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.”
People are choosing dental implants at an increasing rate to replace missing teeth, either as an individual tooth or as a support for other restorations. But unlike other replacement options, we must surgically install the titanium post at the heart of the system directly into the jawbone.
While the term “surgery” might make you nervous, there's nothing at all to worry about. Here's what you need to know about before, during and after this relatively minor procedure.
Before. While the actual procedure is no more complicated than a tooth extraction, it ultimately depends on careful planning beforehand. Using x-ray diagnostics, we prepare a precise surgical guide to help us locate the best position to place them for a successful outcome. We'll also need to check bone volume to make sure there's an adequate amount to securely anchor the implant. If the bone is insufficient you may need bone grafting to build up the site or another replacement option.
During. The actual procedure begins, of course, with local anesthesia to numb the site — you should feel no pain and very minimal discomfort. We access the bone through the gums; often using a surgical guide for alignment, we create a small channel or hole with a sequence of drills that gradually increase the size until it can accommodate the implant. We remove the implants from their sterile packaging and install them immediately into the channel. After confirming their proper positioning with x-rays, we can close the gum tissues over it for protection during healing or attach a healing abutment that extends through the gum tissue thereby avoiding a second surgical procedure.
After. Because we disrupt relatively little of the soft tissue and bone, there's only minimal discomfort afterward easily managed with aspirin, ibuprofen or similar anti-inflammatory medication. We may also prescribe antibiotics to guard against infection while the gums heal. During the next several weeks, the titanium post, which has an affinity to bone, will become more secure as bone cells grow and adhere to it. It's also during this time that a dental lab creates your permanent crown or other restoration that matches the color and tooth shape so it will blend with your other teeth.
This process is complete when we install the final restoration onto the implant. You'll have a new smile and better function.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
Dental implants are best known as restorations for single missing teeth. But there’s more to them than that—they can also be used to support and secure removable dentures or fixed bridges.
That’s because a dental implant is actually a root replacement. A threaded titanium post is inserted directly into the jawbone where, over time, bone cells grow and adhere to it. This accumulated bone growth gives the implant its signature durability and contributes to its long-term success rate (95%-plus after ten years). It can support a single attached crown, or serve as an attachment point for a dental bridge or a connector for a removable denture.
The method and design of implants differentiates it from other restoration options. And there’s one other difference—implants require a minor surgical procedure to insert them into the jawbone.
While this might give you pause, implant surgery is no more complicated than a surgical tooth extraction. In most cases we can perform the procedure using local anesthesia (you’ll be awake the entire time) coupled with sedatives (if you have bouts of anxiety) to help you relax.
We first access the bone through small incisions in the gums and then create a small channel or hole in it. A surgical guide that fits over the teeth may be used to help pinpoint the exact location for the implant.
We then use a drilling sequence to progressively increase the size of the channel until it matches the implant size and shape. We’re then ready to insert the implant, which we remove at this time from its sterile packaging. We may then take a few x-rays to ensure the implant is in the right position, followed by closing the gums with sutures.
There may be a little discomfort for that day, but most patients can manage it with over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen. It’s what goes on over the next few weeks that’s of prime importance as the bone grows and adheres to the implant. Once they’re fully integrated, we’re ready to move to the next step of affixing your crown, bridge or denture to gain what you’ve waited so long for—your new implant-supported smile.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery: What to Expect Before, During and After.”
We can do a great many things to preserve diseased teeth, from filling cavities to crowning damaged but still viable teeth to protect them and restore their attractiveness. But there may come a point where continued treatment just isn't worth it, and it may be time to remove and replace your troubled teeth.
Dental implants have become the premier restoration for missing teeth. But they have some anatomical limitations and may not work for some situations like excessive bone loss or close nerve proximity. And while a removable partial denture is a solid option, perhaps you'd rather have a fixed solution.
You might then want to consider a fixed bridge to replace one or more missing teeth. This tried and true option has been a mainstay in dentistry for several decades; and while implants may have surpassed them in popularity, they're still available and effective as a restorative option.
A traditional fixed bridge is composed of three or more life-like crowns that are fused together like pickets in a fence. The crown or crowns in the middle fill the empty tooth space; the outside crowns fit over and are bonded to the natural teeth on either side of the empty space to support the bridge. These natural teeth must be reduced in size to accommodate the crowns to fit over them.
Depending on how many teeth are missing, fixed bridges can be a more affordable alternative to dental implants and can achieve life-like results in both form and dental function. But the alterations required for the supporting teeth are permanent and can weaken them. The interface between the natural teeth and the bridge crowns has a higher risk of decay and periodontal disease, so you'll need to be extra vigilant with daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings and checkups.
And even though implants can be more expensive in the short-term, they typically have better durability and less maintenance costs than other restorations. Over the long-term, an implant restoration might actually incur less cost than a fixed bridge.
Still, a fixed bridge can be an effective way to replace missing teeth. Depending on your finances and your overall dental health, a bridge could help you regain an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on options for replacing missing 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
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