While celebrating all that a new year brings, take a moment to remember the New Year's Day birthday of a true American patriot: the legendary Paul Revere. Ironically, he became a legend some 80 years after his midnight trek to warn colonists of approaching British troops, thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1861 poem “Paul Revere's Ride.” He was much better known to his fellow Bostonians as a prosperous silversmith, engraver—and “artificial teeth” maker.
That's right. Among his many business endeavors, Revere's résumé also included dental prosthetics, specifically custom dentures made of ivory. For the time, his work was state-of-the-art technology that far surpassed older tooth replacement methods.
But when we compare Revere's foray into the dental arts and today's restorations, his high quality 18th Century dentures were the proverbial “horse and buggy,” while modern denture technology seems like “supersonic transport.” Not only are today's dentures made of superior materials that are more “toothlike” in appearance, the means to create them using digital technology gives wearers a more secure and comfortable fit.
The modern denture—an appliance that replaces multiple or all lost teeth—is composed of a polymer base, usually acrylic that is colored to resemble gum tissue. Attached to this base are the prosthetic (“false”) teeth that replace those lost along the jaw. These new teeth are usually made of a durable dental material like porcelain that looks and functions like real teeth.
The basic design of today's denture hasn't changed much in the last century. What has changed is our ability to create dentures that follow an individual jaw contours much more precisely. Using the latest digital technology, we're able to obtain highly accurate impressions of the mouth to guide the manufacturing process. Fit is critically important for how dentures feel and function in the mouth. If they are too loose, they become uncomfortable and limit which foods you can eat.
If that weren't enough, recent advancements with dental implants have taken dentures to an entirely new level, beyond anything imaginable in Revere's day. We're now able to create dentures that connect or are permanently affixed to implants set within the jaw, which makes them more stable and secure. An implant-supported denture also helps prevent bone loss, a weakness of traditional dentures, causing them to loosen over time.
As amazing as they are, we wouldn't have the modern version of dentures without craftsmen like Paul Revere who helped advance the cause of dental restoration. So, lift a glass of holiday cheer this season to this hero of the American Revolution—and of American dentistry.
The ongoing opioid addiction epidemic has brought together government, law enforcement and healthcare to find solutions. The focus among doctors and dentists has been on finding ways to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.
Opioids (or narcotics) have been a prominent part of pain management in healthcare for decades. Drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl can relieve moderate to extreme pain and make recovery after illness or procedures much easier. Providers like doctors and dentists have relied heavily on them, writing nearly 260 million narcotic prescriptions a year as late as 2012.
But although effective when used properly, narcotics are also addictive. While the bulk of overall drug addiction stems from illegal narcotics like heroin, prescription drugs also account for much of the problem: In 2015, for example, 2 million Americans had an addiction that began with an opioid prescription.
The current crisis has led to horrific consequences as annual overdose deaths now surpass the peak year of highway accident deaths (just over 54,000 in 1972). This has led to a concerted effort by doctors and dentists to develop other approaches to pain management without narcotics.
One that’s gained recent momentum in dentistry involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin work by dilating blood vessels, which reduces painful inflammation. They’re available over the counter, although stronger doses require a prescription.
NSAIDs are effective for mild to moderate pain, but without the addictive properties of narcotics. There are some adverse health consequences if taken long-term, but limited use for pain or during post-procedure recovery is safe.
Many dentists are recommending NSAIDs for first-line pain management after most dental procedures. Narcotics may still be prescribed, but in a limited and controlled fashion. As part of this new approach, dentists typically combine ibuprofen and acetaminophen: Studies have shown the two work together better at reducing pain than either one individually.
Still, many aren’t eager to move away from the proven effectiveness of narcotics to primarily NSAIDs. But as these non-addictive drugs continue to prove their effectiveness, there’s hope the use of addictive opioids will continue to decrease.
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
While your teeth and gums can take a lot, they still face dangers like dental disease. Your teeth are also affected by aging-related wear and tear.
And, something else could put your teeth at risk: teeth grinding. This is an involuntary habit afflicting one in ten adults in which they grind or clench their teeth, often while they’re asleep. This generates higher than normal biting forces that can cause sore jaw joints, accelerated teeth wear and damage to the ligaments that hold teeth in place. In the worst case, you could eventually lose teeth.
So how do you know you’re grinding your teeth, especially if you’re asleep? You might notice your jaw being unusually sore after you wake up or your jaw muscles feel tired. Your dentist may also notice higher than normal tooth wear during a regular checkup. One of the best indicators, though, might be your sleeping partner or family: Teeth gnashing together can be loud enough to disturb others’ sleep.
In treating adult teeth grinding, it’s best to first determine the underlying cause. One of the most prominent reasons is chronic stress: If you’re under high pressure from situations at work or at home, pent-up stress can vent through physical outlets like teeth grinding. You can manage high stress through relaxation techniques, biofeedback or group therapy, which could in turn reduce teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding could also be related to a sleep disorder, such as problems with shifting between nightly sleep cycles. Certain psychoactive drugs are often associated with teeth grinding too. And, because of alterations in brain chemistry, tobacco users are twice as likely to grind their teeth as non-users. So, receiving treatment for a medical condition or making certain lifestyle changes could help lessen a grinding habit.
Many of these approaches take time to alleviate teeth grinding. For immediate relief, your dentist can create a custom mouthguard you wear while you sleep to reduce the effects of teeth grinding. The guard prevents the upper and lower teeth from making contact while biting down, which reduces the forces against them.
The damage from teeth grinding is often cumulative. If diagnosed early, though, we may be able to stop or minimize the damage before it goes too far.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding.”
Every year many parents learn their “tweenager” or teenager needs their bite corrected, often with specialized orthodontics. Imagine, though, if these families could go back in time to when their child’s poor bite was just developing to stop or slow it from forming.
Time travel may still be science fiction, but the approach suggested isn’t. It’s called interceptive orthodontics, a group of techniques and procedures performed during the early stages of jaw development. The focus is usually on getting abnormal jaw growth back on track, enough so that a poor bite won’t form.
The upper jaw, for example, may be growing too narrow, reducing the amount of available space for tooth eruption. If it isn’t corrected, teeth can erupt out of position. To correct it, an orthodontist places a palatal expander in the roof of the child’s mouth (palate). The appliance applies gentle pressure against the inside of the teeth, which stimulates the jaws to develop wider.
The expander works because of a separation in the bones at the center of the palate, which later fuse around puberty. The pressure applied from the expander keeps this gap slightly open; the body then continues to fill the widening expansion with bone, enough over time to widen the jaw. If you wait until puberty, the gap has already fused, and it would have to be reopened surgically to use this technique. Ideally, then, a palatal expander should be employed at a young age.
Not all interceptive techniques are this extensive—some, like a space maintainer, are quite simple. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost prematurely, teeth next to the empty space tend to drift into it and cause the intended permanent tooth to erupt out of place due to a lack of space. To prevent this an orthodontist places a small wire loop within the space to prevent other teeth from moving into it.
These are but two examples of the many methods for stopping or slowing a developing bite problem. To achieve the best outcome, they need to be well-timed. Be sure, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If an interceptive orthodontic approach is needed, it could eliminate the need for more extensive—and expensive—treatment later.
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