Primary (baby) teeth might not last long, but their impact can last a lifetime. Their first set of teeth not only allows young children to eat solid foods, but also guide permanent teeth to form and erupt in the proper position.
Unfortunately, primary teeth aren't immune to tooth decay. If the decay is extensive, the tooth may not last as long as it should. Its absence will increase the chances the permanent teeth won't come in correctly, which could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that's costly to correct.
If a primary tooth is already missing, we can try to prevent a malocclusion by installing a “space appliance.” This keeps nearby teeth from drifting into the empty space intended for the permanent tooth. The best approach, though, is to try to save a primary tooth from premature loss.
We can often do this in much the same way as we would with a permanent tooth — by removing decayed material and filling the prepared space. We can also perform preventive applications like topical fluoride or sealants that strengthen or protect the tooth.
It becomes more complicated, though, if the pulp, the interior of the tooth, becomes decayed. The preferred treatment for this in a permanent adult tooth is a root canal treatment. But with a primary tooth we must also consider the permanent tooth forming below it in the jaw and its proximity to the primary tooth. We need to adapt our treatment for the least likely damage to the permanent tooth.
For example, it may be best to remove as much decayed structure as possible without entering the pulp and then apply an antibacterial agent to the area, a procedure known as an indirect pulp treatment. We might also remove only parts of the pulp, if we determine the rest of the pulp tissue appears healthy. We would then dress the wound and seal the tooth from further infection.
Whatever procedure we use will depend on the extent of decay. As we said before, our number one concern is the permanent tooth beneath the primary. By focusing on the health of both we can help make sure the permanent one comes in the right way.
If you would like more information on caring for children's primary 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children's Teeth.”
Transforming your smile doesn’t necessarily require complex treatments like orthodontics, dental implants or porcelain veneers. Sometimes a little brightness can mean all the difference in the world.
Bleaching (or teeth whitening) is a proven method for dealing with tooth discoloration and staining. Nearly all whitening products, whether home or professional, contain the bleaching agent carbamide peroxide or its breakdown product hydrogen peroxide. These agents effectively diminish staining deep within a tooth (intrinsic) or on the enamel surface (extrinsic), although intrinsic staining will require a more invasive office procedure.
If you have extrinsic staining you have three basic options: dental office bleaching, a retail home kit or a kit purchased from a dentist. Again, you’ll find the same basic bleaching agents in each of these versions. The difference will be the concentration: home kits contain about 10% agent by volume, while the office application will be a much higher range of 15% to 35% (which may also employ specialized lights or lasers to increase the bleaching effect). As a result, an office bleaching may take only a visit or two to achieve the desired brightness while a home kit about two or three weeks.
Whitening is a more economical route for smile enhancement of otherwise sound teeth than other measures. But there are other considerations you should weigh before undergoing a procedure. Whitening isn’t a permanent fix — the brightness will diminish over time, optimally six months to a year in what dentists call the “fade rate.” You can slow this process by avoiding or limiting foods and habits that cause staining.
If you have other dental work — crowns, bridgework or fillings — it may be difficult to achieve a tint level that matches these restorations, especially at home. And while whitening is relatively safe (as long as you’re using your kit as directed), you may experience tooth sensitivity, gum irritation or other minor oral side effects.
Before you decide on whitening, visit us first for a complete dental examination. From there we can advise you on whether whitening is a good smile enhancement choice for you.
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 “Teeth Whitening.”
It's no exaggeration — dental implants have revolutionized teeth replacement. Life-like and durable, implants are the closest thing in design and function to a natural tooth.
In fact, there's only one thing better than a dental implant — a real tooth. For function and long-term oral health, you can't beat what nature provided you in the first place. So before you finally decide to remove and replace that problem tooth, consider these other options for saving it.
Root canal therapy. Tooth decay can do more than cause cavities — it can work its way into the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. If it isn't stopped here, it could continue on to the roots and put the tooth in real danger of loss. A root canal treatment removes the infection from the pulp and root canals and replaces the space with a filling. A life-like crown is then bonded or cemented to the tooth to protect it from further infection.
