Dental implants have soared in popularity thanks to their life-likeness, functionality and durability. But these prized qualities have also created an ironic downside—people are much more likely to replace a tooth with an implant rather than go through the time and effort to preserve it.
We say downside because even though an implant is as close to a real tooth as we can now achieve in dentistry, it still can't rival the real thing. It's usually in your long-term health interest to save a tooth if reasonably possible. And, there are effective ways to do so.
Most dental problems arise from two common oral diseases. One is tooth decay, caused by contact with acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque. We can often minimize the damage by treating the early cavities decay can create. But if we don't treat it in time, the decay can advance into the tooth's pulp chamber, putting the tooth in danger of loss.
We can intervene, though, using root canal therapy, in which we drill into the tooth to access its interior. We clean out the decayed tooth structure, remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty chamber and root canals to seal the tooth and later crown it to further protect it from re-infection.
Periodontal (gum) disease also begins with bacteria, but in this case the infection is in the gum tissues. Over time the ensuing inflammation locks into battle with the plaque-fueled infection. This stalemate ultimately weakens gum attachment, the roots and supporting bone that can also increases risk for tooth loss.
We can stop a gum infection through a variety of techniques, all following a similar principle—completely removing any accumulated plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. This stops the infection and starts the process of gum and bone healing.
You should be under no illusions that either of these approaches will be easy. Advanced tooth decay can be complex and often require the skills of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals). Likewise, gum disease may require surgical intervention. But even with these difficulties, it's usually worth it to your dental health to consider saving your tooth first before you replace it with an implant.
If you would like more information on how best to treat a problem tooth, 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?”
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.”
There's no doubt treating dental problems can improve your health. But because the mouth is among the most sensitive areas of the body, many dental procedures can be potentially uncomfortable after treatment.
We rely on pain medication to alleviate any dental work discomfort, especially during recuperation. Our arsenal of pain-relieving drugs includes strong opioid narcotics like morphine or oxycodone which have effectively relieved dental pain for decades. But although they work wonders, they're also highly addictive.
We've all been confronted in the last few years with startling headlines about the opioid addiction epidemic sweeping across the country. Annual deaths resulting from opioid addiction number in the tens of thousands, ahead of motor vehicle accident fatalities. Although illegal drugs like heroin account for some, the source for most addiction cases—an estimated 2 million in 2015 alone—is opioid prescriptions.
Dentists and other healthcare providers are seeking ways to address this problem. One way is to re-examine the use of opioids for pain management and to find alternative means that might reduce the number of narcotic prescriptions.
This has led to new approaches in dentistry regarding pain relief. In a trend that's been underway for several years, we've found managing post-discomfort for many procedures can be done effectively with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. They don't share the addictive quality of narcotics and are regarded as safer when taken as directed.
There's also been a recent modification with using NSAIDs. Dentists have found that alternating the use of ibuprofen and acetaminophen often amplifies the pain relief found using only one at a time. By doing so, we may further reduce the need for narcotics for more procedures.
The trend now in dentistry is to look first to NSAIDs to manage pain and discomfort after dental work. Narcotics may still be used, but only in a secondary role when absolutely needed. With less narcotic prescriptions thanks to these new pain management protocols, we can reduce the risk of a dangerous addiction.
While braces are often the stars for straightening smiles, they're not the only cast members in an orthodontic production. Orthodontists occasionally turn to other appliances if the bite problem is challenging. Whatever the tool, though, they usually have something in common—they use the principle of anchorage.
To understand anchorage, let's first consider the classic kid's game Tug of War. With teams on either end of a rope, the object is to pull the opposing team across the center line before they pull you. To maximize your pulling force, the player at the back of your rope, usually your stoutest member, holds steady or "anchors" the rest of the team.
Like a Tug of War team, braces exert force against the teeth. This stimulates the supporting periodontal ligament to remodel itself and allow the teeth to move. The braces use the teeth they are attached to as anchors, which in a lot of cases are the back teeth. By attaching a thin wire to the brackets or braces on the teeth, the orthodontist includes all the teeth on the arch, from one end to the other. Anchored in place, the wire can maintain a constant pressure against the teeth to move them.
But not all bite situations are this straightforward. Sometimes an orthodontist needs to influence jaw growth in addition to teeth movement. For this purpose, they often use orthodontic headgear, which runs around the back of the head or neck and attaches to orthodontic brackets on the teeth. It still involves an anchor but in this case it's the patient's own skull.
In some situations, an orthodontist may feel he or she needs more anchorage as the teeth alone may not be enough. For this, they might establish a separate or additional anchor point using a temporary anchorage device (TAD). A TAD resembles a tiny screw that's inserted into the jawbone near the tooth intended for movement. The orthodontist can then attach the TAD to braces hardware using some form of elastics. After treatment, they remove the TAD.
These are just a couple examples of specialized tools an orthodontist can use for bite correction. Thanks to them and similar devices, even the most complex bite problem can be overcome to create a healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on correcting a poor bite, 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 “Orthodontic Headgear & Other Anchorage Appliances.”
Although costly in the beginning, dental implants often turn out to be the least expensive tooth replacement option. That's because their enviable record for longevity often outpaces dentures or bridges. Over the long-term you might spend less for implants than these other restorations.
But even with the high success rate of dental implants (greater than 95% survive the ten-year mark), we can't guarantee they won't fail. And if you're a tobacco smoker, the risk of failure might be even higher. One study, for example, found early implant failures were twice the rate for smokers over non-smokers. Although implant failures overall are low, smoking seems to be a factor in those that do.
There are a number of reasons to account for this. For one thing, inhaled smoke can damage salivary glands, reducing the flow of this important fluid. Saliva helps control bacterial growth and neutralize mouth acid, so without it you're more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Either infection could ultimately weaken implant-supporting bone.
The nicotine in tobacco can also restrict oral blood vessels and lower their ability to supply antibodies and nutrients to the teeth and gums. This slows healing, which could have one particular effect on implant durability.
During the intervening weeks between implant placement and crown attachment, the implant's titanium post attracts bone cells that grow and adhere to its surface. The effects of nicotine on healing, especially right after implant surgery, can interfere with this integration process so that the implant doesn't anchor in the bone as well as it should.
If you're a smoker, you can increase your chances of implant success—and have a healthier mouth overall—by quitting smoking beforehand with the help of a cessation program. Or at the least, consider stopping smoking for one week before implant surgery and for two weeks afterward.
And be sure to brush and floss your teeth daily and visit your dentist regularly to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. Stopping smoking and practicing effective oral hygiene could make a big difference in the success or failure of your implant.
If you would like more information on smoking and your dental health, 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 Implants & Smoking.”
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