People often put a premium on appearance when deciding whether or not to replace a missing tooth. There's more motivation to replace one in the “smile zone,” where the teeth are more visible, than one that's not.
But even if your missing tooth is in the back out of sight, there are still good reasons to replace it. That's because even one lost tooth can have a cascading ill effect on other teeth, the underlying bone or eventually your entire facial structure.
The chief problems caused by a missing tooth occur first with the bone. The act of chewing generates pressure around the teeth. The teeth transmit this pressure through the roots to the bone, which stimulates the bone to grow and remain strong in support of the teeth. When you lose a tooth, the bone no longer receives this growth stimulation.
In time, the replacement rate for older bone cells will slow down and cause the bone volume to decrease. It's possible to detect a change just months after losing a tooth: you can lose an estimated 25% of bone width in the first year.
As the bone diminishes, the jaw loses height and then more width. The gum tissues will also gradually decrease. As a result you may not be able to chew or even speak as well as you once could. Depending on the number of teeth you've lost, the foundational portion of the jawbone — the basal bone — may also decline. The distance between nose and chin may decrease and the cheeks sink in. Without bone support in the rear, the bite can collapse and push the teeth forward out of their normal position.
The best way to avoid this debilitating spiral is to replace a tooth as soon as practical. There are many options, but perhaps the best choice is a dental implant: not only will it provide a life-like appearance, but its affinity with bone will stop bone loss and even encourage new growth.
So, don't neglect replacing that “invisible” tooth if it's lost. Your mouth and ultimately your appearance will be better for it.
If you would like more information on tooth loss and restoration 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Semi-annual office cleanings are important for keeping teeth healthy and disease-free. If you’ve replaced some of your teeth with dental implants, though, you may be thinking they don’t need as much attention from your hygienist.
It’s quite the opposite — cleaning around implants is important, and actually requires additional attention. The reason for this relates to both how dental implants attach to the jaw and their constructive materials.
Natural teeth are held in place by the periodontal ligament with tiny fibers that attach to the teeth on one side of it and to the jawbone on the other. The ligaments and the gingival (gum) fibers (which are also attached to the tooth) provide some disease resistance to the teeth through its rich blood vessel and collagen network. Dental implants, on the other hand, anchor directly into the jawbone. The titanium integrates with the bone, which naturally attracts to the metal and grows around it, which provides the implant’s eventual attachment strength. The implant doesn’t attach to the gum tissue and won’t develop the same relationship with the periodontal ligament as natural teeth.
Bacterial plaque, the primary cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, can collect on an implant crown just as readily as on a natural tooth. Although the materials that make up an implant can’t be affected by a plaque-induced infection, the gum tissues and supporting bone around it can. In fact, because implants lack the disease resistance of the gingival fibers and the ligament attachment, an infection can turn rapidly into a condition known as peri-implantitis that could cause bone and tissue loss and lead to the loss of the implant.
Your hygienist understands the importance of removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from around your dental implant. This often calls for different instruments made of plastics or resins that won’t scratch the implant’s highly polished surface. Scratches provide a haven for bacteria to collect and make it more difficult to dislodge them. Likewise, if the hygienist uses ultrasonic equipment that loosens plaque through vibration, the hygienist will often use nylon or plastic tips to minimize damage to the implant.
And don’t forget your own personal hygiene habits — they’re just as important with dental implants as with natural teeth. Keeping plaque under control, both at home and with your dentist, is crucial to longevity for your dental implants.
If you would like more information on maintaining and cleaning 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 Maintenance.”
Tooth decay is a highly destructive dental disease, responsible along with periodontal (gum) disease for most adult tooth loss. And we become even more susceptible to it as we get older.
One form of decay that’s especially prominent among senior adults is a root cavity. Similar to a cavity in the crown (visible tooth), this form instead occurs at or below the gum line in the roots. They happen mainly because the roots have become exposed due to gum recession, a common consequence of periodontal (gum) disease and/or brushing too hard.
Exposed roots are extremely vulnerable to disease because they don’t have the benefit of protective enamel like the tooth crown, covered instead with a thin and less protective mineral-like material called cementum. Normally, that’s not a problem because the gums that would normally cover them offer the bulk of the protection. But with the gums receded, the roots must depend on the less-effective cementum for protection against disease.
Although we treat root cavities in a similar way to those in the crown by removing decayed structure and then filling them, there’s often an added difficulty in accessing them below the gum line. Because of its location we may need to surgically enter through the gums to reach the cavity. This can increase the effort and expense to treat them.
It’s best then to prevent them if at all possible. This means practicing daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the thin, built-up biofilm on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and advanced prevention methods like topical fluoride to strengthen any at-risk teeth.
You should also seek immediate treatment at the first sign of gum disease to help prevent gum recession. Even if it has occurred, treating the overall disease could help renew gum attachment. We may also need to support tissue regeneration with grafting surgery.
Root cavities are a serious matter that could lead to tooth loss. But by practicing prevention and getting prompt treatment for any dental disease, you can stop them from destroying your smile.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root cavities, 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
October is national Dental Hygiene month—and it’s a great time to renew your commitment to good oral health. Everyone knows that to enjoy clean teeth and fresh breath, we need to brush and floss every day. But when it comes to the finer points of tooth brushing, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. So here are five tips to help you get the most bang from your brush.
A soft brush is much better for your mouth than a medium or hard one. That’s because stiffer bristles can actually damage soft gum tissue, and over-vigorous brushing can result in gum recession; this may lead to tooth sensitivity and an increased chance of decay. So always choose a soft-bristled tooth brush—and change your brush every three or four months, when its bristles begin to stiffen with use.
It Isn’t (Just) the Brush…
It’s the hand that holds it. Don’t brush too forcefully, or too long. If you consistently brush too hard, try using just three fingers to grip your brush so you apply less force. And if you have questions or need a refresher, just ask us to demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques next time you’re here.
Think Fluoride First
With many different flavors, whiteners and other ingredients in toothpastes, which one should you choose? It’s up to you, as long as your toothpaste contains one vital ingredient—fluoride. This natural mineral has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel and fight cavities. Look for the seal of the American Dental Association (ADA) on the toothpaste tube: this certifies that it’s been tested for safety and effectiveness.
2x2 = Terrific Teeth
According to the ADA, brushing gently for two full minutes, two times a day, is the best way to get rid of plaque and prevent cavities. That’s why it should be an essential part of your oral hygiene routine. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to use dental floss (or another method) to clean the spaces in between your teeth. If you don’t remove plaque from these areas, your cleaning isn’t complete.
Preserve Your Enamel
There are some times when you should avoid brushing—like after you’ve consumed soda, or been sick to your stomach. That’s because the acids in soda and stomach juices actually soften tooth enamel, and brushing can quickly wear it away. In these situations, rinse your mouth out with water and wait at least an hour before you brush.
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best thing you can do for your teeth at home. But don’t forget to come in to the office for regular checkups and professional cleanings! Because no matter how thorough you are, you can’t clean hardened deposits (calculus, or tartar) from your teeth at home: It takes special tools and the skilled hand of your hygienist or dentist to do that.
If you would like more information about tooth brushing and oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sizing Up Toothbrushes” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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