Over the last century effectively treating a decayed tooth has often required removing any decayed structure with drilling and then filling the remaining cavity. While this approach does save teeth that might otherwise be lost, it can also result in a fair amount of healthy structure removed in the process.
But continuing advances in dentistry are now making possible a new approach to tooth decay treatment that preserves as much of the healthy portions of tooth as possible. This new way is often referred to as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
The primary goal of MID treatment is to intercept and treat decay as early as possible to minimize tooth damage. It begins with helping patients identify their own individual risk factors for decay such as the presence of disease-causing bacteria, the adequacy of their saliva flow, or their lifestyle and dietary habits. We then recommend changes or preventive measures to reduce those risks.
The next step in MID is using various diagnostic technologies to find decay as early as possible. X-rays continue to play a major role, but dentists are also using dental microscopy to magnify the earliest forms of decay. Many also utilize laser fluorescence, infrared photography and optical scanning to further “see” decay difficult to detect with the naked eye.
In regard to treatments, MID adopts the adage “less is more.” If caught early enough, we can encourage the re-mineralization of enamel that acid has eroded with CPP-ACP, a substance acquired from milk, or strengthen teeth with topical fluoride applications. Instead of the dental drill, many dentists now turn to air abrasion for decay removal, equipment that emits a fine stream of abrasive particles that harms less healthy structure than a drill.
And if lasers continue to develop at their current pace, we’ll be able to use this technology to perform much more precise decay treatment than possible with manual instruments. As a result, we’ll be able to treat decayed teeth with less invasive means to preserve as much healthy structure as possible.
As these and other developments continue, MID promises a bright future for preventing and treating tooth decay. As a result, there’ll be less tooth structure loss and more attractive and healthy smiles.
If you would like more information on the latest techniques for treating 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.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Visiting the dentist for cleanings, checkups and needed dental work is one of the pillars of dental health, along with daily hygiene and a nutritious diet. But an estimated 50% of people have some form of anxiety about dental visits — and around 15% actually avoid care because of it.
If you feel nervous about dental visits, there are ways to reduce your anxiety. First and foremost is to find a compassionate provider you trust and feel comfortable around, who listens non-judgmentally to your concerns.
But that's only the beginning: depending on your degree of anxiety, you could require more help to relax through sedation medication. The drugs and methods used can induce various degrees of consciousness ranging from mild relaxation to more sleep-like states.
The most basic is oral sedation. Typically, this involves taking the medication by mouth about an hour before an appointment. You can take it by itself to increase relaxation or along with other forms of sedation (like inhaling nitrous oxide gas) or local anesthesia.
Beyond inhalation, a higher level of sedation involves injecting the medication into the blood stream through an intravenous (IV) drip. This induces a deeper “semi-awake” level of consciousness, but differs from general anesthesia, which places a patient into unconsciousness to block pain during a major procedure. With IV sedation you may still be able to respond to verbal commands or touch; and although you're monitored for vital signs you won't need medical assistance to maintain breathing and heart function.
With today's advanced sedation drugs and methods, we can control dosages to achieve just the right level of sedation, as well as reduce the amount of time the drug may affect you afterward in recovery. Many drugs also have an amnesiac effect so that you'll remember little if any about the procedure afterward.
Whether by mouth, inhalation or with an IV, sedation therapy can make a difference no matter what your level of anxiety. And if your dental visits continue to be comfortable and pleasant ones, you're more likely to receive the care you need to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on sedation methods during dental 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
About one-quarter of people have teeth that never developed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are wisdom teeth, they can also include premolars or lateral incisors (the teeth right next to the two front teeth, the central incisors).
Missing teeth can have an adverse effect on smile appearance. But that’s not all: because each type of tooth performs a specific function, one or more missing teeth can lead to bite problems and disruption of dental function. In the case of missing lateral incisors, the canines (eye teeth) normally positioned beside and toward the back of the mouth from them may begin to drift into the empty space and grow next to the central incisors. This can result in greater difficulty chewing and a smile that “doesn’t look right.”
To correct this situation, we must often first attempt to orthodontically move any out of place teeth to their normal positions. This re-establishes the space needed for the missing teeth to be replaced, which we can then restore with prosthetic (artificial) teeth. If the permanent restoration of choice involves dental implants, we’ll usually need to wait until the completion of jaw development around early adulthood. In the mean time, we can use a retainer appliance to hold the teeth in their new positions with prosthetic teeth attached to fill the empty space for a better smile appearance in the interim.
The real issue is timing—beginning orthodontic treatment when appropriate to a person’s oral development, as well as completing the implant restoration when the mouth has matured sufficiently. There are other considerations such as bone volume, which may have diminished due to the missing teeth. At some point we may need to consider grafting to build up the bone sufficiently to support dental implants.
This all may entail a team approach by various specialties like orthodontics, periodontics and implantology. Working together and coordinating within a timely schedule, a mouth and smile marred by undeveloped teeth can be transformed.
If you would like more information on treating smiles with underdeveloped permanent 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.”
If you want to keep that new smile after orthodontic treatment, you’ll need to wear a retainer for awhile. Teeth have a tendency to “rebound” to their old positions and a retainer prevents that from happening.
Most people are familiar with the standard removable retainer. But there’s another option: a bonded retainer. While performing the same function as a removable one, the bonded retainer differs in one important aspect—it’s fixed in place and can’t be removed except by a dentist. It’s especially useful for certain bite repairs like the closure of the gap between the front teeth.
If you’re thinking this retainer sounds a lot like the braces just removed, it’s not. The main part of a bonded retainer is a thin metal wire that we bond with a dental composite material across the back of the affected teeth. While you can definitely feel it with your tongue it can’t be seen by others, which is an advantage over many removable retainers.
The fixed nature of bonded retainers also creates a couple of advantages, especially for younger patients. There’s no compliance issue as with removable retainers—the patient doesn’t have the option of taking it out. That also means it can’t be lost, a frequent and costly occurrence with the removable variety.
But a bonded retainer does have some drawbacks. For one, the wire and composite material make it more difficult to floss. There’s also a possibility of breakage from high biting forces, which if that should occur must be immediately repaired to avoid the teeth rebounding. But while removable retainers have their downsides, it’s much easier with them to keep the teeth clean of plaque—you simply take the appliance out to brush and floss.
With your dentist’s help you can weigh the pros and cons of both types of retainers and decide which is best for you or your child. Whichever one you choose, wearing a retainer will help protect that hard-earned smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on protecting your bite after orthodontic 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 “Bonded Retainers: What are the Pros and Cons?”
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