Dental implants are by far the best way to replace missing teeth. But they do more than improve your smile: they can restore your ability to eat, chew and talk properly, especially if the teeth replaced are in the back of your mouth. What’s more, they can improve the entire look of your face by restoring facial height and cheek support lost because of the missing teeth.
There is, however, one obstacle to overcome before receiving dental implants — a lack of sufficient bone at the implant site. Bone loss usually occurs when teeth have been missing for some time. This is because when we chew the forces generated by the teeth stimulate continual bone growth to make up for older bone that has dissolved (resorbed). This stimulation doesn’t occur after teeth are lost, which slows the rate of bone growth. Over time the amount of healthy bone diminishes.
Without enough bone for support, implants can’t be placed properly. Fortunately, some of the bone can be regenerated through techniques that place bone grafting material at the site to stimulate and serve as a scaffold for new bone.Â The new bone will eventually replace the graft.
For missing upper back teeth with bone loss, we can take advantage of facial anatomy to grow the bone needed for implants. This area of the face is where the maxillary sinuses, air spaces lined with a tissue membrane, are located on either side just above the upper jaw. After determining their exact size and location through detailed x-ray imaging, we can surgically access the area inside the mouth just above the missing teeth.
The sinus cavity is an area where bone growth can occur by placing a bone graft between the floor of the sinus and the sinus membrane. Sometimes bone growth enhancers are used to stimulate and speed up regeneration. The procedure can usually be performed with local anesthesia (much like a routine tooth filling), with only mild discomfort afterward for a few days managed by an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen and a decongestant for sinus swelling.
After six to seven months, we re-evaluate the area to see if sufficient bone has returned for implant surgery. If so, you will be well on your way to achieving a new look and better function through dental implants.
If you would like more information on building new bone through sinus surgery, 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 “Sinus Surgery.”
Teeth crowding is a difficult bite problem (malocclusion) that often involves the entire jaw structure to be evaluated. Normally occurring when the jaw doesn’t have adequate space for normal tooth eruption, teeth coming in later put pressure on other teeth, causing them to develop improperly.
Crowding also makes it difficult to realign teeth with braces because there’s simply not enough room for sufficient movement to take place. The solution may then be to consider the removal of some of the teeth to create enough space for orthodontic treatment.
Not just any tooth can be removed, however — we must first conduct a careful analysis to determine which can be removed to facilitate optimum movement of the remaining teeth without disrupting normal mouth function or affecting appearance. The teeth most frequently removed for this purpose are the bicuspids, located between the cuspids or eyeteeth (which are positioned directly under the eyes) and the molars, the largest teeth in the back of the mouth. Sometimes one premolar tooth on each side of the jaw can be removed without sacrificing future form or function.
There are a few important considerations we must keep in mind when extracting teeth for orthodontic reasons; perhaps the most important is preserving bone at the extraction site. Because continuing bone growth depends on the forces generated by teeth when we bite or chew, bone near a missing tooth socket will tend to diminish over time. If there’s insufficient bone during orthodontic treatment, it may result in gum recession and root exposure — not only damaging to the teeth themselves but also to a person’s smile appearance. To avoid this, we sometimes will consider inserting a bone graft, which will stimulate bone growth, into the empty socket immediately after extraction. While this isn’t commonly done, it’s being considered if the patient’s bone is thin and a concern during healing.
We must also consider how to accommodate other, unrelated tooth loss to assure the final result is visually appealing. It may be necessary in these cases to maintain the space at the missing tooth site for a future restoration once the orthodontics is completed. This takes planning as well as the use of restorations like dental implants, bridges or partial dentures.
Regardless of your bite issues, the field of orthodontics has the appliances and techniques to overcome even the most complicated condition. When necessary, using procedures like tooth extraction can help turn an unappealing, dysfunctional bite problem into a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic teeth extractions, 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 “Tooth Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”
About one American baby in 700 is born with some form of lip or palate cleft—and the percentage is even higher in other parts of the world. At one time this kind of birth defect sentenced a child to a lifetime of social stigma and related health issues. But thanks to a surgical breakthrough over sixty years ago, cleft defects are now routinely treated and repaired.
Oral and facial clefts happen because a child’s facial structure fails to develop normally during pregnancy. This causes gaps or “clefts” to occur in various parts of the mouth or face like the upper lip, the palate (roof of the mouth), the nose or (more rarely) in the cheek or eye region. Clefts can have no tissue fusion at all (a “complete” cleft) or a limited amount (an “incomplete” cleft), and can affect only one side of the face (“unilateral”) or both (“bilateral”).
