Not long ago, the most affordable option for total tooth loss was a removable denture. Dentures, prosthetic (false) teeth set in gum-colored acrylic plastic bases, can effectively restore function and appearance. But the appliance continues to have one major drawback: it can accelerate bone loss in the jaw.
Like other living tissues, older bone cells die and become absorbed into the body (resorption). Normally they're replaced by newer cells. The forces generated when we chew our food travel through the teeth to stimulate this new growth. This stimulus ends when we lose our teeth, and so cell replacement can slow to an abnormal rate. Eventually, this causes bone loss.
Removable dentures can't provide this stimulation. In fact, the pressure generated as they compress the gums' bony ridges can even accelerate bone loss. That's why over time a denture's fit can become loose and uncomfortable — the bone has shrunk and no longer matches the contours of the dentures.
In recent years, though, a new development has been able to provide greater support to dentures while at the same time slowing or even stopping bone loss. We can now support dentures with dental implants.
Implants are best known as individual tooth replacements: a titanium metal post replaces the root, while a life-like porcelain crown attaches to the post to replace the visible tooth. In addition to providing a longer-lasting alternative to removable dentures, implants provide a very important health benefit: they improve bone density because they mimic the function of natural teeth. Bone cells are naturally attracted to the titanium; they adhere to the titanium post and are stimulated to grow through the action of chewing, increasing bone density and securing the implant's hold in the jaw.
Using the same technology we can support removable dentures, or even full fixed bridges. Rather than rest directly on the bony ridges, a denture can make a secure connection through a coupling system with just a few strategically placed implants. We can also permanently attach a full bridge by fastening it to a few implants with screws.
Not only do we eliminate the pressure from dentures compressing the gums and bone tissue, we can actually stimulate bone growth with the implants. Although more costly upfront than traditional dentures, unlike traditional dentures which must be replaced every five to seven years, long-lasting implants may be more cost-effective over the long-run.
If you would like more information on implant-supported tooth replacement, 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 “New Teeth in One Day.”
Teeth can take a lot of force over a lifetime of biting and chewing, thanks to enamel, their outer layer made of the strongest substance in the human body. Unfortunately, they’re not invincible: it’s even possible for you to break or “fracture” a tooth while biting or chewing normally.
Although such a fracture might seem to occur out of the blue, it’s usually related to a condition known as cracked tooth syndrome. It usually occurs in three stages: in the first, miniscule cracks in the outer enamel known as craze lines develop. They’re not immediately dangerous since they only involve the enamel surface; but left untreated they could deepen and progress to the next stage, a larger crack that penetrates the tooth’s underlying dentin.
If allowed to grow, this crack in turn can lead to the third stage, a full fracture that could extend down to the root. A fracture can put the tooth in danger of loss, especially if its inner pulp becomes exposed. To avoid this worst case, it’s best to treat the tooth at the earliest stage possible when craze lines are just developing.
There is a difficulty, though, with detecting craze lines — they’re small, too small to detect normally with x-rays. We, therefore, rely on other methods such as using an instrument called an explorer to feel for cracks, having the patient bite on a stick or rubber pad to replicate pain symptoms or using fiber-optic lighting with special dye stains to highlight possible cracks. Endodontists, specialists in root canals, can use microscopic equipment that’s quite adept at detecting craze lines.
There are also some signs you can be on alert for that might indicate a craze line or crack. If you feel a short, sharp pain — a “wince” — when chewing and releasing food, you could have a crack that hasn’t yet affected the nerves. If a true fracture occurs, the pain will intensify and you may notice pieces of the tooth coming off. If the crack extends to the root, the pain will become greater and more chronic.
It’s important then that you see us for any recurring pain symptoms as soon as possible. If it’s a crack, the sooner it’s treated the better your tooth’s chances for survival.
If you would like more information on cracked tooth syndrome, 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 “Cracked Tooth Syndrome.”
After a long struggle with dental disease, you have finally lost the last of your remaining teeth.Â Like over a quarter of Americans in their 60s and 70s, this unfortunate development can have a profound impact on your health and self-image.
While there are a number of advanced methods for replacing lost teeth, there's one tried and true option that's centuries old — the removable denture. It's the option millions of people have chosen to lessen the impact of missing teeth.
Fashioned properly, removable dentures restore the form and function you once had with your natural teeth. The prosthetic (false) teeth are precisely placed in an acrylic, gum-colored base that closely follows the contours of your gums. Because they're removable, they're fairly easy to clean and maintain.
They do have a disadvantage, though, and it's related to bone health after tooth loss. Like other living tissues, bone has a life cycle: as older cells die, new cells form to take their place. The forces your teeth generate when you chew stimulate new bone growth. But without teeth to provide this stimulation, new bone won't keep up the pace of replacement at a healthy rate. As a result you may gradually lose bone, as much as a quarter of its normal width within a year of losing a tooth.
Dentures don't transmit any stimulation to the gum and bone from chewing. Furthermore, the compressive forces transmitted to the gum and underlying bone tissue contributes to bone loss. As the bone continues to diminish, your denture fit becomes looser to the point you will eventually need them relined with new acrylic material or have a new set made.
There is another alternative when patients loose all of their teeth: an implant-supported removable denture. Dental implants can be used to keep the dentures more secure and can also slow or even halt bone loss where the implants are placed. In this case we strategically place a few implants to serve as supports for a removable denture. The denture has connection points that join up with the implants to hold it more securely in place. As few as two implants are needed in the lower jaw, while the upper jaw does better with three or four implants.
Losing all your teeth can be traumatic, but there are effective ways to overcome it. With new technology, the traditional restoration of removable dentures may be the vehicle for achieving that.
If you would like more information on restoring missing teeth with dentures, 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 “Removable Full Dentures.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
The market for sugar alternatives has grown exponentially since saccharin was accidentally discovered in 1878. Today, saccharin has been joined by other FDA-approved zero-calorie artificial sweeteners, including aspartame (“Equal®” or “NutraSweet®”), sucralose (“Splenda®”) and rebaudioside A, derived from the stevia plant. You can also choose low-calorie alcohol sugars like erythritol or xylitol.
With rare exceptions, all these choices are widely considered safe substitutes for table sugar, high fructose corn syrup or other versions of this plentiful carbohydrate. Finding substitutes for sugar is a worthy health goal: besides its role in obesity, sugar is considered a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It's also a prime food for oral bacteria that cause dental disease. As bacteria consume sugar they produce acid as a byproduct. Acid softens and dissolves the mineral content in enamel, leading to erosion and the formation of cavities. While saliva normally neutralizes acid after we eat, constant snacking and higher quantities of sugar in our food make it difficult for it to control or neutralize acid in the oral environment.
Because most of us are hard-wired with a “sweet tooth,” it's difficult for many to cut back on sugar. Artificial sweeteners help reduce the amount of sugar in the diet with obvious benefits for general health. It can also make a big difference in your dental health by helping you prevent tooth decay.
One alcohol sugar may even go a step further. In addition to reducing the presence of sugar in the mouth, xylitol (found in chewing gums, candy and breath mints) also seems to reduce bacterial growth by interfering with their ability to ferment the sugar.
If you're considering using an artificial sweetener, get to know them first: some like aspartame aren't suitable for baked goods or cooking, while saccharine or sucralose are. People with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria also can't properly process aspartame in the body.
Be sure you also talk to us about artificial sweeteners' impact on oral health, especially the benefits of xylitol for dental care. Used in a wise and informed way, these sugar alternatives can improve both your oral and general health.
If you would like more information on artificial sweeteners impact 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 “Artificial Sweeteners: Satisfying and Protecting your Sweet Tooth.”
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