Discovering a loose tooth can be exciting — if you're six, that is, and anticipating a windfall from the tooth fairy. If you're an adult, a loose tooth is a different story. You're in real danger of it becoming a lost tooth, and there won't be another one coming in to replace it.
Fortunately, that result isn't inevitable, but we have to take quick action if we're going to save your tooth. The first step is to find out why it's loose.
Tooth looseness occurs primarily because the gum and bone structures that hold teeth in place have been damaged in some way. Otherwise healthy teeth and gums can be injured in an accident or with dental habits like teeth grinding or clenching that increase the biting forces against teeth. The latter could require some intervention like a night guard to prevent teeth from grinding to reduce the abnormal biting force.
But disease is often the root cause for tooth looseness. Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by bacterial plaque, can inflame and weaken gum tissues, eventually causing bone loss followed by the gum tissue detaching from the teeth. In this weakened condition even normal biting forces could loosen a tooth.
If gum disease is the primary culprit, our treatment starts there. By aggressively removing plaque and calculus (tartar) from the tooth surfaces, including deep below the gum line around the root, the gum tissues become less inflamed and begin to heal. This in turn can strengthen their attachment to a loose tooth. In more advanced cases, we may need to surgically graft lost bone and gum tissue to rebuild the attachment.
We may also need to stabilize a loose tooth while we're performing these other treatments. The most common way is to join or splint a loose tooth to nearby stable teeth. There are varieties of splints: one type involves rigid dental material bonded across the enamel of the loose tooth and its neighbors. In another, we cut a small channel in the involved teeth, and then insert a metal splint, bonding it within the channel.
Whatever needs to be done, we need to do it promptly — if you notice a loose tooth, contact us as soon as possible. The earlier we begin treatment the more likely we'll save your loose tooth.
If you would like more information on treating loose teeth, 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 for Loose Teeth.”
When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).
About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.
While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.
While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.
You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.
Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.
ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
If you're ready to put the "pizzazz" back into your smile, your dentist may be able to help. It's possible your dull, dingy smile could be transformed with teeth whitening.
Teeth whitening or bleaching is a technique that applies a solution with a bleaching agent (usually up to 35% hydrogen peroxide in an office setting) to the teeth to whiten them. Although there are Do-It-Yourself home whitening kits you can use, there are a few good reasons why you should first consider a whitening procedure in a dental office setting.
To begin with, you should first have your teeth examined by a dentist to determine why they're discolored. Certain foods and beverages we consume or tobacco habits are the usual culprits causing stains on the enamel, the outermost tooth layer. These are the kinds of stains targeted by most whitening solutions.
But the interior of a tooth can also become discolored for reasons like trauma, past dental work or tetracycline use at an early age. If your staining is internal (intrinsic) rather than external (extrinsic) reducing that discoloration will require an invasive procedure only a dentist can perform—a home kit won't be able to do the job.
Another reason for having your teeth whitened by your dentist (even extrinsic staining) involves your time and the degree of brightness you'd like. Because dentists use stronger bleaching solutions (home kits usually use a weaker solution of 10% carbamide peroxide) it takes fewer sessions than home kits to achieve results—and they may last longer. In addition, dentists have more control over the level of brightness to match your expectations of a more subdued, natural look or a dazzling "Hollywood" smile.
A dentist can also help you navigate special circumstances like matching and managing natural teeth whiteness with dental restorations (which don't bleach) or special whitening situations like a single discolored tooth.
Even if you eventually decide to go the home kit route, consulting with a dentist first can still prove helpful. You'll get expert advice on products, tips on how to apply them and how to prolong the whitening effect. Whichever way you go, home kit or dentist, you can gain a brighter, more confident smile with teeth whitening.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Important Teeth Whitening Questions…Answered!”
The most important part of dental health maintenance isn’t what your dentist does—it’s what you do every day when you brush and floss your teeth. And all you really need is a multi-tufted, soft bristle toothbrush, toothpaste, a roll of dental floss—plus a little effort from your hands and fingers.
Of course, manual power isn’t your only option—an electric or battery-powered toothbrush is a convenient and, for people with strength or dexterity issues, a necessary way to remove disease-causing plaque from tooth surfaces. You have a similar option with flossing—a water flosser.
Although water flossers (or oral irrigators) have been around since the early 1960s, they’ve become more efficient and less expensive in recent years. A water flosser delivers a pulsating stream of pressurized water between the teeth through a handheld device that resembles a power toothbrush, but with a special tip. The water action loosens plaque and then flushes it away.
While the convenience these devices provide over traditional flossing is a major selling point, they’re also quite beneficial for people with special challenges keeping plaque from accumulating between teeth. People wearing braces or other orthodontic devices, for example, may find it much more difficult to effectively maneuver thread floss around their hardware. Water flossing can be an effective alternative.
But is water flossing a good method for removing between-teeth plaque? If performed properly, yes. A 2008 study, for example, reviewed orthodontic patients who used water flossing compared to those only brushing. The study found that those using water flossing were able to remove five times as much plaque as the non-flossing group.
If you’re considering water flossing over traditional flossing thread, talk with your dental hygienist. He or she can give you advice on purchasing a water flosser, as well as how to use the device for optimum performance. It could be a great and more convenient way to keep plaque from between your teeth and harming your dental health.
If you would like more information on water flossing, 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 “Cleaning between Your Teeth: How Water Flossing can help.”
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