When your braces finally come off, you’ll hopefully be astounded by what you see –once-crooked teeth replaced by a more attractive smile. But you might also see something you didn’t expect: noticeable white spots on some of your teeth.
These spots called white spot lesions (WSLs) appear lighter than the surrounding tooth enamel due to mineral loss just beneath the surface. This happens because bacterial or food acids have contacted the enamel surface for too long and dissolved the underlying calcium and other minerals. This results in a small discolored and chalky-like area in the enamel.
WSLs are common during orthodontics because wires and brackets create hard to reach places for brushing and flossing, which can accumulate bacterial plaque. The bacteria produce acid, which weakens the enamel at these places. The tiny white spots that result are more than just unattractive—they can become entry points into the tooth for decay. That’s why they should be dealt with as soon as possible—and preferably before they’re created.
To that end, you’ll need to do as thorough a job as possible brushing and flossing while undergoing orthodontic treatment. To improve your thoroughness try using an interproximal toothbrush that can maneuver more closely around braces hardware than a regular brush. You can also improve your flossing with a floss threader or a water flosser, a device that sprays pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque.
If you do develop WSLs, there are some things we can do to treat them. We can attempt to re-mineralize the affected enamel with the help of topical fluoride (either pastes or gels for home use or with an office application) or a re-mineralizing agent. We can also use techniques like microabrasion, which restores damaged areas beneath the surface, or inject a liquid, tooth-colored resin beneath the WSL’s surface to improve appearance and protect against decay.
If while wearing braces you do notice any white spots or other tooth discoloration let your dentist or orthodontist know right away. The sooner your dental providers can begin dealing with potential WSLs the better your chances for a healthy and beautiful outcome after braces.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
The CAT scan is a relatively recent technique in dentistry, used to get an image of what’s happening deep within your jaws. You may be wondering what a CAT scan tells us that a conventional x-ray picture does not, and whether it is worth the extra expense to get one. And how does a CAT scan compare with a conventional x-ray in terms of radiation exposure?
CAT stands for “computer assisted tomography.” Often it’s just called a CT scan, for “computerized tomography.” The word “tomography” comes from roots meaning “slice” and “write.” Tomographic techniques take repeated two dimensional pictures, similar to repeatedly slicing through an object, and then assembles them with a computer to produce a three dimensional (3-D) image.
The latest type of CT scan used in dentistry is called CBCT, or Cone Beam Computed Tomography. The Cone Beam refers to a spiral beam of x-rays, which is used to create a series of two dimensional images from which a computer creates a 3-D image. Such an image is of great value in assessing problems and planning treatment.
Here are just a few examples of how a CBCT scan can be used. Orthodontists can see skeletal structures and developing teeth that are still inside the jawbone while planning strategies for directing the teeth in order to arrive at a better bite. Oral surgeons can find impacted or missing teeth, see their locations, and view their proximity to nerves and sinuses, assisting them in planning surgeries. These scans are particularly useful for root canal specialists because they show root canals that are less than a millimeter wide and even reveal accessory canals that may not be visible on conventional x-rays. In cases of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, a CBCT during sleep can be used to view a person’s airway and how it may be blocked by the tongue and other soft tissues in a person’s throat during sleep.
Compared to background radiation, the amount of radiation delivered in dental x-rays is minimal. A CBCT delivers a dose of radiation that is less than a typical full mouth x-ray series but more than a typical two dimensional panoramic radiograph. Generally CBCT scanners deliver lower doses than medical CT scanners.
With one low-dose CBCT scan, we can get an accurate idea of the internal structure of your bones and teeth and how they are situated in relation to each other. Prior to the availability of such images, many of these relationships had to be discovered in the course of a surgery or other treatment. Thus such a scan can aid greatly in the quality of treatment you will receive.
Even with picture perfect teeth, you may still be unhappy with your appearance. The problem: too much of your upper gums show when you smile.
There’s no precise standard for a “gummy smile”—it’s often a matter of perception. As a rule of thumb, though, we consider a smile “gummy” if four or more millimeters of upper gum tissue show while smiling. In any event if you perceive you have a gummy smile, it can greatly affect your self-confidence and overall well-being.
The good news is we can often correct or at least minimize a gummy smile. The first step, though, is to find out why the gums are so prominent.
There are a few possible causes: the most obvious, of course, is that there’s more than normal gum tissue present. But the cause could be the front teeth didn’t fully erupt in childhood and so the gums appear more prominent. Other causes include the upper lip moving too far upward when smiling (hypermobile) or an elongated upper jaw that’s out of proportion with the face.
