It's difficult to measure how x-ray imaging has transformed dentistry since its use became prominent a half century ago. As equipment and methods standardized, the technology revolutionized the way we diagnose tooth decay and other mouth-related issues.
One of the more useful of these methods is called the bitewing x-ray. The term comes from the shape of the device a patient holds between their teeth with the film attached on the side toward their tongue. We direct the x-ray beam to the outside of the patient's cheek, where it passes through the teeth to expose on the film. Its particular design provides clearer images since the patient's bite helps keep the film still and distortion-free, making it easier to view signs of early tooth decay.
Bitewing x-rays usually consist of four films, two on either side of the mouth, necessary to capture all of the teeth (children with smaller jaws, however, often only require one film per side). How frequently they're conducted depends on a number of factors, including the patient's age: children or young adolescents are usually filmed more frequently than adults, usually every six to twelve months. Frequency also depends on a patient's particular decay risk — the higher the risk the more frequent the x-ray.
Regardless of how often they're performed, a similar application principle applies with bitewing x-rays as with any other radiological method: As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). With the ALARA principle in other words, we're looking for that sweet spot where we're able to detect the earliest stages of dental disease with the least amount of radiation exposure.
Bitewings fit this principle well: a patient receives only a fraction of the radiation exposure from a four-film bitewing as they do from a daily dose of environmental radiation. Factor in new digital technology that reduces exposure rates and bitewings pose virtually no health risk to patients, especially if conducted in a prudent manner.
The benefits are well worth it. Thanks to bitewing x-rays we may be able to diagnose decay early and stop it before it causes you or your family member extensive tooth damage.
Moving teeth through orthodontics may involve more than simply wearing braces. There are many bite conditions that require extra measures before, during or after traditional orthodontic treatment to improve the outcome.
One such measure is extracting one or more teeth. Whether or not we should will depend on the causes behind a patient's poor dental bite.
Here, then, are 4 situations where tooth extraction before orthodontics might be necessary.
Crowding. This happens when the jaw isn't large enough to accommodate all the teeth coming in. As a result, later erupting teeth could erupt out of position. We can often prevent this in younger children with space maintainers or a palatal expander, a device which helps widen the jaw. Where crowding has already occurred, though, it may be necessary to remove selected teeth first to open up jaw space for desired tooth movement.
Impacted teeth. Sometimes an incoming tooth becomes blocked and remains partially or fully submerged beneath the gums. Special orthodontic hardware can often be used to pull an impacted tooth down where it should be, but not always. It may be better to remove the impacted tooth completely, as well as its matching tooth on the other side of the jaw to maintain smile balance before orthodontically correcting the bite.
Front teeth protrusion. This bite problem involves front teeth that stick out at a more horizontal angle. Orthodontics can return the teeth to their proper alignment, but other teeth may be blocking that movement. To open up space for movement, it may be necessary to remove one or more of these obstructing teeth.
Congenitally missing teeth. The absence of permanent teeth that failed to develop can disrupt dental appearance and function, especially if they're near the front of the mouth. They're often replaced with a dental implant or other type of restoration. If only one tooth is missing, though, another option would be to remove the similar tooth on the other side of the jaw, and then close any resulting gaps with braces.
Extracting teeth in these and other situations can help improve the chances of a successful orthodontic outcome. The key is to accurately assess the bite condition and plan accordingly.
If you would like more information on orthodontic options, 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 “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”