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.”
November is National Diabetes Month—a time to focus on a disease that affects more than 400 million people around the world. What does diabetes have to do with oral health? Plenty! Here's a true-or-false quiz to test your knowledge on this important topic.
TRUE OR FALSE:
1. Diabetes and gum disease are connected.
TRUE. Studies have found a clear association between diabetes and gum (periodontal) disease, especially when diabetes is not well controlled. People with poorly controlled diabetes have a more severe inflammatory response to the bacteria that cause gum disease. While inflammation is normally a protective reaction of the body's immune system, too much inflammation can actually make the condition worse. In the case of gum disease, the reverse is also true: Untreated gum disease can worsen blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. The good news is that treatment of periodontal disease has been shown to improve blood sugar control.
2. People with diabetes can't have dental implants.
FALSE. Research has shown that dental implants can be a very successful tooth-replacement treatment for people with diabetes. But again, blood sugar control can be a factor. Dental implants are titanium posts that serve as artificial tooth roots. Minor surgery is required to insert an implant into the bone beneath the gums; a realistic-looking dental crown is later attached to it so it can look and function like a natural tooth. Studies have shown that it takes longer for the bone to heal around implants in people with poorly controlled diabetes. That doesn't make implant treatment impossible, but it does mean that it may be managed differently. For example, an implant may be allowed to heal for a longer period of time before a crown is attached to it.
3. People with diabetes can't do anything to improve their oral health.
FALSE. People with diabetes can have a very positive impact on their oral heath, by doing their best to control blood sugar levels with a healthy diet and exercise, and by sticking to an effective daily oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing at least once each day to remove bacterial plaque between teeth. Regular dental checkups and cleanings are also essential—not just for people with diabetes, but for everyone!
If you have additional questions about diabetes and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about diabetes and oral health by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
You’ve probably heard a lot about dental implants as replacements for missing teeth. So, why are they so popular with both patients and dentists? While other restorations can mimic the color, shape and texture of natural teeth, dental implants have one clear advantage — and it’s all about the bone.
The bone in your jaws provides stability and structure for teeth — without it and the intricate system of gum tissue attachments teeth couldn’t survive the normal biting and chewing forces they encounter every day. That’s why bone health is crucial for maintaining tooth integrity.
Teeth also help bone to remain strong and healthy. The forces we generate as we chew transmit through the tooth roots to the bone, which stimulates continuing growth. If a tooth is missing, however, the bone around it doesn’t receive this stimulation and may begin to lose some of its volume and density — up to a quarter of its width in just the first year after tooth loss.
This bone loss continues even with other restorations because they’re not able to stimulate bone growth. But dental implants can. This is because the portion of the implant imbedded into the bone is constructed most often of titanium, which has a natural affinity toward bone. Bone cells are naturally attracted to titanium and will begin to grow and attach to the metal surface, a process known as osseointegration.
Through osseointegration, the implant develops a durable bond with the jawbone a few weeks after surgery that surpasses other restorations, and is a prime reason for their success rate. Although installing implants can be an expensive undertaking, their proven longevity may result in less maintenance, repair or replacement costs over time than other replacement options.
If you’re considering dental implants, remember it’s what you can’t see beneath the attractive crown that makes them special. And it’s a choice you can depend on to provide you a beautiful smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants.”
During his former career as a professional footballer (that's a soccer star to U.S. sports fans) David Beckham was known for his skill at “bending” a soccer ball. His ability to make the ball curve in mid-flight — to avoid a defender or score a goal — led scores of kids to try to “bend it like Beckham.” But just recently, while enjoying a vacation in Canada with his family, “Becks” tried snowboarding for the first time — and in the process, broke one of his front teeth.
Some fans worried that the missing tooth could be a “red card” for Beckham's current modeling career… but fortunately, he headed straight to the dental office as soon as he arrived back in England. Exactly what kind of treatment is needed for a broken tooth? It all depends where the break is and how badly the tooth is damaged.
For a minor crack or chip, cosmetic bonding may offer a quick and effective solution. In this procedure, a composite resin, in a color custom-made to match the tooth, is applied in liquid form and cured (hardened) with a special light. Several layers of bonding material can be applied to re-construct a larger area of missing tooth, and chips that have been saved can sometimes be reattached as well.
When more tooth structure is missing, dental veneers may be the preferred restorative option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that are bonded to the front surface of the teeth. They can not only correct small chips or cracks, but can also improve the color, spacing, and shape of your teeth.
But if the damage exposes the soft inner pulp of the tooth, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. In this procedure, the inflamed or infected pulp tissue is removed and the tooth sealed against re-infection; if a root canal is not done when needed, the tooth will have an increased risk for extraction in the future. Following a root canal, a tooth is often restored with a crown (cap), which can look good and function well for many years.
Sometimes, a tooth may be knocked completely out of its socket; or, a severely damaged tooth may need to be extracted (removed). In either situation, the best option for restoration is a dental implant. Here, a tiny screw-like device made of titanium metal is inserted into the jaw bone in a minor surgical procedure. Over time, it fuses with the living bone to form a solid anchorage. A lifelike crown is attached, which provides aesthetic appeal and full function for the replacement tooth.
So how's Beckham holding up? According to sources, “David is a trooper and didn't make a fuss. He took it all in his stride." Maybe next time he hits the slopes, he'll heed the advice of dental experts and wear a custom-made mouthguard…
If you have questions about restoring damaged teeth, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Children's Dental Concerns and Injuries.”
Are you interested in dental implants but a little hesitant about the surgery? Don’t be—this procedure to imbed an implant’s titanium post in the jawbone is relatively minor with little to no discomfort for most patients.
Some time before, however, we’ll need to pre-plan the surgery to pinpoint the best location for the implant, critical to achieving a solid hold and a life-like appearance. During these first visits we often create a surgical guide, a device inserted in the mouth during surgery that identifies the exact location for the hole (or channel) in the bone we’ll drill to insert the implant.
On surgery day, we’ll prepare you for a pain-free and relaxing experience. If you’re normally anxious about dental work, we may prescribe a sedative for you to take ahead of time. As we begin we’ll thoroughly numb the area with local anesthesia to ensure you won’t feel any pain.
The surgery begins with an incision through the gum tissue to access the underlying bone. Once it’s exposed, we’ll insert the surgical guide and begin a drilling sequence to gradually increase the size of the channel. This takes time because we want to avoid damaging the bone from overheating caused by friction.
Once we’ve created a channel that matches precisely the implant’s size and shape, we’ll remove the implant from its sterile packaging and immediately fit and secure it in the channel. We’ll then take x-rays to ensure it’s in the best position possible.
Satisfied we’ve properly situated and secured the implant, we’ll suture the gum tissue back in place to protect the implant with or without attaching a healing abutment to it as it fully integrates with the jawbone over the next few months (after which you’ll come back to receive your permanent crown). After a short recovery, you’ll return to full activity. Most patients only experience mild to moderate discomfort usually manageable with over-the-counter pain medication like aspirin or ibuprofen.
While implantation is a long process, you’ll be obtaining what’s considered by most dentists and their patients as the most durable and life-like tooth replacement available. Your new attractive smile will be well worth it.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery: What to Expect Before, During and After.”
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