Finding the exact cause or combination of causes will determine what approach we take to minimize your gummy smile. If too much gum tissue or not enough of the teeth show, we can use a surgical procedure called crown lengthening to expose more of the crown (the visible part of a tooth), as well as remove excess gum tissues and reshape them and the underlying bone for a more proportional appearance.
A hypermobile upper lip can be treated with Botox, a cosmetic injection that temporarily paralyzes the lip muscles and restricts their movement. But for a permanent solution, we could consider a surgical procedure to limit upper lip movement.
Surgery may also be necessary for an abnormal jaw structure to reposition it in relation to the skull. If, on the other hand it’s the teeth’s position and not the jaw causing gum prominence, we may be able to correct it with orthodontics.
As you can see, there are several ways varying in complexity to correct a gummy smile. To know what will work best for you, you’ll need to undergo an orofacial examination to determine the underlying cause. It’s quite possible there’s a way to improve your smile and regain your self-confidence.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
When they’re introducing a new movie, actors often take a moment to pay tribute to the people who helped make it happen — like, you know, their dentists. At least that’s what Charlize Theron did at the premiere of her new spy thriller, Atomic Blonde.
"I just want to take a quick moment to thank my dentists," she told a Los Angeles audience as they waited for the film to roll. "I don’t even know if they’re here, but I just want to say thank you."
Why did the starring actress/producer give a shout-out to her dental team? It seems she trained and fought so hard in the action sequences that she actually cracked two teeth!
“I had severe tooth pain, which I never had in my entire life,” Theron told an interviewer from Variety. At first, she thought it was a cavity — but later, she found out it was more serious: One tooth needed a root canal, and the other had to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant — but first, a bone grafting procedure was needed. “I had to put a donor bone in [the jaw] to heal,” she noted, “and then I had another surgery to put a metal screw in there.”
Although it might sound like the kind of treatment only an action hero would need, bone grafting is now a routine part of many dental implant procedures. The reason is that without a sufficient volume of good-quality bone, implant placement is difficult or impossible. That’s because the screw-like implant must be firmly joined with the jawbone, so it can support the replacement tooth.
Fortunately, dentists have a way to help your body build new bone: A relatively small amount of bone material can be placed in the missing tooth’s socket in a procedure called bone grafting. This may come from your own body or, more likely, it may be processed bone material from a laboratory. The donor material can be from a human, animal or synthetic source, but because of stringent processing techniques, the material is safe for human use. Once it is put in place your body takes over, using the grafted material as a scaffold on which to build new bone cells. If jawbone volume is insufficient for implants, it can often be restored to a viable point in a few months.
Better yet, when grafting material is placed in the tooth socket immediately after extraction, it can keep most of the bone loss from occurring in the first place, enabling an implant to be placed as soon as possible — even before the end of a movie’s shooting schedule.
Will Atomic Blonde prove to be an action-movie classic? Only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: When Charlize Theron walks down the red carpet, she won’t have to worry about a gap in her smile.
If you have questions about bone grafting or dental implants, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Immediate Dental Implant.”
When a tooth is beyond repair due to disease or injury, it may be necessary to remove it. A “simple” tooth extraction is among the most common in dentistry and certainly not the agonizing procedure depicted in common lore.
They’re referred to as simple extractions because the shape of the tooth and root allows for a fairly straightforward and uncomplicated removal. An example would be the normally cone-shaped upper front tooth that doesn’t offer a lot of resistance during the extraction process.
The process itself is fairly straightforward. Teeth are held in place by the periodontal ligament, an elastic tissue made of tiny fibers that attaches the tooth to the supporting bone. These fibers can be dislodged from the tooth with some careful manipulation — in the hands of an experienced dentist there’s a deft “feel” to the fibers loosening. Once they’ve detached, it requires little effort to remove the tooth; with the aid of local anesthesia, you won’t feel anything but a little pressure.
Immediately after the tooth is removed, we commonly insert bone grafting material in the socket to minimize bone loss until a permanent replacement like a dental implant can be installed after tissue healing. We then place sterile gauze over the site for a few minutes to control bleeding and, depending on the size of the wound opening, we may also place a few stitches to close it. We then give you instructions for caring and cleaning the site over the next few days, and prescribe antibiotics to reduce the chance of infection and anti-inflammatory drugs for any discomfort.
Although a simple extraction is a routine procedure, it’s important to perform a proper assessment of the tooth and the surrounding bone beforehand, including x-rays to determine the tooth’s exact shape and position. If we discover a complication that makes a simple extraction impractical (like multiple roots at acute angles), we may then refer you to an oral surgeon for a more complicated surgical extraction.
It’s our hope you’ll have your natural teeth for as long as you live. But if you must have one removed, you can rest assured it’s a common — and uneventful — experience.
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.”
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