The basics for treating tooth decay have changed little since the father of modern dentistry Dr. G.V. Black developed them in the early 20th Century. Even though technical advances have streamlined treatment, our objectives are the same: remove any decayed material, prepare the cavity and then fill it.
This approach has endured because it works—dentists practicing it have preserved billions of teeth. But it has had one principle drawback: we often lose healthy tooth structure while removing decay. Although we preserve the tooth, its overall structure may be weaker.
But thanks to recent diagnostic and treatment advances we’re now preserving more of the tooth structure during treatment than ever before. On the diagnostic front enhanced x-ray technology and new magnification techniques are helping us find decay earlier when there’s less damaged material to remove and less risk to healthy structure.
Treating cavities has likewise improved with the increased use of air abrasion, an alternative to drilling. Emitting a concentrated stream of fine abrasive particles, air abrasion is mostly limited to treating small cavities. Even so, dentists using it say they’re removing less healthy tooth structure than with drilling.
While these current advances have already had a noticeable impact on decay treatment, there’s more to come. One in particular could dwarf every other advance with its impact: a tooth repairing itself through dentin regeneration.
This futuristic idea stems from a discovery by researchers at King’s College, London experimenting with Tideglusib, a medication for treating Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers placed tiny sponges soaked with the drug into holes drilled into mouse teeth. After a few weeks the holes had filled with dentin, produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t new, but methods to date haven’t been able to produce enough dentin to repair a typical cavity. Tideglusib has proven more promising, and it’s already being used in clinical trials. If its development continues to progress, patients’ teeth may one day repair their own cavities without a filling.
Dr. Black’s enduring concepts continue to define tooth decay treatment. But developments now and on the horizon are transforming how we treat this disease in ways the father of modern dentistry couldn’t imagine.
A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.
We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?
Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.
When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?
In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.
So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.
If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”
When your child says they have a toothache, should you see your dentist? In most cases, the answer is yes.
And for good reason: their “toothache” could be a sign of a serious condition like tooth decay or a localized area of infection called an abscess, which could adversely affect their long-term dental health. The best way to know for sure –and to know what treatment will be necessary—is through a dental exam.
So, how quickly should you make the appointment? You can usually wait until morning if the pain has persisted for a day or through the night—most toothaches don’t constitute an emergency. One exception, though, is if the child has accompanying fever or facial swelling: in those cases you should call your dentist immediately or, if unavailable, visit an emergency room.
In the meantime, you can do a little detective work to share with the dentist at the appointment. Ask your child exactly where in their mouth they feel the pain and if they remember when it started. Look at that part of the mouth—you may be able to see brown spots on the teeth or obvious cavities indicative of decay, or reddened, swollen gums caused by an abscess. Also ask them if they remember getting hit in the mouth, which may mean their pain is the result of trauma and not disease.
You can also look for one other possible cause: a piece of candy, popcorn or other hard object wedged between the teeth putting painful pressure on the gums. Try gently flossing the teeth to see if anything dislodges. If so, the pain may alleviate quickly if the wedged object was the cause.
Speaking of pain, you can try to ease it before the dental appointment with ibuprofen or acetaminophen in appropriate doses for the child’s age. A chilled cloth or ice pack (no direct ice on skin) applied to the outside of the jaw may also help.
Seeing the dentist for any tooth pain is always a good idea. By paying prompt attention to this particular “call for help” from the body could stop a painful situation from getting worse.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 Child’s Toothache: Have a Dental Exam to Figure out the Real Cause.”
Orthodontics shares a principle with the classic tug of war game: if you want things to move in the right direction you need a good anchor. Anchors help braces and other appliances apply constant pressure to misaligned teeth in the direction they need to go to correct a malocclusion (poor bite).
Orthodontic treatments work in cooperation with an existing oral mechanism that already moves teeth naturally in response to biting forces or other environmental factors. The key to this mechanism is an elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. Besides holding teeth in place through tiny attached fibers, the ligament also allows the teeth to move in tiny increments.
Braces’ wires laced through brackets affixed to the teeth exert pressure on them in the desired direction of movement –the periodontal ligament and other structures do the rest. To maintain that pressure we need to attach them to an “anchor”—in basic malocclusions that’s usually the back molar teeth.
But not all malocclusions are that simple. Some may require moving only certain teeth while not moving their neighbors. Younger patients’ jaws and facial structures still under development may also need to be considered during orthodontic treatment. That’s why orthodontists have other anchorage methods to address these possible complications.
One example of an alternate anchorage is a headgear appliance that actually uses the patient’s skull as the anchor. The headgear consists of a strap running around the back of the head and attached in front to orthodontic brackets (usually on molar teeth). The pressure it exerts can trigger tooth movement, but it can also help influence jaw development if an upper or lower jaw is growing too far forward or back.
Another useful anchorage method is a tiny metal screw called a temporary anchorage device (TAD) that is implanted into the jawbone above the teeth through the gums. Orthodontists then attach elastic bands between implanted TADs and specific braces’ brackets or wires to exert pressure on certain teeth but not others with pinpoint accuracy. After treatment the TADs can be easily removed.
Using these and other appliances allows orthodontists to customize treatment to an individual patient’s particular malocclusion. With the right anchor, even the most complex bite problem can be transformed into a beautiful and healthy smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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.”
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.”
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