your teeth are subjected to a fair amount of pressure each day as you chew and eat, and yet they remain firmly in place.
But there's a deeper reality—your teeth do move! No, it's not a paradox—the gum and bone tissues that hold your teeth in place allow for slight, imperceptible changes in the teeth's position. Their natural ability to move is also the basis for orthodontics. Here are 3 more facts you may not know about your teeth's natural ability to move.
Teeth are always on the move. Teeth are held firmly within the jawbone by an elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament and a thin layer of bony-like material called cementum. In response to pressure changes, though, the bone dissolves on the side of the teeth in the direction of pressure and then rebuilds behind it, solidifying the teeth's new position, a process that happens quite slowly and incrementally. And it will happen for most of us—some studies indicate more than 70% of people will see significant changes in their bite as they age.
Orthodontics works with the process. Orthodontic appliances like braces or clear aligners apply targeted pressure in the direction the orthodontist intends the teeth to move—the natural movement process does the rest. In the case of braces, a thin metal wire is laced through brackets bonded to the front of the teeth and then anchored, typically to the back teeth. The orthodontist incrementally tightens the wire against its anchors over time, encouraging tooth movement in response to the pressure. Clear aligners are a series of removable trays worn in succession that gradually accomplish the same outcome.
Watch out for the rebound. That nice, straight smile you've gained through orthodontics might not stay that way. That's because the same mechanism for tooth movement could cause the teeth to move back to their former positions, especially right after treatment. To avoid this outcome, patients need to wear a retainer, an appliance that holds or "retains" the teeth in their new positions. Depending on their individual situations and age, patients may have to wear a retainer for a few months, years or from then on.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
For lots of sports fans, March is the month to get caught up in basketball “madness.” But many people forget that basketball—whether it's played on a school court or a big-city arena—can be just as dangerous for your teeth as some “full-contact” sports. Just ask Chicago Bulls point guard Kris Dunn. In the last three minutes of the January 17 NBA game between the Bulls and the Golden State Warriors, Dunn stole the ball and went in for the dunk. But the momentum from his fast break left him tumbling head-over-heels, and his face hit the floor.
The game stopped as Dunn was evaluated by medical staff; they found he had dislocated his two front teeth. The next day, the Bulls announced that his teeth had been stabilized and splinted—but Dunn would be out indefinitely because of a concussion.
Teeth that are loosened or displaced are known in dental terminology as luxated. These are fairly common dental injuries in both children and adults—but surprisingly, they don't always produce painful symptoms. Treating luxated teeth generally involves repositioning them and then splinting them in place for stability. Depending on the severity of the injury, the outlook for splinted teeth can be quite favorable. However, it may involve several treatments over a period of time—for example, a root canal if the tooth's inner pulp has been damaged, and possibly additional restorative or cosmetic work.
If the injured teeth can't be saved, they can usually be replaced by dental implants or a bridge. Bridges rely on adjacent teeth (also called abutment teeth) for their support. These teeth must be prepared (reduced in size) to accommodate the dental crowns that will hold the bridge in place, as well as the ones that will replace the missing tooth or teeth. Dental implants, today's gold standard of tooth replacement, are supported by root-like inserts made of titanium that are set directly into the jawbone. These dental implants support lifelike crowns that look and feel like natural teeth, and can last for years with routine care.
Better still, many dental injuries can be prevented by wearing a protective mouthguard. We can provide a custom-fabricated mouthguard, made from an exact model of your bite, which offers the maximum in comfort and protection. This is a vital piece of safety equipment that should be part of every sports enthusiast's gear.
With good dental care, it's a sure bet that Kris Dunn will be smiling when he returns to the court. We wish him a speedy recovery.
If you have questions about treating injured teeth or obtaining a custom mouthguard, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
You might not be aware how much force your jaws generate while you eat or chew. But you can become aware in a hurry when part of your inside cheek or lip gets in the way.
What may be even worse than the initial painful bite are the high odds you’ll bite the same spot again—and again. That’s because of a feature in the skin’s healing process.
As a surface wound heals, it often forms a cover of fibrous tissue consisting of the protein collagen. This traumatic fibroma, as it’s called, is similar to a protective callous that develops on other areas of damaged skin. In the process, though, it can become “taller” than the surrounding skin surface, which increases the chances of another bite.
This second bite often results in more fibrous tissue formation that rises even higher from the skin surface, which then becomes more likely to be bit again. After repeated cycles, the initial wound can become a noticeable, protruding lump.