There was little that could be done up until the early 1950s. That’s when a U.S. Navy surgeon, Dr. Ralph Millard, stationed in Korea noticed after reviewing a series of cleft photos that tissue needed to repair a cleft was most often already present but distorted by the defect. From that discovery, he developed techniques that have since been refined in the ensuing decades to release the distorted tissue and move it to its proper location.
This revolutionary breakthrough has evolved into a multi-stage approach for cleft repair that often requires a team effort from several dental and medical professionals, including oral surgeons, orthodontists and general dentists. The approach may involve successive surgeries over several years with dental care front and center to minimize the threat of decay, maintain proper occlusion (the interaction between the upper and lower teeth, or “bite”), or restore missing teeth with crowns, bridgework or eventually dental implants.
While it’s quite possible this process can span a person’s entire childhood and adolescence, the end result is well worth it. Because of these important surgical advances, a cleft defect is no longer a life sentence of misery.
If you would like more information on treatment for a cleft lip or palate, 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 “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
Everyone loves a concert where there's plenty of audience participation… until it starts to get out of hand.Â Recently, the platinum-selling band Fifth Harmony was playing to a packed house in Atlanta when things went awry for vocalist Camila Cabello. Fans were batting around a big plastic ball, and one unfortunate swing sent the ball hurtling toward the stage — and directly into Cabello's face. Pushing the microphone into her mouth, it left the “Worth It” singer with a chipped front tooth.
Ouch! Cabello finished the show nevertheless, and didn't seem too upset. “Atlanta… u wild… love u,” she tweeted later that night. “Gotta get it fixed now tho lol.” Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of ways to make that chipped tooth look as good as new.
A small chip at the edge of the tooth can sometimes be polished with dental instruments to remove the sharp edges. If it's a little bigger, a procedure called dental bonding may be recommended. Here, the missing part is filled in with a mixture of plastic resin and glass fillers, which are then cured (hardened) with a special light. The tooth-colored bonding material provides a tough, lifelike restoration that's hard to tell apart from your natural teeth. While bonding can be performed in just one office visit, the material can stain over time and may eventually need to be replaced.
Porcelain veneers are a more long-lasting solution. These wafer-thin coverings go over the entire front surface of the tooth, and can resolve a number of defects — including chips, discoloration, and even minor size or spacing irregularities. You can get a single veneer or have your whole smile redone, in shades ranging from a pearly luster to an ultra-bright white; that's why veneers are a favorite of Hollywood stars. Getting veneers is a procedure that takes several office visits, but the beautiful results can last for many years.
If a chip or crack extends into the inner part of a tooth, you'll probably need a crown (or cap) to restore the tooth's function and appearance. As long as the roots are healthy, the entire part of the tooth above the gum line can be replaced with a natural-looking restoration. You may also need a root canal to remove the damaged pulp material and prevent infection if the fracture went too far. While small chips or cracks aren't usually an emergency (unless accompanied by pain), damage to the tooth's pulp requires prompt attention.
If you have questions about smile restoration, please contact us and schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Although periodontal (gum) disease is the most common cause of bone loss in the mouth, women at or past menopause face another condition that could cause complications with their oral bone health — osteoporosis.
While normal bone goes through a balanced cycle of resorption (the dissolving of bone tissue) and re-growth, osteoporosis, a hormone-induced disease, tips the scale toward resorption. This reduces bone density, which weakens the bone and makes them more susceptible to fracture.
Some studies have shown a link between osteoporosis and existing gum disease; however, the greater concern at present from an oral health standpoint regards the side effects of a certain class of drugs called bisphosphonates used in the treatment of osteoporosis. Bisphosphonates slow excessive bone resorption, which helps restore normal balance to the bone growth cycle.
Some long-term users of bisphosphonates, however, may develop a complication in their jaw bone known as osteonecrosis in which isolated areas of the bone lose vitality and die. This can complicate certain types of oral surgery, particularly to install dental implants (which rely on stable bone for a successful outcome). While research is still ongoing, it does appear individuals at the highest risk of osteonecrosis are those with underlying cancers who receive high-dose intravenous bisphosphonate treatment every month for an extended period of time.
It’s important then that you let us know before any dental procedure if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis and what treatment you’re receiving for it. If you’ve been taking a bisphosphonate for an extended period of time, we may recommend that you stop that treatment for three months (if possible) before undergoing oral surgery. While your risk of complications from osteonecrosis is relatively small, adding this extra precaution will further reduce that risk and help ensure a successful outcome for your scheduled dental procedure.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis and oral 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 articles “Osteoporosis & Dental Implants” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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