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.”
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Controlling discomfort during dental work is one of our top priorities. Advances in anesthesia over the last century have made that objective easier to attain, especially for routine procedures.
The term anesthesia means “without feeling or pain.” It refers to the use of substances to prevent a patient’s nervous system from sensing pain. There are two basic types: general, through intravenous injection (IV) or gas inhalation that places a patient in an unconscious state; and local, which only affects the part of the body involved in the procedure while the patient remains conscious.
The latter type has become very important in dentistry, especially for mild to moderate procedures. Because teeth and gum tissues are rich in nerves, patients can have a heightened level of sensitivity that can increase anxiety and discomfort during dental work. Local anesthesia reduces that discomfort and relaxes both patient and dental provider.
We typically administer local anesthesia in two ways: by applying the anesthetic to the outside tissue surface (with a cotton swab, patch or spray) or by injection. The first type, topical anesthesia, is most often used to eliminate the pricking discomfort of the needle used to inject the main anesthetic. Using both applications eliminates any painful sensation at all — the only thing you might feel is a slight pressure during the procedure.
As mentioned before, local anesthesia benefits us as well as you. Knowing you’re at ease and comfortable allows us to better focus on the procedure — we’re not rushed to finish to spare you further discomfort. A relaxed, unhurried atmosphere is essential to a successful outcome for any dental procedure.
We’ve also found solutions for another issue with local anesthesia that concerns patients: the length of time the numbing effect lingers after a procedure. In response, the dental profession has developed different types of anesthesia that reduce this after effect considerably. We’re also more selective about what procedures actually require anesthesia — some, like routine teeth cleaning or work on the outer enamel (which doesn’t contain nerves), can usually be performed without it.
All in all, local anesthesia reduces your level of discomfort and increases our ability to be thorough in performing your dental work. You’ll not only find the experience more pleasant, but it will also enhance the quality of your care.
If you would like more information on alleviating pain and discomfort during dental work, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
Saliva is a true workhorse among bodily fluids — it breaks down food for digestion, keeps harmful bacteria in check and neutralizes acid that is destructive to tooth surfaces. So when saliva flow is chronically diminished, it’s more serious than the uncomfortable feeling of “dry mouth” — it can have a detrimental effect on your overall health.
It’s normal to experience temporary mouth dryness: in the morning (because saliva flow slows during sleep), when we’re under stress, or after smoking or consuming certain foods and beverages like onions or coffee. But chronic dry mouth (“xerostomia”) is different — the mouth remains dry for extended periods, leading to problems like tooth decay caused by inadequate acid neutralization.
Medications are one of the most common causes for xerostomia. According to the Surgeon General, there are over 500 medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — that can cause it, including antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. Radiation or chemotherapy used for cancer treatment may also cause dry mouth, sometimes permanently. There are also systemic conditions that affect saliva flow like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and many autoimmune diseases.
Treating chronic dry mouth will of course depend on the underlying cause. If drug-related the first approach should be to find a substitute medication that won’t as readily cause reduced saliva flow. If that’s not possible, then it’s helpful to drink more water when taking the medication (a few sips before and a full glass afterward). You can also cut back on caffeinated, acidic or sugary foods and drinks as well as alcohol, and refrain from tobacco use.
A saliva stimulant might also help. Besides prescription medication, there are other products like xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar found in chewing gum, toothpaste or rinses, that help increase saliva flow — and xylitol also inhibits the growth of decay-causing bacteria.
The most important thing for chronic dry mouth is maintaining consistent daily hygiene through brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Helping to increase your saliva flow and making every effort to prevent dental disease will help keep this condition from harming your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of dry mouth, 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 Mouth.”
If you’ve noticed some of your teeth seem to be “longer” than you remembered, it’s not because they’ve grown. Rather, your gums have shrunk back or receded to expose more of the underlying tooth.
It’s not just unattractive — gum recession could lead to severe consequences like bone or tooth loss. But before we begin treatment we need to find out why it happened. Knowing the true cause will help us put together the right treatment plan for your situation.
Here are 4 of the most common causes for gum recession and what we can do about them.
The kind of gum tissues you have. There are two kinds of risk factors: those you can control and those you can’t. Because you inherited the trait from your parents, your gum tissue thickness falls into the latter category. Although there are degrees within each, gum tissues are generally classified as either thick or thin. If you have thin tissues, you’re more susceptible to gum recession — which means we’ll need to be extra vigilant about caring for your gum health.
Tooth position. Normally a tooth erupts during childhood in the center of its bony housing. But it can erupt outside of it, often resulting in little to no gum tissue growth around it. The best solution is to move the tooth to a better position within the bony housing through orthodontics. This in turn could stimulate gum growth.
Over-aggressive brushing. Ironically, gum recession could be the result of brushing, one of the essential hygiene tasks for dental health. Consistently brushing too hard can inflame and tear the tissues to the point they begin to recede. Brushing doesn’t require a lot of force to remove plaque: use gentle, circular motions and let the detergents and mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the rest.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This, by far, is the greatest cause for gum recession: an infection caused by built-up bacterial plaque. The weakened tissues begin to detach from the teeth and recede. Gum disease can be treated with aggressive plaque removal and supporting techniques; but it’s also highly preventable. Practicing daily brushing and flossing and regularly visiting your dentist for thorough cleanings and checkups are the best practices for keeping your gums as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”
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