The braces are finally off! But to keep your new, straighter smile you'll need to wear a retainer for some time. That's because the same structural mechanism used to move your teeth could undo what we've just accomplished.
That mechanism resides in an elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament that lies between the teeth and the bone and attaches to both with tiny fibers. While the ligament holds the teeth securely in place, it also allows for slight movement in response to bite changes. Braces "pull" the teeth in the desired new direction, and the ligament responds.
But with that pressure gone after the braces' removal, a kind of "muscle memory" can set in that moves the teeth back towards their original positions. A retainer, a dental appliance worn on the teeth, exerts just enough pressure to "retain" or keep the teeth from regressing.
Retainers are effective, but the most common type has a feature that poses potential problems: it can be removed by the wearer. Because of this, less disciplined patients might be tempted not to wear their retainer as directed. There's also a higher risk of losing one and incurring additional cost to replace it.
But there is another type, the bonded retainer, which stays permanently in the mouth until removed by an orthodontist. It's composed of a thin piece of metal that's firmly attached to the back of the teeth with dental composite material. Not only does a bonded retainer solve the problems mentioned before, it also can't be seen from the outside like a removable retainer.
A bonded retainer does have one disadvantage: because it can't be removed, it can obstruct the teeth during brushing and flossing and require more effort. You won't have as much difficulty with a removable retainer keeping teeth and gums clean. You can overcome this disadvantage, though, with specialized tools like a water flosser or a floss threader to make hygiene easier.
To choose which type of retainer is best for you or your family member, have a talk with your orthodontist. And if you choose a bonded retainer and later have it removed, be sure to switch immediately to a removable one if your orthodontist advises. With either retainer, you'll be able to preserve that hard-earned smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on bonded 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: What are the Pros and Cons.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
You have a lot of options for replacing missing teeth, from state-of-the-art dental implants to affordable, but effective partial dentures. But if the teeth in question have been missing for a while, you may first have to undergo orthodontic treatment. Here's why.
While they may feel rigid and firm in the jawbone, teeth are actually held in place by periodontal (gum) ligaments. These elastic tissues lie between the teeth and the bone and attach to both with tiny filaments. This mechanism allows the teeth to incrementally move over time in response to biting pressures or other environmental factors.
When a tooth goes missing the teeth on either side of the space naturally move or "drift" into it to help close the gap. This natural occurrence can reduce the space for a restoration if it has gone on for some time. To make room for a new prosthetic (false) tooth, we may have to move the drifted teeth back to where they belong.
If you're thinking metal braces, that is an option—but not the only one. Clear aligners are another way to move teeth if the bite problem (malocclusion) isn't too severe. Aligners are a series of custom-made, clear, plastic trays worn over the teeth. The patient wears each tray, slightly smaller than the previous one in the series, for about two weeks before changing to the next one. The reduction in size gradually moves teeth to their intended target position.
Many adults prefer clear aligners because they're nearly invisible and don't stand out like metal braces. They're removable, so you can take them out for cleaning or for special occasions. And, we can also attach a prosthetic tooth to the tray that temporarily covers the missing tooth space.
Whichever orthodontic treatment you choose, once completed we can then proceed with restoration to permanently replace your missing teeth. While it can be a long process, the end result is a beautiful smile that could last for years to come.
If you would like more information on your dental restoration options, 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 “Straightening a Smile before Replacing Lost Teeth.”
For chipped, stained, or slightly crooked teeth, dental veneers might be the ideal solution. These thin layers of porcelain bonded directly over the teeth with the perfect blend of color, sizes and shapes, can transform a person’s smile for a relatively modest cost.
But if the teeth belong to a teenager, veneers might not be appropriate. This is because in most cases, we’ll need to remove some of the tooth enamel so that the applied veneers won’t look unnaturally bulky. This alteration is permanent, so the teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
While not usually a major issue with fully matured adult teeth, it could be with the developing teeth of pre-teens and teens. During childhood and adolescence the tooth’s inner pulp plays an important role in dentin production, and so the pulp chamber is relatively large compared to an adult tooth. This larger size places the pulp closer to the enamel surface than with an adult tooth.
Because of its proximity to the enamel, there’s a greater chance veneer alterations could damage a teenager’s tooth pulp and its nerve bundles. If that happens, we may need to perform a root canal treatment to save the tooth—also not an optimal situation for a developing tooth.
That’s why we need to take into consideration a patient’s age and stage of dental development first, including x-raying the affected teeth to measure the depth of the tooth pulp. If we deem it too risky at the moment, there are other ways to improve dental appearance at least temporarily. This includes whitening externally stained teeth with a bleaching agent, or applying tooth-colored composite resin material to chipped areas. We can also apply a composite material veneer that, although not as durable as traditional porcelain, doesn’t require much if any tooth alteration.
To know your options, have your teenager undergo a thorough dental examination. Your dentist will then be able to discuss with you whether veneers can be safely attempted. And be sure the dentist who may perform the work has experience performing cosmetic procedures on teenagers.
If you would like more information on restoration choices for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
In a normal bite, the upper and lower teeth line up and fit together when you close your jaws. When they don’t, you have a poor bite or “malocclusion.” The most common cause is teeth out of position, which can be corrected by moving them with braces.
Sometimes, though, the size and position of the jaws is the primary cause for the malocclusion and not the teeth. If the discrepancy is minor, tooth movement alone might be sufficient; but if there’s a wide discrepancy in the symmetry of the face or the size of one jaw over the other then a surgical solution may be necessary. One common procedure is orthognathic surgery, which literally means to “straighten the jaw.”
A wide range of irregularities — both minor and major — can be corrected by adjusting and realigning the bone in the jaw. While orthognathic surgery can certainly improve your facial profile and smile, its main purpose is to restore function that’s been lost due to poor jaw alignment. Candidates for the surgery have difficulty chewing, biting or swallowing food, chronic pain or headaches related to the jaw joints, chronic mouth breathing and dry mouth, or sleep apnea.
In many cases, treatment involving orthognathic surgery requires a team approach between orthodontist, oral surgeon and general dentist. While the surgeon surgically alters and repairs the jaw or facial structure, the services of an orthodontist may still be needed to move teeth misaligned due to the underlying problem with the jaw structure. The general dentist ensures teeth and gums remain healthy during all the other treatment phases.
Orthognathic surgery can benefit both oral and general health, as well as improve the appearance of the entire face. The process, however, can be complicated: you or your family member will need to undergo a thorough examination to determine if you or they are a good candidate for the surgery. If so, the end result can be life-changing.
If you would like more information on the treatment of jaw development disorders, 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 “Jaw Surgery & Orthodontics.”
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