In any given year, 4 million tweens and teens are in the process of having their teeth straightened with braces or clear aligners. It's so common we tend to consider orthodontic treatment for young people as a rite of passage into adulthood.
But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way—it might be possible to stop or at least minimize a poor bite before it fully develops. That's the goal of interceptive orthodontics—treatments that head off or “intercept” a bite problem early.
The goal isn't necessarily to reposition misaligned teeth, but to correct a problem that can lead to misalignment. Here are some examples.
A narrow jaw. A narrowly developing jaw can crowd incoming teeth out of their normal positions. For the upper jaw, though, we can take advantage of a temporary separation in the bones in the roof of the mouth (palate) with a device called a palatal expander. Placed against the palate, the expander exerts outward pressure on the teeth and jaw to widen this separation. The body fills in the gap with bone to gradually widen the jaw.
Abnormal jaw alignment. It's possible for a jaw to develop abnormally during childhood so that it extends too far beyond the other. Using a hinged device called a Herbst appliance, it's possible to interrupt this abnormal growth pattern and influence the bones and muscles of the jaw to grow in a different way.
Missing primary teeth. An important role for a primary (baby) tooth is to hold a place for the future permanent tooth. But if the primary tooth is lost too soon, other teeth can drift into the space and crowd out the intended permanent tooth. To prevent this, we can insert a space maintainer: This simple looped metal device prevents teeth from drifting and preserves the space for the permanent tooth.
Although these and other interceptive treatments are effective, some like the palatal expander do their best work within a limited age frame. To take advantage of interceptive orthodontics in a timely manner, parents should seek a bite evaluation for their child from an orthodontist around age 6. The earlier we detect a growing bite problem, the greater your chances for successful intervention.
If you would like more information on treating emerging bite problems early, 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 “Interceptive Orthodontics.”
Dentists remove millions of teeth each year, often because of tooth decay or gum disease. But disease isn't the only reason—a tooth extraction might make it easier to straighten a crooked smile.
Realigning teeth for therapeutic or cosmetic reasons is a regular undertaking in dentistry, but the process itself often differs from person to person. Each individual patient requires their own treatment plan taking into account factors like the kind of bite problem involved, the size of the jaw and the space available to move teeth.
This plan could indeed involve removing teeth. For example, an abnormally small jaw could cause crowding. Not only can crowding move teeth out of position, it may also leave little to no room for moving teeth. Although dentists can minimize crowding by influencing jaw development in early childhood, removing teeth for more space is usually the only option available to older adolescents and adults.
Similarly, teeth can fail to erupt properly and remain partially or fully submerged beneath the gums (known as impaction). There is an orthodontic method for pulling an impacted tooth fully onto the jaw, but only if the tooth isn't too far out of alignment. Otherwise, it may be better to remove the impacted tooth and then correct any gaps with braces or a dental implant.
There's also a situation on the opposite side of the spectrum that could benefit from teeth removal—when one or more permanent teeth fail to form, known as congenitally missing teeth. This can cause gaps in the smile or a “lopsided” appearance where a tooth on one side of the jaw is present while its counterpart on the opposite side of the jaw is missing.
The missing tooth can be replaced by an implant, bridge or other restoration. But another option may be to remove the existing counterpart tooth, and then close the gaps. This can result in a much more attractive smile that might be simpler and less costly than replacing the missing tooth.
Again, the decision to remove teeth to improve smile appearance depends on the patient and their particular dental condition. But in the right situation, it could make straightening a smile easier and more effective.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, 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 “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt like your mouth was filled with cotton? We've all had bouts of occasional dry mouth, but the unpleasantness usually goes away after we eat or drink something.
But what if you have dry mouth all the time? In that case, it's more than unpleasant—it could be increasing your risk of dental disease. That's because your dry mouth symptoms are being caused by a lack of adequate saliva. Besides providing antibodies to fight harmful bacteria, saliva also neutralizes mouth acid that can cause tooth decay.
Your decrease in saliva could be caused by smoking or moderate to heavy alcohol consumption. It could also be a side effect of medications you're taking, one reason why older people, who on average take more prescription drugs than other age groups, have a high incidence of dry mouth.
So, what can you do to alleviate chronic dry mouth?
Watch what you eat and drink. Certain foods and beverages can worsen chronic dry mouth. Try to avoid or limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea or soft drinks, as well as salty or spicy foods.
If you use tobacco, quit. Tobacco, especially smoking, can dry out your mouth, as well as damage your salivary glands. Abstaining from tobacco can alleviate dry mouth and help prevent dental disease.
Drink more water. Simply drinking water ensures your body has an ample supply for producing saliva. It's also beneficial for your dental health in general, as it can help buffer your mouth's acid levels and rinse away food remnants that could become food for bacteria.
Speak to your doctor. If you suspect a drug that you're taking may be causing dry mouth, discuss with your doctor alternative medications that may minimize this side effect. Simply changing prescriptions could alleviate your dry mouth symptoms.
You can also try saliva stimulants, both over-the-counter and prescription, to help your mouth produce more saliva. And be sure you also keep up daily habit of brushing and flossing to clear away bacterial plaque and lower your risk of dental disease.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
Teenagers can have the same smile-disrupting tooth flaws as adults. But not all cosmetic treatments available to adults are appropriate for teenagers—at least not until they get a little older. Dental veneers fall into that category.
A veneer is a thin porcelain shell custom-made by a dental lab, and bonded by a dentist to the face of a tooth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other imperfections. Because they're less invasive than other measures, veneers are highly popular as a cosmetic dental solution. They do, however, usually require some enamel removal so that they'll appear more natural.
This enamel removal typically won't impact an adult tooth other than it permanently requires it to have veneers or other restorations after alteration. But there is a risk of damage to a teenager's tooth, which hasn't fully developed.
Adolescent teeth usually have a larger pulp chamber (filled with an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels) than adult teeth. And because the enamel and dentin layers may not yet be fully developed, the pulp is much nearer to the tooth's surface.
We must be very careful then in removing enamel and dentin for veneers or we may penetrate the pulp and risk damaging it. Alternatively, there is the possibility of no-prep veneers which are very conservative but often are unable to be done because of the need to often remove tooth structure to make the veneers look natural.
Another cosmetic problem can occur if we place veneers on a patient's teeth whose jaws and mouth structures are still growing. Eventually, the gums could recede and an unsightly gap form between the veneer and the adjacent natural tooth.
Fortunately, there are other techniques we can use to improve a tooth's appearance. Mild chipping can be repaired by bonding composite resin material to the tooth. Some forms of staining may be overcome with teeth whitening. These and other methods can address a teenager's smile appearance until their teeth are mature enough for veneers.
Whether or not a tooth is ready for veneers will depend on its level of development, something that can often be ascertained with x-rays or other diagnostic methods. And if a tooth has already undergone a root canal treatment, there isn't as much concern. In the meantime, though, it may be better for your teen to wait on veneers and try other techniques to enhance their smile.
If you would like more information on dental restoration for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
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