While the term “plastic surgery” might bring to mind face lifts or tummy tucks, not all procedures in this particular surgical field are strictly cosmetic. Some can make a big difference in a person’s health.
One example is periodontal plastic surgery, which corrects gum tissue loss around the teeth. Although these procedures can indeed improve appearance, they more importantly help save teeth.
Gum loss is most often a consequence of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from a thin film of food particles on the teeth called dental plaque. As the disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth, they shrink back or recede, exposing the area around the roots. Without the protective cover the gums provide the roots, they become more susceptible to decay.
In milder cases of gum recession, treating the infection often results in the gums regaining their normal attachment to teeth. But with more advanced recession, natural gum healing may not be enough to reverse it. For such situations grafting donor tissue to the recessed area can help stimulate new tissue growth.
While gum tissue grafts can come from an animal or other human, the most likely source is from the person themselves. In one type of procedure, free gingival grafting, the surgeon locates and completely removes (or “frees”) a thin layer of skin resembling gum tissue, typically from the roof of the mouth, shapes it and then transplants it by suturing it to the recession site. Both donor and recipient sites heal at about the same rate in two to three weeks.
Another technique is known as connective tissue grafting. In this procedure the surgeon partially removes the donor tissue from its site while leaving a portion containing blood vessels intact. The palatal tissue is still used and transported to fit beneath the tissue that’s still attached to the blood supply. This connective tissue graft is then positioned and sutured to the recipient site while still maintaining its blood supply connection at the donor site. Maintaining this connection facilitates healing and increases the chances the graft will “take” and become firmly attached to the new site.
Grafting procedures require advanced techniques and skills. But with them we may be able to restore gum attachment to teeth with an impact on appearance and dental health that’s well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
One of the best restorative options for slightly deformed, misaligned or stained teeth is a porcelain veneer. Composed of thin, laminated layers of dental material, the veneer is bonded to the outside of the tooth to transform both its shape and color to blend with other natural teeth.
Veneers are more than a technical process — they’re works of art produced by skilled artisans known as dental lab technicians. They use their skills to shape veneers into forms so life-like they can’t be distinguished from other teeth.
How technicians produce veneers depends on the material used. The mainstay for many years was feldspathic porcelain, a powdered material mixed with water to form a paste, which technicians use to build up layers on top of each other. After curing or “firing” in an oven, the finished veneer can mimic both the color variations and translucency of natural teeth.
Although still in use today, feldspathic porcelain does have limitations. It has a tendency to shrink during firing, and because it’s built up in layers it’s not as strong and shatter-resistant as a single composed piece. To address these weaknesses, a different type of veneer material reinforced with leucite came into use in the 1990s. Adding this mineral to the ceramic base, the core of the veneer could be formed into one piece by pressing the heated material into a mold. But while increasing its strength, early leucite veneers were thicker than traditional porcelain and only worked where extra space allowed for them.
This has led to the newest and most advanced form that uses a stronger type of glass ceramic called lithium disilicate. These easily fabricated veneers can be pressed down to a thickness of three tenths of a millimeter, much thinner than leucite veneers with twice the strength.Â And like leucite, lithium disilicate can be milled to increase the accuracy of the fit. It’s also possible to add a layer of feldspathic porcelain to enhance their appearance.
The science — and artistry — of porcelain veneers has come a long way over the last three decades. With more durable, pliable materials, you can have veneers that with proper care could continue to provide you an attractive smile for decades to come.
If you would like more information on dental veneers, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on dental health, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
A tooth with deep decay is in real peril. If the disease isn’t stopped, it can eventually infect the bone and greatly increase the risk of losing the tooth. But tooth decay removal and a root canal treatment can stop advancing decay and resulting infection in its tracks.
During this common procedure we first drill into the tooth to access the inner pulp. After removing the infected pulp tissue, we disinfect and fill the empty chamber and root canals with gutta percha. We then seal the tooth and crown it to protect against re-infection.
But while most root canals are successful and long-lasting, sometimes the tooth becomes re-infected. Here are 3 factors that could affect the long-term success of a root canal treatment.
Early treatment. Like many health problems, the sooner we detect decay and treat it, the better the outcome. A tooth in which the infection has already advanced beyond the pulp is at greater risk for re-infection than one in which the infection is localized in the pulp. Keeping up your regular dental visits as well as seeing the dentist at the first sign of abnormality—spots on the teeth or pain—can increase your chances of early diagnosis.
Tooth complications. Front teeth with their single roots and canals are much easier to access and treat than a back molar with an intricate root canal network. Root canals can also be extremely narrow making them easy to miss during treatment. In cases like this the expertise and advanced equipment of an endodontist (a specialist in root canal treatment) could help increase the odds of success in complex situations.
The aging process. Teeth do wear over time and become more brittle, making them increasingly susceptible to fracture. A previous root canal treatment on an aging tooth might also increase the fracture risk. To avoid this, it’s important for the tooth to receive a crown after the procedure to protect the tooth not only from re-infection but undue stress during chewing. In some situations, we may also need to place a post with a bonded composite buildup within the tooth to give it extra support.
Even if a tooth has these or similar complications, a root canal treatment may still be advisable. The benefits for preserving a decayed tooth often far outweigh the risks of re-infection.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “Root Canal Treatment.”
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