Braces are so common that we often view them as "ho-hum." But there are aspects about braces that make them remarkable. For one, the fact that we can move teeth at all is a wonder of nature.
We normally experience our teeth as firmly set in the jaw, which can easily lead to assuming they're permanently fixed to the bone. They're not. Teeth are actually held in place by a fibrous gum tissue called the periodontal ligament that lies between them and the jawbone. The ligament anchors to both with tiny fibers, which on the tooth side affixes within a thin substance called cementum deposited on the tooth root.
As we said, we don't normally notice teeth moving. But the periodontal ligament does allow movement on a miniscule scale as a response to normal pressures that accompany biting and chewing. Although we're unaware of it, this movement takes place as the bone and cementum ahead of the direction of movement begin to dissolve. Simultaneously, new bone and cementum develops on the other side of the tooth to stabilize the movement.
Orthodontic treatment takes advantage of this natural process. The anchored wires of braces through attached brackets place pressure on the teeth in the intended direction for tooth movement. The natural mechanism described earlier does the rest. Over time, orthodontists have developed an amazing amount of precision working within this mechanism.
Another aspect about braces and other methods we may take for granted is our motive for even trying to move teeth in the first place. It may seem we're only realigning teeth to produce a more attractive smile—which they can do and why we often refer to braces as the "original smile makeover." But there's an even greater desire—straightening teeth can improve dental health.
Poor bites in turn cause other problems. Misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean of bacterial plaque, which increases the risk of disease. A poor bite can also accelerate teeth wear and contribute to gum problems like recession. We can eliminate or minimize these problems through bite correction.
Whatever your age, braces or other means can vastly benefit your health and your appearance. They may not always seem so, but braces are one of the true wonders of dental care.
If you would like more information on bite correction 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 “Moving Teeth With Orthodontics.”
Today's dentures are more comfortable, more functional and more life-like than ever before—so much so that you might forget you have them in. Even so, dentures do have some downsides, and constant wear only amplifies those.
Our biggest concern is the effect dentures can have on bone health. Older bone is constantly replaced by newer bone, and the forces generated while chewing help stimulate this new growth. When a tooth is lost, however, this growth stimulus vanishes with it for that area of the bone. This may result in a slower growth rate, which can eventually lead to lost bone volume and density.
Dentures can't restore this lost stimulus, and may even make the situation worse. That's because traditional dentures rest on the bony ridges of the gums where the teeth once were. This can put pressure on the underlying bone, which can accelerate bone loss—and even more so when wearers leave their dentures in continuously.
Dentures can also contribute to disease if they're not regularly removed and cleaned. Besides oral yeast infections, bacteria-laden dentures can contribute to the production of a protein called interleukin-6 produced by the white blood cells. If a significant amount of this protein passes into the blood stream, it can increase body-wide inflammation and foster a systemic environment conducive to serious diseases like pneumonia.
If you wear dentures, then, it's good for your health (oral and otherwise) to incorporate two practices into your daily life. The first is to remove your dentures at night while you sleep. Not only will this help slow the progression of bone loss, it will also give your gums a chance to rest and recover from denture wear.
It's also important to regularly clean your dentures, either with an antibacterial soap or a special denture cleanser. During storage, keep your dentures in clean water or a peroxide-based solution designed for dentures. This will reduce the accumulation of bacteria on your dentures that can cause disease.
Dentures restore the dental function and smile appearance that a person loses with their teeth. Taking care of your dentures (and giving your mouth a daily rest from them) will help promote good oral and general health for you and a longer life for your dentures.
If you would like more information on denture care, 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 “Sleeping in Dentures.”
Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations?”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
We're all interested in how our toothpaste tastes, how it freshens breath or how it brightens teeth. But those are secondary to its most important function, which is how well our toothpaste helps us remove dental plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Daily brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, resulting in a much lower risk for dental disease. But while the mechanical action of brushing loosens plaque, toothpaste helps complete its removal. It can do this because of two basic ingredients found in nearly every brand of toothpaste.
The first is an abrasive (or polishing agent), a gritty substance that boosts the effectiveness of the brushing action (which, by the way, alleviates the need for harmful aggressive brushing). These substances, usually hydrated silica, hydrated alumina or calcium carbonate, are abrasive enough to loosen plaque, but not enough to damage tooth enamel.
The other ingredient, a detergent, works much the same way as the product you use to wash greasy dishes—it breaks down the parts of plaque that water can't dissolve. The most common, sodium lauryl sulfate, a safe detergent found in other hygiene products, loosens and dissolves plaque so that it can be easily rinsed away.
You'll also find other ingredients to some degree in toothpaste: flavorings, of course, that go a long way toward making the brushing experience more pleasant; humectants to help toothpaste retain moisture; and binders to hold bind all the ingredients together. And many toothpastes also contain fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical that strengthens tooth enamel.
You may also find additional ingredients in toothpastes that specialize in certain functions like reducing tartar buildup (hardened plaque), easing tooth or gum sensitivity or controlling bacterial growth. Many toothpastes also include whiteners to promote a brighter smile. Your dentist can advise you on what to look for in a toothpaste to meet a specific need.
But your first priority should always be how well your toothpaste helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy. Knowing what's in it can help you choose your toothpaste more wisely.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products and aids, 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 “Toothpaste: What's in It?”
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