Orthodontics can produce an amazing smile transformation. With today’s advanced appliances and techniques even the most difficult malocclusions (bad bites) can be overcome. All of this innovation, however, depends on one basic anatomical fact: though firmly set in the mouth, our teeth can still move.
Teeth are actually held in place by the periodontal ligament, a strong, elastic tissue that attaches to them through tiny collagen fibers on one side of the ligament and to the jawbone with similar fibers on the other side. When pressure is placed against a tooth, the bone on the opposite side of the force begins to dissolve (resorb), allowing the tooth to move. As it moves, new bone is built up behind the tooth, to stabilize it. Orthodontists take advantage of this natural mechanism through orthodontic hardware like braces that applies pressure in the desired direction of movement, while the ligament and bone do the rest.
There is, though, a downside to this process. The teeth, bone and gum tissues can contain a kind of “memory” for the former natural position of the teeth. Over time, the lower front teeth tend to take a gradual migratory movement back towards their original position. Also, as we age the lower front teeth may crowd each other as there is a genetic influence for teeth to move to the midline of the face, causing a pressure that allows the skinny lower front teeth to slip behind each other. As a result of both of these tendencies, corrected teeth may retreat from their new positions.
To stop these tendencies, we use an appliance known as a retainer after braces or other hardware is removed. As the name implies, this appliance “retains” the teeth in their new position. For structural “memory,” the retainer will keep the teeth in their new position until the impulse to return to the old one has faded, about eighteen months. Retainers can also slow or stop the natural genetic influence of movement, but it may mean wearing a retainer for an indefinite period, especially individuals who’ve undergone orthodontic treatment later in life.
The length of time you’ll need to wear a retainer after braces — and what type, whether a removable appliance or one permanently attached — will depend on a number of factors including the type of malocclusion, your individual mouth structure and age. We’ll recommend the best option that ensures the best chance of keeping your teeth in their new position.
If you would like more information on retainers after 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 “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
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.”