For years people tuned in to enjoy one of David Letterman's "Top 10 lists," a frequent gag performed on his show Late Night. Each countdown list poked fun at off-the-wall topics like "Top 10 New York City Science Projects" or "Top 10 Questions People Ask when Shopping for an Umbrella."
Recently, the American Dental Association presented their own kind of list—"America's Top 3 Oral Health Problems"—based on surveys of around 15,000 people across the U.S. But unlike the popular Late Night lists, this one is no laughing matter.
Coming in at #3, 29% of the respondents indicated they had experienced tooth pain at some time in their life. Tooth pain is the body's way of alerting to trouble in the mouth, anything from a decayed tooth to a gum abscess. The best thing to do if you have any persistent oral pain is to see your dentist as soon as possible for a thorough examination. And you should do this even if the pain goes away.
The second most prominent oral problem among people is difficulty biting or chewing, about 31% of those in the surveys. As with tooth pain, the reasons can vary greatly, including cracked, loose or deeply decayed teeth, dentures or jaw joint disorders (TMD). Because dental disease is usually the ultimate culprit, the best way to avoid this is to practice daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. And, as with tooth pain, you should see your dentist if you're having symptoms.
At 33% of respondents, the number one oral problem in America is chronic dry mouth. It's a constant inadequate flow of saliva often caused by medications or certain systemic conditions. Because saliva helps protect the mouth against infection, a restricted flow increases your risk of disease. If you notice your mouth is dry all the time, you should talk to your dentist about ways to boost your saliva. If you're taking medications, ask your doctor if they could be causing your symptoms and if you could change to something else.
While any of these Top 3 oral problems can be a stepping stone to more serious dental problems, it doesn't necessarily have to lead to that. You can improve your dental health through daily oral hygiene and regular dental treatment. And it might help you stay off this unpleasant list.
If you would like more information on treating dental 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 “Top 3 Oral Health Problems.”
Roughly 75% of American adults are missing at least one tooth, mostly from disease, trauma or extraction for other dental reasons. A few missing teeth, though, never erupted in the first place.
It’s a rare occurrence, but sometimes people are born without certain teeth, usually back molars or premolars that may not be as visible. Occasionally, though, it’s the more visible upper lateral incisors positioned on either side of the central incisors (the two front teeth on either side of the midline of the face).
Missing incisors can lead to poor bites and create difficulties for speech development and nutrition. But these highly visible (or in this case, “invisible”) teeth can also detract from an otherwise attractive smile.
There are ways, however to correct a smile with missing lateral incisors. Here are 3 of those ways.
Canine substitution. We can fill the vacancy created by the missing incisors by orthodontically moving the canines (the “eyeteeth,” normally next to them) into the space. Braces can close the gap in a conservative way, while possibly correcting any existing bite problems. Because canines are larger than incisors, its often necessary to re-contour them and restore them with a crown, veneer or bonding material to look more natural.
Fixed bridge. A second way to fill the space is with a dental bridge. A bridge consists of a series of crowns fused together in a row. The middle crowns replace the missing teeth; the end crowns cap the natural teeth on either end of the gap, which establishes support for the bridge. Another variation is a cantilever bridge in which only one natural tooth is capped for support. With either type, though, the capped teeth will be permanently reduced in size to accommodate the crowns.
Dental implants. This popular restoration is also a favorite for correcting missing incisors. Implants provide a life-like and durable replacement for missing teeth, while not requiring any alterations to existing teeth as with a bridge. But they are more expensive than the other options, and they require adequate space between the adjacent teeth for insertion, as well as healthy bone for proper placement and anchorage. This is also an option that must wait until the jaw has fully matured in early adulthood.
If you would like more information on treating congenitally missing 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow: Treatment Options for Congenitally Missing Lateral Incisors.”
Modern dentistry offers several great ways to permanently replace missing teeth, including high-tech dental implants and traditional fixed bridgework. But sometimes, for one reason or another, it isn’t possible to have these treatments done right away. If you need an aesthetic way to temporarily replace missing teeth, a flexible partial denture could be the answer you’re looking for.
Certain kinds of removable partial dentures (RPDs) can be used as permanent tooth replacement systems, especially for people who aren’t candidates for dental implants or fixed bridges. But in the past, if you needed a temporary tooth replacement, one of the few alternatives was the type of rigid RPD often called a “flipper.” This consists of a firm, relatively thick acrylic base that supports one or more lifelike replacement teeth. It attaches to the “necks” of existing natural teeth via metal clasps, which gives it stability and strength.
However, the same rigidity and thickness that gives these rigid RPDs their durability can make them uncomfortable to wear, while the acrylic material they are made of is capable of staining or breaking. Over time, the RPDs are prone to coming loose — and they are also easy to flip in and out with the tongue, which gives them their nickname.
Flexible partial dentures, by contrast, are made of pliable polyamides (nylon-like plastics) that are thin, light and resistant to breakage. Instead of using metal wires to attach to the teeth, flexible RPDs are held securely in place by thin projections of their gum-colored bases, which fit tightly into the natural contours of the gumline. Their elasticity and light weight can make them more comfortable to wear. Plus, besides offering aesthetic replacements for missing teeth, their natural-looking bases can cover areas where gums have receded — making existing teeth look better as well.
All RPDs must be removed regularly for thorough cleaning — but it’s especially important for flexible RPD wearers to practice excellent oral hygiene. That’s because the projections that hold them in place can also trap food particles and bacteria, which can cause decay. And, like most dentures, RPDs should never be worn overnight. Yet with proper care, flexible RPDs offer an inexpensive and aesthetic way to temporarily replace missing teeth.
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
After ruling out other causes for your jaw pain, your doctor or dentist has made a diagnosis: a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). With TMD, your pain symptoms and other dysfunctions are due to a problem associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your upper skull (cranium).
There are a number of treatment options, but most can be classified as either aggressive or conservative. Aggressive treatments are more interventional and target problems with the teeth such as bite problems or jaw relationships as they relate to the bite, which are thought to be underlying causes for TMD. Such treatments include orthodontics to realign teeth, crown or bridgework, or surgical treatment to the jaw or joint itself. These treatments are controversial and irreversible — with no guarantee of symptom relief.
It’s thought by many to be appropriate, then, to start with more conservative treatments. Many of these are based on treating the TMJ — which is a joint, a moveable bony structure connected by muscles and tendons — with an orthopedic approach, using treatments similar to those used for other joint problems.
Here, then, are some of those conservative therapies that may relieve your TMD pain and other symptoms.
Physical Therapy. Commonly used to treat pain and dysfunction in other joints, physical therapies like manual manipulation, massage, alternating hot and cold packs or exercises can be used to relax, stretch or retrain the muscles that operate the TMJ while reducing pain and inflammation.
Medications. Medications may be incorporated into the treatment plan to relieve pain, reduce inflammation or relax tense muscles. Besides prescription drugs, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen) are also commonly used.
Bite Appliances. If night-time teeth grinding or clenching habits are a primary cause for the TMD, you may benefit from wearing an occlusal bite guard while you sleep, designed to specifically fit your upper teeth. Because the lower teeth can’t grip the guard’s smooth plastic surface when biting down, they’ll more likely produce less force. This gives the jaw muscles a chance to relax during sleep.
Diet changes. Changing to softer foods, which don’t require strenuous chewing, and eliminating the chewing gum habit will further help reduce stress on the TMJs and also give your muscles a chance to relax and heal.
If you would like more information on TMD and treatment options, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
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