Applying braces or clear aligners to move misaligned teeth is only part of an orthodontist's overall mission to eliminate poor bites (malocclusions). Sometimes a malocclusion isn't caused by the teeth at all—the size of the jaw is the problem!
One type in particular, a cross-bite, often happens because the upper jaw has developed too narrowly. As a result, many of the upper teeth fit inside the lower, the opposite of normal. But a tool called a palatal expander can alleviate the problem if it's applied at an early enough age.
The device works because the upper jawbone initially forms as two halves that fit together along a center line in the roof of the mouth (the palate) running from the back of the mouth to the front. These two bone halves remain separate during childhood to facilitate jaw growth, but eventually fuse around puberty.
Consisting of two sets of wire arms joined together by a hinge mechanism in the middle, the expander device is positioned up against the palate. The orthodontist extends each arm to press against the inside of the back teeth, then adds more outward pressure by turning the mechanism in the middle with a small key. During wear, the patient or caregiver will turn the mechanism in the same way to keep up the pressure on the two sides of the jaw.
This continual pressure keeps the two bones moving away from each other and maintaining a center gap between them. In response, more bone forms on the two halves to fill the gap. In time, the newly formed bone should widen the jaw enough to correct any developing malocclusion.
Timing is everything with a palatal expander—if not used before the jaw bones fuse, the patient will need a surgical procedure to separate the bones to pursue treatment. To catch the problem early enough, children should have an orthodontic evaluation on or before they turn six. An orthodontist may be able to identify this or other emerging bite problems and intervene before it becomes worse. Taking this approach can help save you and your child more expensive orthodontic treatment down the road.
If you would like more information on correcting poor bites, 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 “Palatal Expanders: Orthodontics is more than just Moving Teeth.”
Orthodontic treatment is a big investment. But given the benefits for future good health and a more attractive smile, it's well worth it.
In the here and now, though, braces wearers face a different threat to their dental well-being — dental disease. Wearing braces can actually increase the risk of disease and make it more difficult to fight.
Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, the two most common forms of dental disease, usually arise from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. The bacteria produce acid, which erodes enamel and makes the teeth susceptible to decay. Certain bacteria can also infect the gums and eventually weaken their attachment to teeth. Thorough brushing and flossing everyday removes this disease-triggering plaque buildup.
But braces' hardware can make brushing and flossing more difficult. The brackets attached to the teeth and wires laced through them make it more difficult for floss and brush bristles to access all the areas around the teeth. Plaque can build up in certain spots; it's estimated braces wearers have two to three times the plaque of a person not wearing braces. Acid can also remain in contact with some of the enamel surface for too long.
It's important, therefore, if you wear braces to make a concerted effort to brush and floss thoroughly. Besides improving technique and taking more time, you might also consider additional aids. You can obtain toothbrushes specially designed for use with braces, as well as floss holders or threaders that make it easier to access between teeth. Another flossing alternative is an oral irrigator that sprays water under pressure between teeth is an alternative to flossing.
As a precaution against acid damage, we can boost enamel protection with additional fluoride applied to your teeth. We may also prescribe antibacterial rinses to keep the bacteria population low.
Above all, be sure to look out for signs of disease like swollen or bleeding gums or pain. As soon as you sense something out of the ordinary, be sure and contact us.
If you would like more information on keeping your teeth disease-free 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Bite problems are quite common—as many as 75% of adults may have some form of orthodontic issue. Unfortunately, there's also something else just as common: that many people believe they're too old to correct it.
This belief is a myth—while there are factors that could prevent orthodontic treatment, age isn't necessarily one of them. If your teeth, gums and bone are sound and you're in reasonably good general health, you most likely can have a bite problem corrected even beyond middle age.
Why worry about it, though, if you've lived this long with misaligned teeth? For one thing, straightening teeth with braces or clear aligners can boost your dental health. Teeth that are in normal alignment are easier to keep clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. You'll also find it easier to chew than if your bite is out of line.
A more attractive, straighter smile can also impact your social and professional life. Having a smile you're not embarrassed to show can boost your self-confidence and image. Research on people who've undergone orthodontic treatment in adulthood have found improvements in social connection and even expanded career opportunities.
Orthodontic treatment can make a difference with your health and life, no matter your age. But while the number of years you've lived won't necessarily make a difference, what those years have brought could rule it out.
If, for example, you've lost significant bone structure due to diseases like periodontal (gum) disease, your teeth may not be able to sustain the new position created by braces or aligners without a form of permanent fixation. If you have systemic conditions like severe cardiovascular disease, bleeding problems, leukemia or uncontrolled diabetes, orthodontic treatment could worsen those conditions. And certain prescription drugs may pose similar problems as well.
That's why you'll need to undergo a thorough dental exam, as well as provide a complete medical history to your orthodontist. If nothing prevents you from treatment, though, you may be able to regain a new smile, better health and a new confidence in life.
If you would like more information on adult orthodontics, 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Roughly 75% of American adults are missing at least one tooth, mostly from disease, trauma or extraction for other dental reasons. A few missing teeth, though, never erupted in the first place.
It’s a rare occurrence, but sometimes people are born without certain teeth, usually back molars or premolars that may not be as visible. Occasionally, though, it’s the more visible upper lateral incisors positioned on either side of the central incisors (the two front teeth on either side of the midline of the face).
Missing incisors can lead to poor bites and create difficulties for speech development and nutrition. But these highly visible (or in this case, “invisible”) teeth can also detract from an otherwise attractive smile.
There are ways, however to correct a smile with missing lateral incisors. Here are 3 of those ways.
Canine substitution. We can fill the vacancy created by the missing incisors by orthodontically moving the canines (the “eyeteeth,” normally next to them) into the space. Braces can close the gap in a conservative way, while possibly correcting any existing bite problems. Because canines are larger than incisors, its often necessary to re-contour them and restore them with a crown, veneer or bonding material to look more natural.
Fixed bridge. A second way to fill the space is with a dental bridge. A bridge consists of a series of crowns fused together in a row. The middle crowns replace the missing teeth; the end crowns cap the natural teeth on either end of the gap, which establishes support for the bridge. Another variation is a cantilever bridge in which only one natural tooth is capped for support. With either type, though, the capped teeth will be permanently reduced in size to accommodate the crowns.
Dental implants. This popular restoration is also a favorite for correcting missing incisors. Implants provide a life-like and durable replacement for missing teeth, while not requiring any alterations to existing teeth as with a bridge. But they are more expensive than the other options, and they require adequate space between the adjacent teeth for insertion, as well as healthy bone for proper placement and anchorage. This is also an option that must wait until the jaw has fully matured in early adulthood.
If you would like more information on treating congenitally missing teeth, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow: Treatment Options for Congenitally Missing Lateral Incisors.”
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