Every year many parents learn their “tweenager” or teenager needs their bite corrected, often with specialized orthodontics. Imagine, though, if these families could go back in time to when their child’s poor bite was just developing to stop or slow it from forming.
Time travel may still be science fiction, but the approach suggested isn’t. It’s called interceptive orthodontics, a group of techniques and procedures performed during the early stages of jaw development. The focus is usually on getting abnormal jaw growth back on track, enough so that a poor bite won’t form.
The upper jaw, for example, may be growing too narrow, reducing the amount of available space for tooth eruption. If it isn’t corrected, teeth can erupt out of position. To correct it, an orthodontist places a palatal expander in the roof of the child’s mouth (palate). The appliance applies gentle pressure against the inside of the teeth, which stimulates the jaws to develop wider.
The expander works because of a separation in the bones at the center of the palate, which later fuse around puberty. The pressure applied from the expander keeps this gap slightly open; the body then continues to fill the widening expansion with bone, enough over time to widen the jaw. If you wait until puberty, the gap has already fused, and it would have to be reopened surgically to use this technique. Ideally, then, a palatal expander should be employed at a young age.
Not all interceptive techniques are this extensive—some, like a space maintainer, are quite simple. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost prematurely, teeth next to the empty space tend to drift into it and cause the intended permanent tooth to erupt out of place due to a lack of space. To prevent this an orthodontist places a small wire loop within the space to prevent other teeth from moving into it.
These are but two examples of the many methods for stopping or slowing a developing bite problem. To achieve the best outcome, they need to be well-timed. Be sure, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If an interceptive orthodontic approach is needed, it could eliminate the need for more extensive—and expensive—treatment later.
Looking for an affordable way to beautify your smile? The answer could be dental veneers, thin wafers of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to hide stains, chips or other deformities. Custom-made veneers can look so much like natural teeth in color and shape, it’s hard to tell they’re there.
To achieve this realism, though, it’s usually necessary to alter the tooth first. That’s because a veneer can look unnaturally bulky when bonded to an unprepared tooth. To compensate, we often remove a slight amount of surface enamel so that the veneer’s width won’t be unattractive.
This alteration doesn’t harm a tooth as long as it has a veneer or some other restoration to protect any exposed underlayer of dentin. And because the alteration is permanent, the tooth will need a veneer or other protective covering from then on.
In recent years, though, two new options called no-prep or minimal-prep veneers make it possible to avoid or at least decrease the amount of enamel reduction needed. This is possible thanks mainly to improvements in the strength composition of the dental material used in them.
As a result, these veneers are as thin as contact lenses and may only require slight enamel reshaping to smooth out the sides of the teeth for a better fit. And, unlike traditional veneers, you can have them removed and return to your original look without the need for another restoration.
Low prep veneers are best suited for patients with teeth that are small (or appear small), worn, narrow or only slightly stained or misshapen. Someone with oversized teeth, on the other hand, or that jut forward may still need extensive tooth preparation or even orthodontic work beforehand.
If you do meet the criteria, though, you may be able to benefit from low prep veneers. Because there’s no tooth preparation, you may not even need local anesthesia. And you can reverse the restoration if you desire without harm to your teeth.
To find out if you might benefit from these new kinds of veneers, see us for an initial dental examination to see if you qualify. It’s your first step toward a more beautiful and confident smile.
If you would like more information on no-prep or minimal-prep veneers, 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Ask any kid and they'll tell you just how valuable "baby" teeth really are—out of the mouth, of course, and under their pillow awaiting a transaction with the Tooth Fairy. But there's more to them than their value on the Fairy Exchange Market—they play a critical role in future dental health.
Primary teeth provide the same kind of dental function as their future replacements. Children weaned from nursing can now eat solid food. They provide contact points for the tongue as a child learns to speak. And they play a role socially, as children with a "toothsome" smile begin to look more like what they will become when they're fully mature.
But primary teeth also serve as guides for the permanent teeth that will follow. As a future tooth develops below the gum line, the primary tooth preserves the space in which it will erupt. Otherwise, the space can be taken over by other teeth. This crowds out the intended tooth, which may erupt out of position or remain impacted below the gum line.
In either case, the situation could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that can be quite costly to correct. But if we can preserve a primary tooth on the verge of premature loss, we may be able to reduce the impact of a developing malocclusion or even prevent it.
We can help primary teeth last for their intended lifespan by preventing tooth decay with daily oral hygiene or clinically-applied sealants and topical fluoride. If they do become infected, it may be worth the effort to preserve them using procedures similar to a root canal treatment.
If a tooth can't be preserved, then we can try to reserve the empty space for the future tooth. One way is a space maintainer, which is a stiff wire loop attached to metal band bonded around an adjacent tooth. This keeps other teeth from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, at which time we can remove the appliance.
Your child may be anxious to get another tooth to put under their pillow. But helping that primary tooth go the distance will be more than worth it for their future dental health.
If you would like more information on the care and treatment of baby 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Orthodontic braces are a familiar sight, especially among tweens and teens: metal brackets and wires attached to the front of the teeth for all to see. Now imagine the opposite: much the same hardware, but now positioned out of sight on the back of the teeth.
It's not your imagination: It's the latest development in orthodontic technology called lingual braces. Developed simultaneously by two orthodontists in Japan and Beverly Hills, these appliances are placed on the tongue or “lingual” side of the teeth rather than the traditional labial or “lip-side.”
Generally, lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial braces can. The difference lies in how each method does its job: Traditional braces exert pressure or “push” against the teeth, while lingual braces “pull” the teeth into better alignment.
So, why choose lingual over labial? For one, they're “invisible” to others: all the hardware is on the backside of the teeth, out of sight. They're also not as readily exposed to blunt force facial trauma, which can damage traditional braces (a driving impetus for the Japanese doctor to develop them for his martial arts patients, and his American counterpart for a law enforcement patient working in a rough area).
Patients may also prefer lingual braces over removable clear aligners, another popular tooth-movement option. Fixed lingual braces achieve the same quality of “invisibility” as removable aligners, but without the inconvenience of removing them as patients must with aligners for eating, snacking or cleaning.
They can, however, be costly, running 15-35% more than labial braces. Patients may also have difficulty adjusting to them because they can affect speech and tongue comfort. However, any discomfort and initial regret with choosing lingual braces tends to fade as most patients grow more accustomed to them after a week or so.
There's one other “perk” to lingual braces—unlike patients with traditional braces who have to wait for their removal to see the finished bite correction, patients with lingual braces get an unobstructed view of their progress all during wear. That can definitely boost morale during the long treatment period!
Lingual braces haven't been around long, so not every orthodontist offers them. But the list is growing, and there soon may be a provider near you for this new teeth-straightening alternative.
If you would like more information on lingual braces, 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 “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
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