Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
In real life he was a hard-charging basketball player through high school and college. In TV and the movies, he has gone head-to-head with serial killers, assorted bad guys… even mysterious paranormal forces. So would you believe that David Duchovny, who played Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files and starred in countless other large and small-screen productions, lost his front teeth… in an elevator accident?
“I was running for the elevator at my high school when the door shut on my arm,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had fainted, fallen on my face, and knocked out my two front teeth.” Looking at Duchovny now, you’d never know his front teeth weren’t natural. But that’s not “movie magic” — it’s the art and science of modern dentistry.
How do dentists go about replacing lost teeth with natural-looking prosthetics? Today, there are two widely used tooth replacement procedures: dental implants and bridgework. When a natural tooth can’t be saved — due to advanced decay, periodontal disease, or an accident like Duchovny’s — these methods offer good looking, fully functional replacements. So what’s the difference between the two? Essentially, it’s a matter of how the replacement teeth are supported.
With state-of-the-art dental implants, support for the replacement tooth (or teeth) comes from small titanium inserts, which are implanted directly into the bone of the jaw. In time these become fused with the bone itself, providing a solid anchorage. What’s more, they actually help prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs after tooth loss. The crowns — lifelike replacements for the visible part of the tooth — are securely attached to the implants via special connectors called abutments.
In traditional bridgework, the existing natural teeth on either side of a gap are used to support the replacement crowns that “bridge” the gap. Here’s how it works: A one-piece unit is custom-fabricated, consisting of prosthetic crowns to replace missing teeth, plus caps to cover the adjacent (abutment) teeth on each side. Those abutment teeth must be shaped so the caps can fit over them; this is done by carefully removing some of the outer tooth material. Then the whole bridge unit is securely cemented in place.
While both systems have been used successfully for decades, bridgework is now being gradually supplanted by implants. That’s because dental implants don’t have any negative impact on nearby healthy teeth, while bridgework requires that abutment teeth be shaped for crowns, and puts additional stresses on them. Dental implants also generally last far longer than bridges — the rest of your life, if given proper care. However, they are initially more expensive (though they may prove more economical in the long run), and not everyone is a candidate for the minor surgery they require.
Which method is best for you? Don’t try using paranormal powers to find out: Come in and talk to us. If you would like more information about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework,” and “Dental Implants.”
If you've lost a tooth, you have a number of options for replacing it. Perhaps the best choice in terms of lifelikeness and durability is a dental implant.
All implants have the same basic architecture: a titanium metal post imbedded in the jawbone to replace the root; and an abutment, a metal collar that links the post with a lifelike porcelain crown. But implants can vary in how the crown attaches to the abutment and post — either cemented to the abutment or screwed through the abutment to the post.
Either method will permanently secure the crown to the implant. But there are advantages and disadvantages for each.
A screw-retained crown may better facilitate any future repair that might be needed. For a skilled dentist it's a simple matter of removing the screw and then the crown from the abutment. There's less risk of damage to the implant during repairs or crown replacement. Many dentists also prefer screws for crowns placed at the same time they're installing the implant post (a procedure called immediate loading).
The screw access hole, however, could pose a cosmetic problem. Although we can cover it over with tooth-colored filling, it may still be noticeable and unattractive especially for a tooth visible when you smile (in the smile zone). There's also the possibility the porcelain around the access hole could chip.
By contrast, cemented crowns have a smooth, unbroken surface and are aesthetically ideal for smile zone teeth. But the cement could interact poorly with gum and bone tissue in some patients, causing inflammation and possible bone loss.
And unlike screw-retained crowns, cemented crowns are difficult to remove for implant repair. We may have to drill through the crown to access the screw between the abutment and the post, and then repair it cosmetically if we use the same crown. Again, the final result may not be quite as visually appealing.
In the end, it will depend on the implant's location, how your body reacts to the cement or your dentist's preference. In either case, though, you'll have a tooth replacement that's functional, life-like and able to endure for many years to come.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “How Crowns Attach to Implants.”
Some patients who wear dentures face a kind of Catch-22: their denture fit may have loosened and become uncomfortable over time due to continued bone loss, yet the same bone loss prevents them from obtaining dental implants, a superior tooth replacement system to dentures.
But there may be a solution to this dilemma that combines the stability of implants with a removable denture. A set of smaller diameter implants — “mini-implants” — can support a removable denture with less bone than required by a conventional implant.
Like all living tissue, bone has a life cycle: after a period of growth, the older bone dissolves and is absorbed by the body, a process known as resorption. The forces generated when we bite or chew are transmitted by the teeth to the jawbones, which stimulates new bone formation to replace the resorbed bone. When the teeth are lost, however, the stimulation is lost too; without it, resorption will eventually outpace bone growth and repair, causing the bone mass to shrink.
Removable dentures also can’t supply the missing stimulation — bone loss continues as if the dentures weren’t there; and due to the compressive forces of a denture, bone loss accelerates. As the jawbone structure used to originally form the denture’s fit eventually shrinks, the denture becomes loose and difficult to wear. It’s possible to adjust to the new jaw contours by relining the dentures with new material or creating a new set of dentures that match the current bone mass. Without adequate bone, fixed crowns or bridges anchored by conventional implants may also be out of the picture.
On the other hand, mini-implants with their smaller diameter need less bone than the traditional implant. A few strategically placed within the jaw are strong and stable enough to support a removable denture. One other advantage: these mini-implants can be installed in one visit with local anesthesia and usually without the need for incisions or stitches.
If you would like more information on dentures supported by mini-implants, 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 “The ‘Great’ Mini-Implant.”
The American Diabetes Association has declared November National Diabetes Month. If you or a loved one has diabetes, you may already know that diabetes puts you at greater risk for gum disease. Let's look at four must-know facts about diabetes and gum disease.
#1. Gum disease is an acknowledged complication of diabetes.
High levels of blood sugar can interfere with your mouth's ability to fight infection, making you more susceptible to gum disease. People with poorly controlled diabetes may have more severe gum disease and may ultimately lose more teeth due to gum disease—in fact, one in five people who have lost all their teeth have diabetes.
#2. Gum disease makes diabetes harder to control.
Diabetes and gum disease are a two-way street when it comes to adverse health effects. Not only does diabetes increase the risk of gum disease, but gum disease can make diabetes harder to manage. Infections such as gum disease can cause blood sugar levels to rise. This is because chronic inflammation can throw the body's immune system into overdrive, which affects blood sugar levels. Since higher blood sugar weakens the body's ability to fight infection, untreated gum disease may raise the risk of complications from diabetes.
#3. You can do a lot to take charge of your health.
If you have diabetes and gum disease, you may feel as if you've been hit with a double whammy. While it's true that having both conditions means you are tasked with managing two chronic diseases, there is a lot you can do to take care of your health. Do your best to control blood sugar by taking prescribed medications, following a balanced diet, and exercising. In addition, pay special attention to your oral healthcare routine at home: Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day can go a long way in preserving good oral health.
#4. Preventing and managing gum disease should be a team effort.
We can work together to prevent, treat, and control periodontal disease. Come in for regular professional dental cleanings and checkups so we can monitor the health of your teeth and gums and provide specialized treatment such as deep cleanings when necessary. Diligent dental care can improve your oral health and help control your diabetes.
Remember, we're on your team. Let us know if there have been changes in your diabetes, your medication, or your oral health. If you have questions about diabetes and your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.