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.”
Anyone at any age, including older children and teenagers, can lose or be born missing a permanent tooth. And while those missing teeth can be restored, replacing them in patients who haven’t yet reached adulthood can be tricky.
That’s because their dental and facial development isn’t finished. This is especially problematic for dental implants because as the jaws continue to grow, a “non-growing” implant could eventually appear out of alignment with the surrounding natural teeth. That’s why it’s often better to install a temporary restoration until the jaws fully mature in early adulthood. Two great choices are a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded (“Maryland”) bridge.
While “dentures” and “teens” don’t seem to go together, an RPD in fact can effectively restore a teen’s lost dental function and appearance. Of the various types of RPDs the one usually recommended for teens has a hard acrylic base colored to resemble the gums, to which we attach prosthetic (“false”) teeth at their appropriate positions on the jaw.
Besides effectiveness, RPDs are easy to clean and maintain. On the downside, though, an RPD can break and—as a removable appliance—become lost. They can also lose their fit due to changes in jaw structure.
The bonded bridge is similar to a traditional fixed bridge. But there’s one big difference: traditional bridges crown the natural teeth on either side of the missing teeth to secure them in place. The supporting teeth must be significantly (and permanently) altered to accommodate the life-like crowns on either end of the bridge.
Instead, a bonded bridge affixes “wings” of dental material extending from the back of the bridge to the back of the natural teeth on either side. While not quite as strong as a regular bridge, the bonded bridge avoids altering any natural teeth.
While a fixed bridge conveniently stays in place, they’re more difficult than an RPD to keep clean. And while less prone to breakage, they aren’t entirely immune to certain stresses from biting and chewing especially in the presence of some poor bites (how the upper and lower teeth come together).
Choosing between the two restorations will depend on these and other factors. But either choice can serve your teen well until they’re able to permanently replace their missing teeth.
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Although energy and sports drinks have different purposes, they have one thing in common: they often contain added citric and other acids to improve taste and prolong shelf life. Their high acid content can harm tooth enamel.
Although enamel is the strongest substance in the body, acid can dissolve its mineral content. And although saliva neutralizes acid after eating or drinking and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel, it may not be able to keep up if the mouth remains acidic for a prolonged period of time.
That could happen with both beverage types. While energy drinks have higher acid levels than sports drinks, both are high compared with other beverages.
A recent laboratory experiment studied the two beverages’ effect on tooth enamel. The researchers submerged samples of enamel in six different beverage brands (three from each category) for fifteen minutes, and then in artificial saliva for two hours to simulate mouth conditions. They repeated this cycle four times a day for five days.
At the end of the experiment the enamel in the energy drinks lost on average 3.1 % of their structure, while the sports drink samples lost 1.5%. Although energy drinks appeared more destructive, the acid in both beverages caused enamel damage. Although there are other factors to consider in real life, the experiment results do raise concerns about both beverages’ effect on dental health.
You can, however, minimize the potential harm to your enamel from energy or sports drinks. First, try other beverage choices lower in acid; water, for example, is a natural hydrator and neutral in pH. Try to only drink energy or sports beverages at mealtimes when your saliva is most active. And after drinking, rinse your mouth out with water to dilute any remaining acid.
And although it sounds counterintuitive, wait about an hour to brush your teeth after drinking one of these beverages. Your enamel can be in a softened state before saliva can re-mineralize it, so brushing earlier could remove tiny amounts of enamel minerals.
Taking these steps with energy or sports beverages could help you reduce the chances for enamel erosion. Doing so may help you avoid unnecessary damage to your teeth and overall dental health.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on dental health, 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 “Think Before You Drink.”
Your teeth and gums have a highly sensitive network of nerves. But while it can signal even the most subtle discomfort we may not be able to identify the cause with pinpoint accuracy. As a result, tooth pain could indicate more than one kind of problem including a decayed tooth, root sensitivity, infected gum tissues (like an abscess) or a dying pulp signaled by diseased nerve tissue inside the tooth.
On the other hand, not all tooth pain is the same: it can be dull or sharp, continuous or intermittent. It can feel like a constant, throbbing ache or a sharp wince when you eat or drink something cold or hot, or when you bite down. These differences could point our diagnostic examination in the right direction.
For example, sharp, throbbing pain could indicate deep tooth decay, especially if it suddenly stops. That would likely mean the nerves within the tooth pulp under attack by the infection have died and can no longer transmit pain. The infection, on the other hand is still very much active — this usually requires a root canal treatment (cleaning out the pulp and root canals of diseased and dead tissue and filling the empty spaces) if we’re to save the tooth.
If, however, you’re experiencing sensitivity from temperature or pressure, we could be facing at least a couple of scenarios. For one, your tooth could be fractured. More likely, though, periodontal (gum) disease triggered by bacterial plaque has caused the gum tissues to shrink back (recede) from the affected teeth so that the sensitive dentin layer is exposed and no longer protected by the gum tissue.
If we diagnose gum disease, we’ll need to aggressively remove bacterial plaque from all tooth and gum surfaces. This procedure might require more than one appointment and the possibility of surgery if we encounter deep pockets of infection, especially around the roots. If gum recession is severe you may also need grafting surgery to replace the missing gum tissue or to re-cover the exposed areas of your teeth.
So, knowing the source of tooth pain will direct the course of treatment to follow. With proper treatment, though, the chances are good we can not only restore your teeth and gums to optimum health but we can end the pain.
If you would like more information on treating tooth pain, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
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