While it may not be one of your favorite features in the dental office, the dental drill is nevertheless necessary for treating problem teeth. It’s used primarily for removing decayed or damaged structure and preparing a tooth for fillings or other restorations.
Dental drills have been used for decades and are quite effective — but they have their drawbacks. Their rotating burrs often remove portions of healthy tooth structure along with decayed material. Friction from the drill action can cause discomfort, so local anesthesia is usually needed. Drills can also emit a high-pitched machine noise that’s unsettling to many patients.
There’s a growing alternative to the drill, known as air abrasion. Although the technology has been around since the 1950s, the development of new suction pumps that capture the resulting dust from its use has made it more palatable as an option to the traditional drill.
Also known as particle abrasion, the technique uses a pressurized stream of fine particles (usually aluminum oxide, an abrasive powder) directed at teeth to wear away (abrade) the tooth’s structural surface. We can be quite precise in the amount of surface material removed, so it’s useful for diminishing stains or roughing the surface for bonding materials like composite resin. We’re also able to remove decayed material with very little impact on surrounding healthy structure, and you may not need anesthesia during the procedure.
While this quiet alternative to the noisier drill is quite versatile, it does have its limitations. It’s not that efficient for preparing larger cavities for restoration or for removing older amalgam fillings. The teeth to be treated must be carefully isolated to prevent the fine particle dust produced from being swallowed by the patient or spread into the air. High-volume suction equipment is a must or the procedure will create a “sandstorm” of particles in the room.
Still, for situations suited to it and with proper isolation measures, air abrasion can be effective and comfortable. If the technology continues to improve, the dental drill may soon become a relic of the past.
If you would like more information on procedures using air abrasion, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.
You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.
This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.
There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.
In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.
Restoring missing or unattractive teeth can often be a lengthy process. Months may elapse between initial teeth preparation and final placement to allow time for tissue healing and permanent crown manufacturing. During that period you will likely wear temporary (provisional) crowns to protect the teeth while improving function and appearance.
In the past, provisional crowns were fairly uniform. Today, though, there are provisional crowns available that conform exactly to a patient’s individual mouth. These crowns not only enhance function and appearance, they’re an excellent way to “try out” your new smile before the permanent restoration.
Customized provisional crowns are part of a concept known as “smile analysis.” A new smile involves more than restoring affected teeth: we also consider the overall health of your mouth, the shape of your face, and your own desires and expectations. Your final smile design is a joint collaboration between you, our office and the dental laboratory that will fashion the final restoration.
There are a number of techniques for creating customized provisional crowns. Some techniques involve bonding tooth-colored materials like composite resin directly to the teeth. Others use impression models of your teeth to create an outline or shell that’s filled with an acrylic material and then affixed to your teeth. The aim with any of these techniques is to produce a provisional crown that accurately reflects the final crown’s appearance.
With these types of provisional crowns, we can see how the new teeth will look (their color, shading, shapes and proportions) against the gums, and if they appear to be in balance and harmony with the entire face, including your lips, jaws and facial contour. We can also evaluate how well the new teeth function as you chew, speak or smile.
It takes some extra effort to prepare customized provisional crowns rather than the more uniform version. But this effort is well worth it: by helping us anticipate more accurately how your new restorations will appear and function, customized crowns help ensure your new smile is an attractive and satisfying one.
If you would like more information on temporary restorations, 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 “Concepts of Temporary Restorations.”
Lately, you’ve noticed your young child’s primary teeth don’t appear to be coming in straight. Is it a problem?
The answer to that question is best answered by an early orthodontic evaluation performed by an orthodontist. It’s advisable for a child as young as 7 to undergo such an exam.
While a child’s primary teeth have a short life span of a few years, that doesn’t make them less important than the permanent teeth that replace them. In fact, they’re extremely influential for permanent tooth development — each one serves as a guide for its replacement to erupt in a proper position. A future malocclusion (bad bite) that becomes more apparent later in life would have been well underway years before.
Orthodontists have the training and expertise to spot these emerging problems in their early stages. Early detection can reduce the extent — and costliness — of future orthodontic treatment by introducing preventative or interceptive measures — even while there’s still a mix of primary and permanent teeth in the mouth. For example, a child wearing a simple type of retainer that influences the development of the bite could minimize or even correct a growing malocclusion.
You can also take advantage of opportunities to discover potential orthodontic problems early through a general or pediatric dentist. By having regular dental cleanings and checkups, the dentist might observe early bite development that should be reviewed by an orthodontist. If not, it’s still a good idea to undergo an orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7.
Given the stage of jaw and facial structure development, waiting until puberty to focus on orthodontic problems may be too late for some problems — and much more expensive than if caught and treated earlier. Getting ahead of these issues earlier in your child’s dental development will help ensure they’ll have a healthy bite throughout their life.
If you would like more information on early orthodontic monitoring, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Early Orthodontic Evaluation” and “Preventative & Cost Saving Orthodontics.”
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