Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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.”
Cowboys wear Stetsons; ballerinas wear tutus; and teenagers wear…braces.
At least that's the popular conception. In actuality, one in five orthodontic patients is an adult, a number that continues to grow. Even adults over fifty are straightening their teeth and improving their smiles.
But it's still a big step and many adults are wary to take it because they think it's too late. Not necessarily: If you're an older adult toying with the idea of straightening your teeth, toy no more. Here's the lowdown on late in life orthodontics.
It's not just about the smile. While wanting a more attractive smile may have started you thinking about orthodontics, it's not the primary reason for considering it. Straightening your teeth can improve your health. Because misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean of disease-causing plaque, realigning them properly can improve your hygiene and lower your risk of dental disease. You'll also gain new chewing efficiency and comfort, which can improve your overall health and nutrition.
Health, not age, is the determining factor. Even if you're well advanced in years you can have your teeth straightened—as long as you're healthy. If your teeth, gums and supporting bone aren't in the best of shape, the stresses associated with tooth movement might be further damaging. Some systemic conditions may also interfere, so a full assessment of your overall health will be needed before treatment.
Only you and your dentist need to know. A lot of adults are embarrassed by the prospect of wearing braces. But you might be a candidate for an alternative to braces called clear aligners. These clear plastic trays are worn in a series to gradually move the teeth to their desired positions. You can remove the trays for eating or hygiene, as well as for rare special occasions. But best of all, they're nearly invisible to others.
If you're serious about straightening your teeth, take the next step by undergoing a complete dental exam. If the results of the exam show you're a good candidate for orthodontics, we can discuss your options for transforming your crooked teeth into a more attractive smile, regardless of your age.
If you would like more information on adult 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
If you're well past your teen years, you probably have several reasons for not straightening your crooked smile: the expense, the time and the embarrassment of being a 30-, 40- or 50+- something wearing braces. But we have five reasons why adult orthodontic treatment can be a smart choice: Tom Cruise, Kathy Bates, Carrie Underwood, Danny Glover and Faith Hill.
That's right: Each of these well-known entertainers and performers—and quite a few more—underwent treatment to improve a poor dental bite. And not as teenage unknowns: Each on our list wore braces or clear aligners as famous adults (the paparazzi don't lie!).
Here are a few of the reasons why these celebrities chose to change their smile through orthodontics—and why you can, too.
Age isn't a factor. Straightening misaligned teeth isn't reserved only for tweens and teens—there are a growing number of adults well into their middle and senior years undergoing orthodontic treatment. As long as your teeth are relatively sound and your gums are healthy, it's altogether appropriate to undergo bite correction at any age.
A boost to your dental health. Gaining a more attractive smile through orthodontics is in some ways an added benefit. The biggest gain by far is the improvement straightening your teeth can bring to your long-term health. Misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean of dental plaque, which can increase your disease risk. They also may not function as well as they should while chewing food, which can affect your digestion.
Traditional braces aren't the only way. If the thought of displaying all that hardware makes you cringe, it's not your only option. One of the most popular alternatives is clear aligners, custom plastic trays that are nearly invisible on your teeth—and you can take them out, too. Another method growing in popularity are lingual braces: All the hardware is behind the teeth and thus out of sight. And you can, of course, opt for traditional braces—just ask Tom Cruise!
Oh, yes—a new smile! Orthodontics was truly the first “smile makeover.” It can improve your appearance all by itself, or it can be part of a comprehensive plan to give you an entirely new look. While the gains to your health are primary, don't discount what a more attractive smile could do for you in every area of your life.
The best way to find out if orthodontics will work for you is to visit us for an initial exam and consultation. Just like our A-list celebrities, you may find that orthodontics could be a sound investment in your health and self-confidence.
If you would like more information about orthodontic treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “The Magic of Orthodontics: The Original Smile Makeover.”
The humble squirrel—darlings to some, bird feeder-robbing nuisances to others—has its own month. Since 1995, the Squirrel Lovers Club of Chicago has celebrated October as Squirrel Awareness Month to pay tribute to this diverse family of rodents with over 270 species. It's also an opportunity to indulge in our favorite “squirrelly” fact: Squirrels' teeth don't stop growing.
And we do mean grow. A squirrel's four front incisors increase about 6 inches a year—a good thing since squirrels put those teeth through their paces gnawing through hard-shelled nuts and seeds. If they didn't keep growing, you'd see plenty of squirrels with worn-to-nothing front teeth.
We humans have some cause to be envious because, unlike squirrels, our permanent teeth stop growing by the time we reach adulthood. That could be a problem since nearly all of us encounter tooth wear as we age.
And it could be even worse. Bad habits like crunching ice, biting into hard foods or using our teeth as tools can contribute to accelerated wear. Some people also involuntarily clench or grind their teeth, creating higher than normal pressure that can wear down teeth.
Suffice it to say, it's worth the effort to quit conscious bad dental practices to prevent your teeth from wearing faster than normal. A teeth-grinding habit, though, may require more than willpower: We'll need to look at other ways to reduce its effect on your teeth.
First, you may want to try to reduce chronic stress, the top contributor to adult teeth grinding. Better stress management with the help of counseling, relaxation techniques, biofeedback or group therapy can all help reduce the occurrence of this destructive habit.
Such efforts, though, can take time. In the meantime, we may be able to help you reduce the effect of a grinding habit with a custom-made mouth guard. This plastic guard worn in the mouth prevents teeth from making hard contact with each other during grinding, and so it reduces the damaging forces that can wear down teeth.
By the way, if you've already experienced excessive tooth wear, not all hope is lost. We may be able to restore your teeth to normal length with the help of bonded porcelain veneers or crowns. After a thorough evaluation, we can give you options for turning back the “age clock” on your smile.
Our teeth may not continuously grow like squirrels', but we can still protect them from the effects of excessive wear. Good dental practices and habits—and restorative measures when necessary—can keep your smile looking as young as ever.
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