About one-quarter of people have teeth that never developed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are wisdom teeth, they can also include premolars or lateral incisors (the teeth right next to the two front teeth, the central incisors).
Missing teeth can have an adverse effect on smile appearance. But that’s not all: because each type of tooth performs a specific function, one or more missing teeth can lead to bite problems and disruption of dental function. In the case of missing lateral incisors, the canines (eye teeth) normally positioned beside and toward the back of the mouth from them may begin to drift into the empty space and grow next to the central incisors. This can result in greater difficulty chewing and a smile that “doesn’t look right.”
To correct this situation, we must often first attempt to orthodontically move any out of place teeth to their normal positions. This re-establishes the space needed for the missing teeth to be replaced, which we can then restore with prosthetic (artificial) teeth. If the permanent restoration of choice involves dental implants, we’ll usually need to wait until the completion of jaw development around early adulthood. In the mean time, we can use a retainer appliance to hold the teeth in their new positions with prosthetic teeth attached to fill the empty space for a better smile appearance in the interim.
The real issue is timing—beginning orthodontic treatment when appropriate to a person’s oral development, as well as completing the implant restoration when the mouth has matured sufficiently. There are other considerations such as bone volume, which may have diminished due to the missing teeth. At some point we may need to consider grafting to build up the bone sufficiently to support dental implants.
This all may entail a team approach by various specialties like orthodontics, periodontics and implantology. Working together and coordinating within a timely schedule, a mouth and smile marred by undeveloped teeth can be transformed.
If you would like more information on treating smiles with underdeveloped permanent 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.”
If you've known anyone who has worn braces, you know what comes after — wearing a retainer. This can be kind of a letdown after all those months with braces, but it's absolutely necessary.
That's because teeth have a tendency to “rebound” to their pre-orthodontic positions once the force to move them stops after the braces are removed. Retainers help keep or “retain” moved teeth in their new positions and prevent them from reverting to the old.
When you think “retainer,” you probably picture a removable appliance with a wire that fits over the front of the teeth. While that may be the most common type, it isn't the only one. There's another called a bonded retainer, a thin piece of wire bonded to the back of the teeth that need to be retained. Unlike the other type, a dentist must remove a bonded retainer when it's no longer needed.
The biggest advantage of a bonded retainer is its invisibility — the wire is behind the teeth so no one can see it as with a removable retainer. The wire is bonded to the teeth with a dental composite material and then light-cured to create a strong attachment.
Another advantage is especially pertinent to younger patients. Because it's permanently attached and can't be taken out, there's no constant reminding of the patient to wear it — and no more worries about replacing a lost one.
They can, though, be difficult to floss around leading to potential plaque buildup that increases disease risk. It's very important you receive proper hygiene instruction for cleaning under the bonded retainer. Another concern is that they can break under excessive chewing pressure. And as with the more common retainer, we wouldn't want to remove it as that will result in the teeth's relapse to their old positions.
To learn which retainer is best for your situation, you should discuss the options with your orthodontist. Regardless of which type you choose, though, a retainer is a must for protecting your investment in that new smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontics and retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
While crooked teeth are usually responsible for a malocclusion (poor bite), the root cause could go deeper: a malformed maxilla, a composite structure composed of the upper jaw and palate. If that’s the case, it will take more than braces to correct the bite.
The maxilla actually begins as two bones that fit together along a center line in the roof of the mouth called the midline suture, running back to front in the mouth. The suture remains open in young children to allow for jaw growth, but eventually fuses during adolescence.
Problems arise, though, when these bones don’t fully develop. This can cause the jaw to become too narrow and lead to crowding among the erupting teeth and a compromised airway that can lead to obstructive sleep apnea. This can create a cross-bite where the upper back teeth bite inside their lower counterparts, the opposite of normal.
We can remedy this by stimulating more bone growth along the midline suture before it fuses, resulting in a wider maxilla. We do this by installing a palatal expander, an appliance that incrementally widens the suture to encourage bone formation in the gap, which over time will widen the jaw.
