During your lifetime you’ll eat thousands of meals — and generate a lot of force from chewing over the years. But thanks to a support system of gum tissues and bone, your teeth can normally handle it.
What your teeth can’t handle, though, are higher than normal chewing forces on a continual basis. This can happen if you grind your teeth, which can produce 20-30 times the normal force. The habit often arises in adults because of high stress and often occurs during sleep.
These abnormal forces can stretch the periodontal ligaments that hold teeth in place, cause the teeth to become loose and at increased risk for loss. The best treatment strategy is to reduce clenching with, for example, muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs or lower the effects with a mouth guard that won’t allow the teeth to make solid contact during clenching.
Your teeth can also become loose even with normal chewing forces if you have advanced periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease arises from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on teeth due to poor oral hygiene. As it builds up, it causes inflammation of the gum tissues resulting in bone loss and causing the gums to detach from the teeth, increasing pocket depth.
Our first step in this case is to treat the gum disease by removing plaque and calculus (tartar) from all tooth and gum surfaces. This includes infected areas below the gum line and around the roots, a circumstance that could require surgical access.
As treatment progresses in either of these scenarios the gum tissues heal and often regain their attachment to the teeth. But that can take time, so we may need to stabilize any loose teeth in the short term. The most common way is to splint them to other secure teeth. This is done by using a clear acrylic bonding material to join the loose teeth together with a strip of metal or other rigid material (like joining pickets in a fence).
When symptoms arise, quick action is the key to preventing lost teeth. If you notice swollen, painful or bleeding gums or especially loose teeth, don’t delay — contact us so we can begin treatment as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for loose 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 “Loose Teeth.”
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
If you regularly participate in sports or other physical activity, you’re at a higher risk for dental injuries. While chipped teeth are the most common result of these injuries, a few may result in more serious trauma — dislodged, cracked or knocked out teeth. In these cases, the core of the tooth — the pulp — and the root may have been damaged. Saving the tooth may require endodontic treatment and possibly the expertise of a specialist in the field, an endodontist.
Endodontics, from the Greek words for “within” and “tooth,” is a specialty of dentistry that treats disease or damage affecting the inner parts of a tooth, particularly the pulp chamber, the root canals, and the root. While all dentists are trained in endodontic procedures, an endodontist has advanced training, experience and specialized equipment to address complex cases.
The type of endodontic treatment needed for an injured tooth will depend on the extent of damage. A mature, permanent tooth with pulp damage, for example, may require a root canal treatment. In this procedure the pulp chamber and root canals are thoroughly cleaned out, and then are filled with a special filling to prevent any future infection. Later the tooth should be crowned to permanently seal it. Although a general dentist may perform a root canal, more complex cases, such as a tooth with an extensive root canal network, may need to be performed by an endodontist using microscopic equipment.
A tooth that has undergone severe trauma, especially a knocked out tooth, will need extensive follow-up care by a general dentist and possibly an endodontist to improve its chances of long-term survival. Because of the severity, the tooth may lose viability and the body ultimately may begin to reject it. For this reason, the tooth should be monitored on a regular basis and may need further treatment from time to time, even up to five years after the injury.
One final word: if you participate in sports or exercise activity, you can significantly reduce your risk of dental injury with a mouthguard. There are various types, but the best protection is one custom designed to fit the specific contours of your mouth. We’ll be glad to advise you further on how to protect your teeth from injury.
If you would like more information on dental injury prevention and treatment, 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 “Trauma & Nerve Damage to Teeth.”
October brings fall leaves, pumpkins — and National Dental Hygiene Month. As you change your summer clothes for a fall wardrobe, it may also be time to change your toothbrush for a new one. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months. If that sounds like a lot, just think: This small but very important tool gets a lot of use!
If you brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time as recommended by the ADA, that’s two hours of brushing action in one month. Three to four months of twice-daily brushing makes for six to eight hours of brushing time, or a couple hundred uses. This is all an average toothbrush can take before it stops doing its job effectively.
Toothbrush bristles are manufactured to have the right amount of give, tapering, and end-rounding for optimal cleaning. When new, a toothbrush can work its way around corners and between teeth to remove dental plaque. Old bristles, however, lose the flexibility needed to reach into nooks and crannies for a thorough cleaning. Worn bristles may curl, fray or break — and can scratch your gums or tooth enamel. A toothbrush with stiff, curled bristles does not leave your mouth feeling as clean. This may lead to brushing too often or too hard, which is bad for your gums.
A good rule of thumb is to replace your toothbrush every season — unless you see signs that you need a new one sooner. For example, if you wear braces, you may have to replace your toothbrush more frequently since brushing around braces puts more wear and tear on the brush.
For healthy teeth and gums, make sure your primary oral hygiene tool is in tip-top shape. Taking care of the little things now can avoid inconvenient and expensive dental problems later. Don’t forget to schedule regular professional dental cleanings, and be sure to ask if you have any questions about your dental hygiene routine at home. To learn more about the importance of good oral hygiene, read “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health” and “Dental Hygiene Visit: A True Value in Dental Healthcare” in Dear Doctor magazine.
It’s hard to avoid stress in the 21st Century. We’re all bombarded with stressors, from work to family — even our smart phones!
The problem really isn’t the stressors themselves but how we respond to them and try to relieve stress. This can often have a negative effect on our health. One example: bruxism, also known as teeth grinding or clenching.
These habits involve the rhythmic or spasmodic clenching, biting or grinding of the teeth, often involuntarily, beyond normal chewing function. It often occurs while we sleep — jaw soreness the next morning is a telltale sign. While there are other causes, stress is one of the most common for adults, bolstered by diet and lifestyle habits like tobacco or drug use, or excessive caffeine and alcohol.
Teeth grinding’s most serious consequence is the potential for dental problems. While teeth normally wear as we age, grinding or clenching habits can accelerate it. Wearing can become so extensive the enamel erodes, possibly leading to fractures or cracks in the tooth.
When dealing with this type of bruxism, we must address the root cause: your relationship to stress. For example, if you use tobacco, consider quitting the habit — not only for your overall health, but to remove it as a stress stimulant. The same goes for cutting back on your consumption of caffeinated or alcoholic drinks.
Adopt an “unwinding” pattern at night before you sleep to better relax: for example, take a warm bath or keep work items or digital media out of the bedroom.Â Many people also report relaxation or stress-relief techniques like meditation, mindfulness or biofeedback helpful.
There’s another useful tool for easing the effects of nighttime teeth grinding: an occlusal guard. This custom-fitted appliance worn while you sleep prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other when you clench them. This can greatly reduce the adverse effects on your teeth while you’re working on other stress coping techniques.
Teeth grinding or clenching can prove harmful over time. The sooner you address this issue with your dentist or physician, the less likely you’ll experience these unwanted consequences.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”
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