Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
Nothing grabs your attention like a sharp tooth pain, seemingly hitting you out of nowhere while you’re eating or drinking. But there is a reason for your sudden agony and the sooner you find it out, the better the outcome for your oral health.
To understand tooth sensitivity, we need to first look at the three layers of tooth anatomy. In the center is the pulp filled with blood vessels and nerve bundles: it’s completely covered by the next layer dentin, a soft tissue filled with microscopic tubules that transmit sensations like pressure or temperature to the pulp nerves.
The third layer is enamel, which completely covers the crown, the visible part of a tooth. Enamel protects the two innermost tooth layers from disease and also helps muffle sensations so the tooth’s nerves aren’t overwhelmed. The enamel stops at about the gum line; below it the gums provide similar protection and sensation shielding to the dentin of the tooth roots.
Problems occur, though, when the dentin below the gums becomes exposed, most commonly because of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection caused by dental plaque triggers inflammation, which over time can weaken gum tissues and cause them to detach and shrink back (or recede) from the teeth. This can leave the root area vulnerable to disease and the full brunt of environmental sensations that then travel to the nerves in the pulp.
Tooth decay can also create conditions that cause sensitivity. Decay begins when certain oral bacteria multiply and produce higher than normal levels of acid. The acid in turn dissolves the enamel’s mineral content to create holes (cavities) that expose the dentin. Not treated, the infection can eventually invade the pulp, putting the tooth in danger of being lost unless a root canal treatment is performed to remove the infection and seal the tooth from further infection.
So, if you begin experiencing a jolt of pain while eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, see your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. And protect your teeth from dental disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing, as well as seeing your dentist for regular dental cleanings and checkups. Don’t ignore those sharp pains—your teeth may be trying to tell you something.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
Now in your adult years, you feel you’ve functioned pretty well even with a few misaligned teeth. You may also think having them straightened at this point may not be worth the effort and expense.
But there are solid reasons — beyond, of course, the psychological and social benefits gained from a new smile — why straightening teeth even as an adult can be a wise investment. Orthodontics not only enhances your appearance but may also improve your long-term oral health.
Restores proper oral function. Teeth that are aligned properly will tend to function properly. Although you can still chew, speak and smile with teeth that aren’t quite aligned properly, over time you’ll put more stress on both the teeth and the jaws, which could lead to more wear than what normally occurs with aging. By re-aligning teeth to a more normal position you could be extending the life of your teeth and reducing your risk of other functional problems.
Reduces the risk of periodontal (gum) disease. Some people with misaligned teeth are more susceptible to periodontal disease. Besides difficulties with bacterial plaque removal (a must to avoid gum disease), a person with misaligned teeth can also encounter more defects involving bone and gum tissues like gum recession that can contribute to the progression of gum disease. By straightening teeth (and performing plastic periodontal surgery if needed), we can reduce this risk dramatically — as long as we’re performing periodontal treatment for existing gum disease before and during orthodontics.
Facilitates tooth replacement. When we lose a tooth, the mouth’s natural mechanism is to move remaining teeth to fill the void left by the lost tooth. This can make it difficult to position a dental implant or similar tooth replacement in a functional and aesthetically appealing way. By applying orthodontics to move drifting teeth back into their proper place, we restore the best condition for achieving success with a tooth replacement.
The best way to know how much you could benefit from orthodontic treatment is to visit us for a full dental evaluation. From there, we can help you decide if treatment for straightening misaligned teeth is right for you.
If you would like more information on 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 “Why Straighten Teeth.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
You know the basics for a healthy mouth: daily oral hygiene and regular dental checkups. But there are other elements unique to you that also factor into your oral care: the mouth and facial structure you inherited from your parents (like a poor bite) and your past history with dental disease. Both of these help define your individual risk factors for potential dental problems.
That’s why you need a treatment strategy personalized to you to achieve the best health possible for your teeth and gums. We create this plan by using a detailed and thorough 4-step process.
Step 1: Identify your unique risk factors. To find your risk factors for dental disease, we carefully assess your history and other areas of oral function and health: the soundness of your supporting bone and gum structures; your teeth’s structural integrity and any effects from decay, enamel erosion or trauma; functional issues like a poor bite, a jaw joint disorder or a grinding habit; and problems with appearance like disproportional gums.
Step 2: Prioritize risk factors and form the treatment plan. Once we’ve identified your individual risk factors, we assess how each could impact you and whether any require immediate treatment. Any current dental disease should be treated immediately to minimize and prevent further damage. Depending on severity, other issues like bite problems or unattractive teeth may be scheduled for later treatment.
Step 3: Execute the treatment plan. With our priorities in place, we then proceed with treating your teeth and gums, the most pressing needs first. Throughout this step, our goal is to bring your oral health to the highest level possible for you.
Step 4: Monitoring and maintaining health. Once we’ve achieved an optimum level of health, we must remain vigilant about keeping it. So we monitor for any emerging problems and perform preventive treatments like clinical cleanings to help maintain that healthy state. This also means regularly repeating our 4-step process to identify and update any new, emerging risks and incorporate them into our treatment strategy.
While this process may seem overly methodical, it can actually result in more efficient and cost-effective treatment. It’s the best way to ensure good health for your teeth and gums throughout your lifetime.
If you would like more information on creating a long-term dental care plan, 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 “Successful Dental Treatment: Getting the Best Possible Results.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.