These kinds of sores are typically not cancerous, especially if they’ve appeared to form slowly over time. But they can be a nuisance and the occasion of sharp pain with every subsequent bite. There is, though, an effective way to deal with it—simply have it removed.
While it involves a surgical procedure—an oral surgeon, periodontist or dentist with surgical training usually performs it—it’s fairly minor. After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, the dentist will then completely excise the lesion and close the resulting gap in the skin with two or three small sutures (it could also be removed with a laser). The wound should heal within a few days leaving you with a flat, flush skin surface.
The tissue removed is usually then biopsied. Although it’s highly unlikely it was more than an annoying sore, it’s still common procedure to examine excised tissues for cancer cells. If there appears to be an abnormality, your dentist will then see you to take the next step in your treatment.
More than likely, though, what you experienced was a fibroma. And with it now a thing of the past, you can chew with confidence knowing it won’t be there to get in the way.
If you would like more information on dealing with common mouth sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
Your smile isn’t the same without healthy gums—neither are your teeth, for that matter. So, maintaining your gums by protecting them from periodontal (gum) disease is a top priority.
Gum disease is caused by bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that collects on teeth and is not removed due to poor oral hygiene practices. Infected gums become chronically inflamed and begin to weaken, ultimately losing their firm attachment to the teeth. This can result in increasing voids called periodontal pockets that fill with infection. The gums can also shrink back (recede), exposing the tooth roots to further infection.
Although gum disease treatment techniques vary, the overall goal is the same: remove the bacterial plaque fueling the infection. This most often involves a procedure called scaling with special hand instruments to manually remove plaque and calculus (tartar). If the infection has spread below the gum line we may need to use a procedure called root planing in which we scrape or “plane” plaque and calculus from the root surfaces.
As we remove plaque, the gums become less inflamed. As the inflammation subsides we often discover more plaque and calculus, requiring more treatment sessions. Hopefully, our efforts bring the disease under control and restorative healing to the gums.
But while gum tissue can regenerate on its own, it may need some assistance if the recession was severe. This assistance can be provided through surgical procedures that graft donor tissues to the recession site. There are a number of microsurgical approaches that are all quite intricate to perform, and will usually require a periodontist (a specialist in gum structures) to achieve the most functional and attractive result.
While we have the advanced techniques and equipment to treat and repair gum disease damage, the best approach is to try to prevent the disease from occurring at all. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing, and continues with regular dental cleanings and checkups.
And if you do notice potential signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, call us promptly for an examination. The sooner we diagnose and begin treatment the less damage this progressive disease can do to your gums—and your smile.
If you would like more information on protecting your gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
Dental implants are today’s preferred choice for replacing missing teeth. They’re the closest restoration to natural teeth—but at a price, especially for multiple teeth. If implants are beyond your current financial ability, there’s an older, more affordable option: a removable partial denture (RPD).
Similar in concept to a full denture, a RPD replaces one or more missing teeth on a jaw. It usually consists of a lightweight but sturdy metal frame supporting a resin or plastic base (colored pink to mimic gum tissue). Prosthetic (false) teeth are attached to the base at the locations of the missing teeth. Unlike transitional dentures, RPDs are designed to last for many years.
Although simple in concept, RPDs certainly aren’t a “one-size-fits-all” option. To achieve long-term success with an RPD we must first consider the number of missing teeth and where they’re located in the jaw. This will dictate the type of layout and construction needed to create a custom RPD.
In addition, we’ll need to consider the health and condition of your remaining teeth. This can be important to an RPD’s design, especially if we intend to use them to support the RPD during wear. Support is a fundamental concern because we want to prevent the RPD from excessively moving in place.
Besides dental support we’ll also need to take into account how the jaws function when they bite. The RPD’s design should evenly distribute the forces generated when you eat and chew so as not to create undue pressure on the bony ridges of the jaw upon which the RPD rests. Too much pressure could accelerate bone loss in the jaw, a common issue with dentures.
It takes a lot of planning to create a comfortably-fitting RPD with minimal impact on your dental health. But you’ll also have to maintain it to ensure lasting durability. You should clean your RPD daily, as well as brush and floss the rest of your teeth to minimize the chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. You can further discourage disease-causing bacterial growth by removing them at night while you sleep.
A RPD can be a viable alternative to more expensive restorations. And with the right design and proper care it could serve you and your smile for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on removable partial dentures, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures.”
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