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.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
The Health Policy Institute, part of the American Dental Association, recently conducted a survey of around 15,000 people across the U.S., asking them about problems with their teeth and gums. Three issues in particular stood out, each affecting about one-third of those surveyed.
Here are those top 3 dental problems that plague Americans and what to do about them.
Tooth Pain. As with other parts of the body, tooth or mouth pain is a sign of something wrong — in some instances ignoring it could lead to tooth loss. Because there are a number of possible pain sources like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, anyone with tooth pain should see a dentist for an examination to pinpoint the actual cause. That will determine what kind of treatment will remedy the problem and stop the pain.
Difficulty with Chewing. For 31% in the ADA survey, chewing food was a difficult and often painful task. The consequences go well beyond the mouth: with less chewing efficiency a person may be unable to eat certain foods that supply his or her body with essential nutrients. Like tooth pain, there are a number of possible causes: cracked or deeply decayed teeth, enamel erosion or recessed gums that have exposed sensitive tooth layers, or poorly fitted dentures. Finding and then treating the cause of the difficulty could help restore chewing ability.
Dry Mouth. The most prevalent dental issue in the survey was chronic dry mouth. It's more than simply being thirsty: chronic dry mouth usually stems from inadequate saliva flow. It's often caused by some systemic diseases or as a side effect to a prescription drug. Saliva helps neutralize decay-causing acid and supplies antibodies to fight infection. Without sufficient flow a person is more susceptible to diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Changing medications or using products to increase saliva could help prevent these dental problems.
So, have you experienced symptoms for any these common oral health problems? If you have, be sure you see your dentist as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
We’ve come a long way in our ability to restore missing teeth. Today’s top choice is dental implants, prized not only for their close resemblance to real teeth but also their durability.
The rise of implants, though, hasn’t put older restorative methods out to pasture—many continue to offer patients a viable and affordable choice for tooth replacement. One example is the removable partial denture (RPD).
Once quite common, RPDs’ popularity has only slightly diminished with the advent of implants. They’re a fair option in terms of dental function and appearance, and much less expensive than implants or fixed bridges.
Similar to a full denture—a removable appliance that replaces all the teeth on a dental arch—a RPD can replace multiple missing teeth in a variety of configurations. A traditional RPD is usually constructed of vitallium, a lightweight but strong metal alloy, which allows for a very thin and comfortable frame. It’s covered in a gum-colored resin or plastic with prosthetic (false) teeth precisely set at the missing teeth’s locations. The appliance stays in place through a series of clasps that attach to the remaining teeth.
Each RPD is custom-made to fit a patient’s mouth contours and the locations and patterns of the missing teeth. The top design goal for each individual RPD is to minimize any rocking movement during chewing; achieving that goal will depend not only on how many teeth are missing and where, but also what type of teeth are being replaced. For example, teeth missing from the back would require a different support design than teeth missing from the side or front.
RPDs’ biggest benefits are comfortable fit, effective dental function and good appearance. However, their means of attachment can create difficulties keeping remaining teeth clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. Furthermore, an ill-fitting or unstable RPD could damage or even loosen natural teeth. It’s therefore essential for wearers to diligently practice daily hygiene (including cleaning the RPD) and undergo regular fit monitoring with their dentist.
Even with these constraints, a RPD can do an acceptable job providing dental function. What’s more, it can definitely improve your smile.
If you would like more information on options for dental restoration, 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 Partial Dentures: Still a Viable Tooth-Replacement Alternative.”
Implant-supported fixed bridges are growing in popularity because they offer superior support to traditional bridges or dentures. They can also improve bone health thanks to the affinity between bone cells and the implants' titanium posts.
Even so, you'll still need to stay alert to the threat of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection usually triggered by dental plaque could ultimately infect the underlying bone and cause it to deteriorate. As a result the implants could loosen and cause you to lose your bridgework.
To avoid this you'll need to be as diligent with removing plaque from around your implants as you would with natural teeth. The best means for doing this is to floss around each implant post between the bridgework and the natural gums.
This type of flossing is quite different than with natural teeth where you work the floss in between each tooth. With your bridgework you'll need to thread the floss between it and the gums with the help of a floss threader, a small handheld device with a loop on one end and a stiff flat edge on the other.
To use it you'll first pull off about 18" of dental floss and thread it through the loop. You'll then gently work the sharper end between the gums and bridge from the cheek side toward the tongue. Once through to the tongue side, you'll hold one end of the floss and pull the floss threader away with the other until the floss is now underneath the bridge.
You'll then loop each end of the floss around your fingers on each hand and work the floss up and down the sides of the nearest tooth or implant. You'll then release one hand from the floss and pull the floss out from beneath the bridge. Rethread it in the threader and move to the next section of the bridge and clean those implants.
You can also use other methods like specialized floss with stiffened ends for threading, an oral irrigator (or "water flosser") that emits a pressurized spray of water to loosen plaque, or an interproximal brush that can reach into narrow spaces. If you choose an interproximal brush, however, be sure it's not made with metal wire, which can scratch the implant and create microscopic crevices for plaque.
Use the method you and your dentist think best to keep your implants plaque-free. Doing so will help reduce your risk of a gum infection that could endanger your implant-supported bridgework.
If you would like more information on implant-supported bridges, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
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