An expander is a metal device with “legs” extending out on both sides and whose ends fit along the inside of the teeth. A gear mechanism in the center extends the legs to push against the teeth on both sides of the jaw. Each day the patient or caregiver uses a key to give the gear a quarter turn to extend the legs a little more and widen the suture gap. We remove the expander once the jaw widens to the appropriate distance.
A palatal expander is an effective, cost-efficient way to improve a bite caused by a narrow jaw, but only if attempted before the bones fuse. Widening the jaw after fusion requires surgery to separate the bones — a much more involved and expensive process.
To make sure your child is on the right track with their bite be sure to see an orthodontist for an evaluation around age 6. Doing so will make it easier to intervene at the proper time with treatments like a palatal expander, and perhaps correct bite problems before they become more expensive to treat.
If you would like more information on treating malocclusions, 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.”
The longer many health problems go on, the worse they become. Treating them as early as possible could stop or slow their development.
That holds true for poor bites: while we can certainly correct them later in life, it's often better to "intercept" the problem during childhood. Interceptive orthodontics attempts to do this with treatments that influence how the jaws and other mouth structures develop during childhood. Many of these techniques are usually best implemented before puberty.
For example, some very complex problems called cross bites can occur if the upper jaw grows too narrowly. We might be able to stop this from happening by using an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander during the childhood years. It works because the bone at the center of the palate (roof of the mouth) has a gap running back to front until the early teens when the gap closes.
We fit the palatal expander up under and against the palate, then extend out metal arms from a center mechanism to the back of the upper teeth that exert outward pressure on them. This widens the center gap, which the body continually fills with bone as the device gradually exerts more pressure. Over time this causes the jaw to widen and lessens the cross bite. Timing, though, is everything: it's most effective before the gap closes.
Another way to aid jaw growth is a Herbst appliance, a hinged device that alters the movement of the jaws. As a child wears it, a Herbst appliance draws the lower jaw forward to develop more in that direction. Like the palatal expander, it's best used before significant jaw growth occurs.
These are just two examples of techniques and tools that can guide structural growth and prevent bite problems. Because they're most effective in the early years of oral development, your child should undergo an orthodontic evaluation as early as age 6 to see if they need and can benefit from an interceptive treatment.
Interceptive orthodontics can stop or at least slow a growing bite problem. The effort and expense now could save you much more of both later on.
If you would like more information on interceptive 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 “Interceptive Orthodontics: Timely Intervention can make Treatment Easier.”
There are many new and exciting ways now to transform an unattractive smile into one you'll be confident to display. But not all “smile makeover” techniques are new — one in particular has been around for generations: using braces to correct crooked teeth.
Braces have improved the smiles (and also dental health) for millions of people. But as commonplace this orthodontic treatment is, it wouldn't work at all if a natural mechanism for moving teeth didn't already exist. Braces “partner” with this mechanism to move teeth to better positions.
The jawbone doesn't actually hold teeth in place — that's the job of an elastic gum tissue between the teeth and bone called the periodontal ligament. Tiny fibers extending from the ligament attach to the teeth on one side and to the bone on the other. In addition to securing them, the dynamic, moldable nature of the ligament allows teeth to move incrementally in response to forces applied against them.
To us, the teeth feel quite stationary (if they don't, that's a problem!). That's because there's sufficient length of the tooth roots that are surrounded by bone, periodontal ligament and gum tissue. But when pressure is applied against the teeth, the periodontal ligament forms both osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) and osteoclasts (bone-resorbing cells) causing the bone to remodel. This allows the teeth to move to a new position.
Braces take advantage of this in a controlled manner. The orthodontist bonds brackets to the outside face of the teeth through which they pass a thin metal wire. They attach the ends of the wire to the brackets (braces), usually on the back teeth. By using the tension placed in the wire, the orthodontist can control the gradual movement of teeth to achieve proper function and aesthetics. The orthodontist continues to monitor the treatment progress, while making periodic adjustments to the tension.
It takes time, but through this marvelous interplay between nature and dental science you'll gain a more healthy and beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on improving your smile with 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”