The straightening process for a crooked smile doesn't end when the braces come off. There's one more crucial phase to undergo to make sure we don't lose the progress you've achieved: wearing an orthodontic retainer.
Although often viewed as a nuisance, retainers are important because they prevent realigned teeth from reverting to their old positions. This is possible because the periodontal ligament, the gum attachment that allows us to move teeth in the first place, can contain “muscle memory” that naturally tries to draw teeth back to where they once were.
A retainer prevents this from happening: During wear the subtle pressure they exert keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they're firmly established, usually after several months. While most patients initially wear a retainer around the clock, this will gradually taper off until they're worn primarily during sleep hours.
While retainers come in many different styles and sizes, most fall into one of two categories: removable or non-removable (bonded). The first type, a custom-made appliance a patient can easily take in and out of the mouth, has its advantages. Removing it makes it easier to clean the teeth. They're also adaptable to reduced wear schedules for eating, brushing and flossing, or for special occasions.
But a removable retainer may be noticeable to others. Its removability can also lead to problems. Out of the mouth they're prone to be lost, resulting in additional replacement costs. And immature patients may be easily tempted to take them out too often—or not wear them at all.
A bonded retainer solves many of these potential problems. Because the retainer wire is securely bonded to the back of the teeth, it's not visible to others. And because it can't be removed except by an orthodontist, there's virtually no chance of losing it or haphazard wear.
On the other hand, bonded retainers can occasionally break, requiring repair or replacement. And flossing is more difficult than with a removable retainer, although a little training from a dental hygienist can make that easier.
The choice of retainer depends on the individual and their priorities. But whether removable or bonded, a retainer is absolutely essential for protecting your new, hard-earned smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
Bad news at your last dental visit: You have a decayed tooth. And not just in the enamel—the decay has invaded the tooth's inner pulp and the resulting infection is threatening the supporting bone structure.
You're thinking that tooth is toast. Then comes the good news: your dentist believes the tooth can be rescued with a root canal treatment.
But then you begin thinking about how often Uncle Sid says he'd rather undergo a colonoscopy than have a root canal. Is the procedure really as painful and uncomfortable as popular culture says it is? What is a root canal really like?
First step: Things go numb. Uncle Sid is wrong: A root canal treatment is painless because your dentist will first make sure the entire area involving the tooth is anesthetized. This does involve injecting the local anesthetic deep within the tissues, but you won't even feel the needle prick thanks to topical anesthesia applied to the surface gums.
Second step: Drilling deep. After applying a protective dam to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors, your dentist will drill a small access hole through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp and root canals. If it's one of the larger back teeth, the access hole is usually drilled in the tooth's biting surface; in a front tooth, the hole is usually located on the tongue side.
Third Step: Removing diseased tissue. Using special instruments, your dentist will remove the diseased tissue in the pulp and root canals, essentially stopping the infection and any tooth pain you've been experiencing. The empty pulp chamber and canals are often then disinfected with a special antibacterial solution.
Fourth Step: Protecting the tooth. After some shaping, the pulp chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling to prevent further infection. The access hole is then filled and sealed to complete the procedure. At some point in the future, the tooth typically will need a crown to add support and further protection.
You may have some minor discomfort afterward, but this can usually be managed with a mild pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. After a week or so, you'll be good as new—and so will your tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal therapy, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
If you're ready to put the "pizzazz" back into your smile, your dentist may be able to help. It's possible your dull, dingy smile could be transformed with teeth whitening.
Teeth whitening or bleaching is a technique that applies a solution with a bleaching agent (usually up to 35% hydrogen peroxide in an office setting) to the teeth to whiten them. Although there are Do-It-Yourself home whitening kits you can use, there are a few good reasons why you should first consider a whitening procedure in a dental office setting.
To begin with, you should first have your teeth examined by a dentist to determine why they're discolored. Certain foods and beverages we consume or tobacco habits are the usual culprits causing stains on the enamel, the outermost tooth layer. These are the kinds of stains targeted by most whitening solutions.
But the interior of a tooth can also become discolored for reasons like trauma, past dental work or tetracycline use at an early age. If your staining is internal (intrinsic) rather than external (extrinsic) reducing that discoloration will require an invasive procedure only a dentist can perform—a home kit won't be able to do the job.
Another reason for having your teeth whitened by your dentist (even extrinsic staining) involves your time and the degree of brightness you'd like. Because dentists use stronger bleaching solutions (home kits usually use a weaker solution of 10% carbamide peroxide) it takes fewer sessions than home kits to achieve results—and they may last longer. In addition, dentists have more control over the level of brightness to match your expectations of a more subdued, natural look or a dazzling "Hollywood" smile.
A dentist can also help you navigate special circumstances like matching and managing natural teeth whiteness with dental restorations (which don't bleach) or special whitening situations like a single discolored tooth.
Even if you eventually decide to go the home kit route, consulting with a dentist first can still prove helpful. You'll get expert advice on products, tips on how to apply them and how to prolong the whitening effect. Whichever way you go, home kit or dentist, you can gain a brighter, more confident smile with teeth whitening.
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 “Important Teeth Whitening Questions…Answered!”
Braces can change a person's life — not just their appearance but their dental health as well. To be honest, though, wearing braces are, well, kind of a drag — especially for teenagers.
Braces can be restrictive and confining; you'll also have to give up certain favorite foods for a while. But more than any of that, they're just plain unattractive. Even being able to choose colors for the brackets and elastic bands can't fully ease a teenager's embarrassment when they smile.
There is, however, an alternative to braces: clear aligners. And they could make orthodontic treatment during this difficult phase of their life much easier to handle.
Clear aligners are a set of clear plastic trays that can be taken in and out of the mouth. Each of the custom-designed trays is slightly smaller than the previous one in the series. After wearing the first tray for a couple of weeks (at least 20 to 22 hours a day), the patient switches to the next tray in the series. They repeat this process until they've worn all the trays. The gradual change from tray to tray moves the teeth to the desired position.
Clear aligners have some distinct advantages over braces, especially for younger patients. They can be removed for cleaning or for a rare special event. They don't limit movement as much as braces. And, they're nearly invisible — other people may not even notice them. And newer aligners are now designed with tiny “power ridges” that increase their movement capabilities. This has made them more useful for teenagers with complicated bite problems and other issues.
There are cases, though, where braces may be the better choice: where you need more control over tooth movement or the patient needs jaw surgery to achieve proper tooth alignment. And their removability could be an issue if the patient won't leave them in their mouth for the necessary time each day.
To find out if clear aligners might be a viable option for your teenager, visit us for a complete orthodontic examination. We can then discuss your best option — clear aligners or braces — to achieve the most desirable outcome for your teenager.
If you would like more information on treating bite problems in teenagers with clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for teens.”
Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on oral surgery, 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 “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”