Due to financial circumstances, people often have a lost tooth restored with a removable partial denture, an effective appliance that restores function and a degree of aesthetic appearance. Later, though, they may want to improve both function and appearance with a dental implant.
If this describes you, you’re making a great choice. Dental implants are the closest technology we have to a natural tooth. But there may be a roadblock to your implant, especially if a long time has passed since your tooth loss—there may not be enough bone at the site to place an implant.
The heart of an implant is a titanium metal post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. The titanium naturally attracts bone cells, which grow and adhere to it to form a solid hold that can support a porcelain crown or other restorations like bridges or dentures. But to achieve a natural appearance it’s important that the implant is placed in the right location. To achieve that requires adequate bone.
But there may not be adequate bone if the tooth has been missing for a while. The forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the jawbone, which stimulates bone growth. If that stimulus is absent because of a missing tooth, new bone cells may not replace older ones at a healthy rate and the total bone volume begins to diminish. A denture can’t compensate and, in fact, accelerates bone loss.
But there may be a solution: bone grafting. With this procedure we place a donor bone graft into the area of bone deficiency some time before implant surgery. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Hopefully, this will produce enough healthy bone to support an implant. If the bone deficiency is minor, we may place the implant and the bone graft at the same time.
If you have experienced bone loss, we must first determine the amount of bone at the missing tooth site and whether grafting is a viable option. Bone grafting postpones your implant, but the delay will be worth the wait if we’re successful. With increased bone volume you’ll be able to obtain a new tooth that’s superior to your current restoration.
As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
Even though an implant is now as close to life-like as modern dentistry can produce, it won’t surpass the function of your own natural tooth. That’s not to say implants are an inferior choice—in fact, it’s often the best one if a tooth is beyond reasonable repair. But first, let’s consider saving your existing tooth.
We first need to know why your tooth is diseased—more than likely either from tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Although different, these infections both begin with bacteria and can eventually lead to tooth loss.
While your mouth is teeming with millions of harmless bacteria, a few strains that live in dental plaque (a thin biofilm on your teeth) can cause disease. As they proliferate—feeding mostly on leftover sugar—they produce acid, which can erode the protective enamel on teeth. This can create cavities, which must be cleared of decayed material and filled.
Sometimes, though, the decay spreads deep within the pulp and through the root canals putting the tooth in danger. We may be able to save it, though, with a root canal treatment. In this common procedure we access the pulp chamber and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue. We then fill the empty chamber and root canals with a gutta percha filling and then seal the tooth. We later cap the tooth with a crown to further protect it.
Dental plaque can also give rise to a gum infection that triggers chronic inflammation. The inflammation can cause the gums to weaken and detach from the teeth to form large, infection-filled voids called periodontal pockets. This could lead to bone deterioration, further loosening the tooth’s hold.
But we can effectively treat gum disease by removing the plaque, which is fueling the infection. We normally do this with special hand instruments, but may also need to use surgical measures for more advanced cases. After plaque removal the inflammation subsides, giving the tissues a chance to heal and strengthen. We may also need to provide further assistance to these tissues to regenerate through gum or bone grafting.
These efforts can be quite involved, but if successful they could give your tooth another lease on life. And that could be a much better outcome for your dental health.
If you would like more information on the best treatment choices for your dental health, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
During his former career as a professional footballer (that's a soccer star to U.S. sports fans) David Beckham was known for his skill at “bending” a soccer ball. His ability to make the ball curve in mid-flight — to avoid a defender or score a goal — led scores of kids to try to “bend it like Beckham.” But just recently, while enjoying a vacation in Canada with his family, “Becks” tried snowboarding for the first time — and in the process, broke one of his front teeth.
Some fans worried that the missing tooth could be a “red card” for Beckham's current modeling career… but fortunately, he headed straight to the dental office as soon as he arrived back in England. Exactly what kind of treatment is needed for a broken tooth? It all depends where the break is and how badly the tooth is damaged.
For a minor crack or chip, cosmetic bonding may offer a quick and effective solution. In this procedure, a composite resin, in a color custom-made to match the tooth, is applied in liquid form and cured (hardened) with a special light. Several layers of bonding material can be applied to re-construct a larger area of missing tooth, and chips that have been saved can sometimes be reattached as well.
When more tooth structure is missing, dental veneers may be the preferred restorative option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that are bonded to the front surface of the teeth. They can not only correct small chips or cracks, but can also improve the color, spacing, and shape of your teeth.
But if the damage exposes the soft inner pulp of the tooth, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. In this procedure, the inflamed or infected pulp tissue is removed and the tooth sealed against re-infection; if a root canal is not done when needed, the tooth will have an increased risk for extraction in the future. Following a root canal, a tooth is often restored with a crown (cap), which can look good and function well for many years.
Sometimes, a tooth may be knocked completely out of its socket; or, a severely damaged tooth may need to be extracted (removed). In either situation, the best option for restoration is a dental implant. Here, a tiny screw-like device made of titanium metal is inserted into the jaw bone in a minor surgical procedure. Over time, it fuses with the living bone to form a solid anchorage. A lifelike crown is attached, which provides aesthetic appeal and full function for the replacement tooth.
So how's Beckham holding up? According to sources, “David is a trooper and didn't make a fuss. He took it all in his stride." Maybe next time he hits the slopes, he'll heed the advice of dental experts and wear a custom-made mouthguard…
If you have questions about restoring damaged teeth, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Children's Dental Concerns and Injuries.”
Have you ever felt a hot, burning sensation in your mouth—like it had been scalded—but you didn't eat or drink anything that could have caused it?
While you may think you’re hallucinating, there’s another possibility: Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). This condition, which can last for years, produces sensations in the mouth of not only scalding or burning, but also tingling, numbness and a decline in your ability to taste. Patients may feel it throughout their mouth or only in localized areas like the lips, tongue or inside the cheeks.
The exact cause of BMS is also something of a mystery. It’s been theoretically linked to diabetes, vitamin or mineral deficiencies and psychological problems. Because it’s most common among women of menopausal age hormonal changes have been proposed as a factor, although hormone replacement therapy often doesn’t produce any symptomatic relief for BMS.
To complicate matters, other conditions often share the condition’s effects, which need to be ruled out first to arrive at a BMS diagnosis. A feeling of scalding could be the result of mouth dryness, caused by medications or systemic conditions that inhibit saliva flow. Some denture wearers may display some of the symptoms of BMS due to an allergic reaction to denture materials; others may have a similar reaction to the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate found in some toothpaste that can irritate the skin inside the mouth.
If these other possibilities can be ruled out, then you may have BMS. While unfortunately there’s no cure for the condition, there are ways to lessen its impact. There’s even the possibility that it will resolve itself over time.
Until then, keep your mouth moist by drinking lots of water or using saliva-stimulating products, limiting alcohol, caffeinated drinks or spicy foods and refraining from smoking. If you’re taking medications that could cause dry mouth, speak with your physician about changing to an alternative. And try to reduce stress in your life through exercise, mindfulness practices or support groups.
While BMS isn’t considered harmful to your physical health it can make life less enjoyable. Careful symptom management may help improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome: A Painful Puzzle.”
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