Drilling teeth is an essential part of repairing and restoring the damage caused by tooth decay. For generations dentists have relied on the dental drill with its rotating burr to remove decayed and damaged tooth material.
But while the dental drill is effective it also has its disadvantages. In the process of removing decayed material it inadvertently removes healthy structure near the target material. It often requires anesthesia to deaden the work area. And its noise and vibration are often unsettling to patients.
There is a growing alternative, though: air abrasion, a technology that's been around since the mid-20th Century. But recent advances in controlling the dust created by using abrasion, as well as new tooth-colored bonding materials to replace tooth structure, have sparked new interest among dentists and patients alike.
Also known as particle abrasion, this drill alternative uses a pressurized stream of fine particles to remove decayed material. Using a hand wand a dentist can precisely aim the stream of particles (usually aluminum oxide) to the specific areas of decay or softened material that need to be removed. As a result, it removes only a fraction of healthy tooth structure compared to traditional drilling. Air abrasion has also proven effective for removing staining without harming enamel.
Air abrasion also eliminates the sound and vibration associated with dental drills, and may not always require local anesthesia. On the other hand, it does have some limitations. For one, it's not as effective with larger cavities or working around older fillings. The tooth or teeth to be worked on must be carefully isolated from the rest of the mouth to keep the patient from swallowing the abrasive particles. And without a high-volume suction pump and good isolation protocols, the particles can produce something of a “sandstorm” in the treatment room.
But as air abrasion continues to advance, we may see improvements in these limitations. In a future time, the traditional dental drill may go the way of the horse and buggy.
If you would like more information on air abrasion as an alternative to drilling, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Dentures, removable restorations for missing teeth and gum tissue, can take a number of different forms, but are usually of two different types: complete and partial. A complete denture replaces all the teeth in a given arch. A removable partial denture (RPD), on the other hand, replaces several missing teeth while using the remaining teeth as support.
A common type of RPD formed of plastic is known as a “flipper” because it’s lightweight enough to be “flipped out” or moved around with the tongue. They serve an important purpose as a temporary appliance for use between periodontal treatment, implant placement and similar treatments before obtaining a more permanent restoration. In fact, they’re often referred to as “transitional” RPDs because they’re not designed for permanent tooth replacement.
Because of their low cost relative to other restorations, however, they often become the permanent choice for many people. While a well-constructed, properly fitting RPD in a healthy mouth can be an affordable alternative for people on modest budgets, their long-term use may increase the risk of dental disease and accelerated bone loss. Decades of research verify that people who permanently wear RPDs encounter more tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease than non-wearers.
This is because the attachment points of a plastic RPD to remaining teeth increases bacterial growth, which can cause both tooth decay and gum disease. This doesn’t only endanger the survival of the remaining teeth, it can lead to bone loss that will affect the RPD’s fit.
While the better course is to consider RPDs as a stepping stone to dental implants or a fixed bridge, there’s an intermediary RPD constructed of cast vitallium or gold alloy that could be considered a permanent choice. These are even lighter weight than plastic and less obtrusive in their attachments in the mouth, which can reduce plaque stagnation and promote a better oral environment.
Regardless of your choice in dentures, it’s always important to maintain good consistent oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing and semi-annual professional cleanings and checkups. Keeping a healthy mouth will help reduce your risk of dental disease and increase your satisfaction with your denture of choice.
If you would like more information on RPDs and other denture restorations, 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.”
Can you have healthy teeth and still have gum disease? Absolutely! And if you don’t believe us, just ask actor David Ramsey. The cast member of TV hits such as Dexter and Arrow said in a recent interview that up to the present day, he has never had a single cavity. Yet at a routine dental visit during his college years, Ramsey’s dentist pointed out how easily his gums bled during the exam. This was an early sign of periodontal (gum) disease, the dentist told him.
“I learned that just because you don’t have cavities, doesn’t mean you don’t have periodontal disease,” Ramsey said.
Apparently, Ramsey had always been very conscientious about brushing his teeth but he never flossed them.
“This isn’t just some strange phenomenon that exists just in my house — a lot of people who brush don’t really floss,” he noted.
Unfortunately, that’s true — and we’d certainly like to change it. So why is flossing so important?
Oral diseases such as tooth decay and periodontal disease often start when dental plaque, a bacteria-laden film that collects on teeth, is allowed to build up. These sticky deposits can harden into a substance called tartar or calculus, which is irritating to the gums and must be removed during a professional teeth cleaning.
Brushing teeth is one way to remove soft plaque, but it is not effective at reaching bacteria or food debris between teeth. That’s where flossing comes in. Floss can fit into spaces that your toothbrush never reaches. In fact, if you don’t floss, you’re leaving about a thirdÂ to half of your tooth surfaces unclean — and, as David Ramsey found out, that’s a path to periodontal disease.
Since then, however, Ramsey has become a meticulous flosser, and he proudly notes that the long-ago dental appointment “was the last we heard of any type of gum disease.”
Let that be the same for you! Just remember to brush and floss, eat a good diet low in sugar, and come in to the dental office for regular professional cleanings.
If you would like more information on flossing or periodontal disease, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Understanding Gum (Periodontal) Disease.”
Dental implants can do more than replace individual teeth — a few well-placed implants can support other restorations like a fixed bridge. The natural integration that occurs between the bone and the implant's titanium post creates a strong, durable hold for both implant and the supported restoration.
But if a bone-implant connection weakens, the implant could be in danger of failing. This can occur because of periodontal (gum) disease caused by dental plaque, a thin film of built-up food particles and bacteria on the teeth. Untreated, the infection can ultimately spread from the gums to the bone and cause it to diminish in volume. If the bone loss occurs around an implant the threaded surface of the post may be exposed, inviting more plaque buildup. This can trigger more bone loss and eventually implant failure.
That's why you must brush and floss daily to remove plaque on and around your fixed bridge just as you do your natural teeth. Brushing around a bridge could be difficult with a traditional brush, so you may want to use an interproximal brush designed for just such situations. Be sure any utensil you use contains only plastic parts — metal creates microscopic scratches in the restoration materials that could harbor plaque.
You should also floss between the bridge and gums as well as between any natural teeth. While this can be difficult with traditional flossing methods, there are some tools to make it easier.
One is a floss threader, a small tool with a loop on one end and a stiff plastic edge on the other. With floss threaded through the loop, you gently guide the edged end between the bridge and gums. Once it passes through, you wrap the two ends of the floss with your fingers as you would normally and work it along each side of the nearest implants.
You can also use pre-cut floss sections with stiffened ends to pass through the gap, or an oral irrigator that loosens and flushes away plaque with a pressurized water stream. Just be sure you flush debris away from the gum and not toward it.
Keeping all surfaces of your implant-supported bridgework clean of plaque is necessary for its longevity. Be sure you also visit your dentist regularly for more thorough cleanings.
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