Aggressive treatment for periodontal (gum) disease. This other dental disease is just as damaging as tooth decay. Caused by bacterial plaque, the gums around a tooth become infected and inflamed. As it moves deeper into the tissues and inflammation progresses, it can affect supporting bone causing it to dissolve. To prevent this potential bone loss, it's important to seek out and remove hidden pockets of plaque. This may require surgery to access the roots for plaque and calculus (tartar) removal, but it's well worth it to preserve the tooth.
Bone grafting. As mentioned before, gum disease can ultimately lead to bone loss. But even when bone loss has occurred (a substantial threat to a tooth's survival) we may be able to reverse it with bone grafting techniques. During this procedure we insert grafting material at the loss site along with substances that stimulate growth. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Over time the bone volume increases and helps stabilize a weak tooth.
Of course, your best option is to avoid dental disease in the first place with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. That and treating dental disease in its earliest stages will help ensure you'll have the best teeth possible — your own.
If you would like more information on options for treating diseased 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Removing a problem tooth (extraction) is a common dental procedure. But not all extractions are alike — depending on the type of tooth, its location and extenuating circumstances, you may need an oral surgeon to perform it.
Fortunately, that's not always the case. Teeth with straight or cone-shaped roots, like an upper front tooth, have a fairly straight removal path. A general dentist first carefully manipulates the tooth loose from the periodontal ligament fibers that help hold it in place (experienced dentists, in fact, develop a “feel” for this process). Once it's loosened from the fibers it's a simple motion to remove the tooth.
But as mentioned before, a “simple extraction” won't work with every tooth or situation. To find out if it can we'll first need to determine the true shape of the tooth and roots, as well as the condition of the supporting bone. We might find any number of issues during this examination that make a simple extraction problematic.
For example, teeth with multiple roots (especially in back) may have complicated removal paths. If the roots themselves are unhealthy and brittle from previous injury or a root canal treatment, they can fracture into smaller pieces during removal. A tooth could also be impacted — it hasn't fully erupted but remains below the gum surface. It's these types of situations that require surgery to remove the tooth.
During a surgical extraction, the oral surgeon will first numb the area with a local anesthetic, as well as a sedative if you have issues with anxiety. They then perform a surgical procedure appropriate for the situation to remove the tooth. More than likely they'll insert bone grafts before closing the site with stitches to deter bone loss (a common occurrence after losing a tooth).
Afterward, your provider may prescribe antibiotics and an antibacterial mouthrinse to ward off infection. You'll also be given care instructions for the extraction site to keep it clean. Any discomfort should subside in a few days and can be managed effectively with a mild anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen or aspirin.
It can be overwhelming having a tooth removed. In your dentist's capable hands, however, the experience will be uneventful.
If you would like more information on tooth extraction, 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 “Simple Tooth Extraction?”
You would love to replace your missing teeth with dental implants. And for good reason — they're the best way to restore life-like, functional teeth. But there's one problem — implants and fixed bridgework (the next, best option) are financially out of your reach.
There's another viable option, though, that might fit your budget — removable partial dentures (RPDs). Similar to full dentures, RPDs replace only the missing teeth in a dental arch. And they're much less expensive than implants or bridgework.
RPDs are custom made to fit an individual patient and their particular missing teeth locations. Their frameworks are usually made of vitallium, a strong but lightweight metal alloy. With vitallium, the frame can be made thin enough not to be noticeable but still conduct sensation.
A pink resin or plastic that mimics gum tissue covers the frame, to which we attach prosthetic (false) teeth made of porcelain, glass-filled resin or plastic to precisely match the missing teeth locations. The RPD is held in place with small metal clasps that fit around remaining natural teeth.
RPDs are designed to minimize movement and avoid undue pressure on the gum ridges, which could accelerate underlying bone loss. In certain situations, though, the location of some missing teeth could complicate matters. If you're missing a tooth in the back where the appliance coverage ends, the RPD may not be as stable.
The solution, ironically, could be a dental implant placed strategically at the end of the RPD, where it connects securely with the appliance. You would only need one or two implants, which won't dramatically increase costs.
One thing to remember with an RPD: they tend to accumulate bacterial plaque, the trigger for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. That's why it's important to practice daily effective hygiene by cleaning the RPD and your remaining teeth and gums, as well as taking the RPD out at night.
A well-maintained RPD could last for many years. With this appliance you can still have functional teeth and a winning smile, even without implants.
If you would like more information on removable dentures, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures: Still a Viable Tooth-Replacement Alternative.”
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