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.”
During pregnancy, your body isn’t the only part of your life that changes. Instead of “me,” you’re now thinking about “us”—you and the new person growing inside you. Because of this change in focus you may be re-examining your current habits to see if any could adversely affect your baby.
If you’re concerned your regular dental visits might be one of these, don’t be. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend continuing regular dental exams and cleanings even during pregnancy.
In fact, professional dental care is often more important during pregnancy. Because of hormonal changes, you may develop food cravings for more carbohydrates like sugar. Unfortunately, eating more sugar could increase your risk for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
These same hormonal changes can also make you more prone to gum disease. There’s even a specific form of it known as pregnancy gingivitis that often occurs in expectant mothers. You may also experience “pregnancy tumors,” large, reddened areas of swelling on the gums.
To decrease your risk of pregnancy-related dental disease, you should certainly keep up your regular dental visits—and more if you begin to notice signs like swollen or bleeding gums. And although it’s usually best to postpone elective procedures like cosmetic dental work, you should be able to safely undergo any essential treatment for disease even if it requires local anesthesia. But do discuss any proposed dental work with both your dentist and obstetrician to be sure.
There are also things you can do for yourself during pregnancy that support your dental health. Be sure you’re practicing good oral hygiene habits like daily brushing and flossing. And by all means eat a well-balanced diet and restrict your sugar intake if at all possible. Taking care of these things will help you avoid dental problems and help make this memorable time in your life as joyous as possible.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth during pregnancy, 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 Care During Pregnancy.”
After months of treatment we’ve removed your braces and your new smile emerges. Upon closer view, however, you notice a number of chalky white spots on your teeth.
These pale areas are white spot lesions (WSLs), the result of mineral breakdown from the long-term contact of acid with the enamel surface. The underlying cause is built-up bacterial plaque due to inadequate oral hygiene, and as such WSLs are the beginning stages of tooth decay.
While anyone can develop WSLs, brace wearers are highly susceptible because of the extra care required to clean around orthodontic hardware. Poor dietary habits such as frequent snacking on sugary or acidic foods and beverages also increase the risk of WSLs.
To reduce the risk of developing this condition, brace wearers must give extra attention and effort to daily oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing. The extra effort required in brushing can be aided by specialized toothbrushes designed to clean around brackets and wires, along with prescription-level fluoride toothpastes for added enamel strength. Floss threaders or a water flosser, a device that uses pulsating water under high pressure, may help you maneuver around hardware to remove plaque between teeth. It's also important to maintain a healthy mouth environment by limiting intake of sugary or acidic snacks and beverages, avoiding tobacco or excessive alcohol or caffeine, and drinking plenty of water to keep your mouth from drying out.
If you’ve already developed lesions, it’s important to stop the decay process before it causes more damage. One way is to assist your body’s natural mechanism for re-mineralizing tooth enamel with fluoride pastes or gels or re-mineralizing agents, or undergoing micro-abrasion to repair a tooth’s surface.
To improve a tooth’s appearance a procedure known as “caries infiltration” involves injecting a liquid tooth-colored resin into the lesion, which is then hardened with a curing light. The spot becomes less noticeable and appears more like normal enamel. For extensive defects, conventional bonding with composite resins or porcelain veneers can be used to cosmetically cover the tooth.
Getting ahead of the problem with effective oral hygiene and good dietary and lifestyle practices will keep WSLs at bay while you undergo orthodontic treatment. If they do develop, however, there are ways to minimize their effect and restore the look of your teeth.
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
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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