For several decades, dentists have been saving teeth from tooth decay following a few basic guidelines: 1) Identify decay as soon as possible; 2) Thoroughly remove decayed tooth structure; and 3) Fill any cavities. With millions of diseased teeth rescued, observing these simple steps have proven a rousing success.
But as with most things, even this successful protocol isn't perfect. For one, some healthy tissue gets removed along with the diseased portions. The average percentage of "collateral damage" has dropped over the years, but it still happens—and a reduction in healthy tissue can make a tooth less structurally sound.
Another drawback, at least from the patient's perspective, is the dental drill used for removing decay and preparing cavities for filling. Many people find drilling unpleasant, whether from its vibrations in the mouth or its high-pitched whine. The drill's burr head design also contributes to greater healthy tissue loss.
But those weaknesses have lessened over the last few years, thanks to innovations on a number of fronts.
Better risk management. Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air—it arises out of risk factors unique to an individual patient like personal hygiene, bacterial load, saliva production or even genetics. Taking the time to identify a patient's "tooth decay risk score" can lead to customized treatments and practices that can minimize the occurrence of decay.
Earlier detection. Like other aspects of dental health, the sooner we detect decay, the less damage it causes and the more successful our treatment. X-rays remain the workhorse for detecting decay, but now with improvements like digital film and better equipment. We're also using newer technologies like laser fluorescence and infrared technology that can "see" decay that might otherwise go undetected.
Less invasive treatment. The dental drill is now being used less with the advent of air abrasion technology. Air abrasion utilizes a concentrated spray of particles to remove diseased tooth structure more precisely than drilling. That means less healthy tissue loss—and a more pleasant (and quieter!) experience for the patient.
In effect, "less is more" could describe these improvements to traditional decay treatment. They and other methods promise healthier teeth and happier patients.
If you would like more information on current treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
Besides straight and translucent teeth, an attractive smile has another important component: balance. In a great smile, the visible areas of the teeth and gums are in balanced proportion to one another.
But what is the ideal proportion between teeth and gums? Although aesthetic appeal is largely “in the eye of the beholder,” dental professionals typically consider a properly sized tooth to be around 10 mm in visible length. As for the upper gums, no more than 4 mm of tissue should show when smiling. Teeth appearing shorter than 10 mm or the gums displaying more than 4 mm can create an effect called a “gummy smile.”
Fortunately, there are different approaches for correcting a gummy smile, depending on what's causing the appearance of gumminess. Not only are there different causes, but they can be diverse in nature.
Obviously, an actual excess of gum tissue can cause a smile to look gummy—but so can shortened teeth. One possible solution called crown lengthening could help correct either possibility. During the procedure, we remove any excess gum tissue or reposition the gums after reshaping the underlying bone to reveal more of the tooth crown. Worn or shortened teeth can also be made to look longer with porcelain veneers.
A gummy smile could also be caused by a hypermobile lip, in which the lip rises higher than normal while smiling. We may be able to prevent this temporarily by injecting Botox into the lip muscles, which paralyzes them and inhibits their ability to move upward. A more permanent approach is to surgically restrict the upward movement of the lip muscles.
The gums may also seem too prominent if the upper jaw is longer in proportion to the face. One way to correct this is orthognathic surgery, a procedure that moves the upper jaw to a higher position on the skull. This can reduce the jaw profile with the face and subsequently affect how much of the gums show while smiling.
These solutions range from relatively minor to significantly invasive. The first step, though, is to find out what's really behind your gummy smile before taking the next step to make it more attractive.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
You've probably heard your dentist say more than once to cut back on sweets. That's good advice not only for keeping your teeth healthy, but your whole body as well.
As a carbohydrate, a macronutrient that helps supply energy to the body's cells, sugar is prevalent naturally in many foods, particularly fruits and dairy. The form of which we're most concerned, though, is refined sugar added to candy, pastries and other processed foods.
Believe it or not, three out of four of the 600,000 food items on supermarket shelves contain refined sugar, often hiding under names like "high fructose corn syrup" or "evaporated cane syrup." So-called healthy foods with labels like "low fat" or "diet" have added sugar and chemicals to replace the taste of fat they've removed.
But perhaps the biggest sugar sources in the average U.S. diet are sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks. With the added volume of sugar in processed foods, the growing consumption of sweetened beverages has pushed the average American's sugar intake to nearly 20 teaspoons a day—more than three times the recommended daily allowance.
And right along with the increased consumption of sugar, cases of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other systemic diseases have likewise risen. And, yes, preventable tooth decay continues to be a problem, especially in children, with sugar a major contributing factor in the prevalence of cavities.
So, what can you do to keep your daily sugar intake within healthy bounds?
- Check ingredient labels on packaged food for added sugar, chemicals or preservatives. If it contains sugar or "scientific"-sounding ingredients, leave it on the shelf.
- Be wary of health claims on food packaging. "Low fat," for example, is usually an indicator of added sugar.
- Drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sodas, sports drinks or even juices. Doing so will vastly lower your daily intake of sugar.
A healthy diet with much less sugar and regular exercise will help you stay healthy. And with a lower risk for tooth decay, your teeth will also reap the benefits.
If you would like more information on the effects of sugar on your oral and general health, 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 Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
Inauguration night is usually a lavish, Washington, D.C., affair with hundreds attending inaugural balls throughout the city. And when you're an A-List celebrity whose husband is a headliner at one of the events, it's sure to be a memorable night. As it was for super model Chrissy Teigen—but for a slightly different reason. During the festivities in January, Teigen lost a tooth.
Actually, it was a crown, but once she told a Twitter follower that she loved it “like he was a real tooth.” The incident happened while she was snacking on a Fruit Roll-Up (those sticky devils!), and for a while there, husband and performer John Legend had to yield center stage to the forlorn cap.
But here's something to consider: If not for the roll-up (and Teigen's tweets on the accident) all of us except Teigen, her dentist and her inner circle, would never have known she had a capped tooth. That's because today's porcelain crowns are altogether life-like. You don't have to sacrifice appearance to protect a tooth, especially one that's visible when you smile (in the “Smile Zone”).
It wasn't always like that. Although there have been tooth-colored materials for decades, they weren't as durable as the crown of choice for most of the 20th Century, one made of metal. But while gold or silver crowns held up well against the daily grind of biting forces, their metallic appearance was anything but tooth-like.
Later, dentists developed a hybrid of sorts—a metal crown fused within a tooth-colored porcelain shell. These PFM (porcelain-fused-to-metal) crowns offered both strength and a life-like appearance. They were so effective on both counts that PFMs were the most widely used crowns by dentists until the early 2000s.
But PFMs today make up only 40% of currently placed crowns, down from a high of 83% in 2005. What dethroned them? The all-ceramic porcelain crown—but composed of different materials from years past. Today's all-ceramic crowns are made of more durable materials like lithium disilicate or zirconium oxide (the strongest known porcelain) that make them nearly as strong as metal or PFM crowns.
What's more, coupled with advanced techniques to produce them, all-ceramic crowns are incredibly life-like. You may still need a traditional crown on a back tooth where biting forces are much higher and visibility isn't an issue. But for a tooth in the “Smile Zone”, an all-ceramic crown is more than suitable.
If you need a new crown (hopefully not by way of a sticky snack) or you want to upgrade your existing dental work, see us for a complete exam. A modern all-ceramic crown can protect your tooth and enhance your smile.
If you would like more information about crowns or other kinds of dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Are your stained teeth bumming you out? There's good news—you can transform that dull and dingy smile yourself with a tooth whitening product.
There are dozens of over-the-counter whitening kits that allow you to brighten your own smile. Although not as controlled and long-lasting as a dentist's professional whitening, these DIY kits can still give you effective results.
But since these products involve chemical solutions that bleach tooth enamel, there's a common concern about their safety. Could you be harming your teeth by using a home whitening kit?
The answer is no—as long as you follow the manufacturer's directions for using the product. These kits have been formulated with a lower percentage of bleaching agent (usually 10% carbamide peroxide) than whitening solutions used by dentists. They've also been subjected to several clinical studies gauging both their effectiveness and safety.
That said, though, exceeding a product's recommended directions and frequency of use could cause you problems. If not used properly, a bleaching solution can erode tooth enamel—and this protective tooth layer doesn't grow back! As long as you whiten "within the lines," so to speak, you shouldn't encounter this kind of situation.
With that said, though, there are good reasons to consult your dentist before using a whitening product, or have them perform the whitening for you.
For one thing, an over-the-counter whitening product won't work if the staining originates from inside a tooth. It's wise, then, to have a dental examination first before using a whitening product to uncover this or any other underlying dental problems that should be addressed first.
You may also find a professional whitening will give you a more desirable result. A stronger professional bleaching solution under a dentist's expert control can produce a brighter, longer lasting smile than a home use product. A dentist may also be able to control the level of brightness better to help you achieve the smile effect you desire, from subtle white to ultra-bright.
Whichever way you go, your dentist can advise you on your options and make sure your teeth are in good shape for whitening. The end result can be a brighter smile—and a brighter mood.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
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