There’s more to teeth than meets the eye. Hidden beneath the visible crown are the tooth’s roots set within the jawbone, secured and protected by the gums from bacteria and infection. But if the gums shrink back (recede), the roots become exposed and susceptible to disease, especially at the points where multiple roots branch from each other, areas called furcations.
It all begins with periodontal (gum) disease caused by built-up bacterial plaque from insufficient brushing and flossing. The infection triggers inflammation that over time weakens gum tissues. They begin to detach from the teeth, which can eventually lead to gum recession and root exposure.
This also causes bone loss, especially at the furcations. We can detect any loss (known as a furcation invasion) and how far along it may be with x-ray imaging or by manually probing with an instrument called a periodontal probe.
There are three general classes measuring furcation invasions. In the earliest, Class I, we can feel the invasion as a slight groove; in Class II, it increases to two or more millimeters across. In Class III the bone loss extends from one side of the root all the way to the other (a “through and through”).
At this stage a patient is in danger of losing the tooth, so we’ll have to act promptly. This means first removing accumulated dental plaque and calculus (tartar) to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal. With severe damage, we may need to assist healing with bone and gum tissue grafting, in which we place donor grafts to serve as scaffolding for the appropriate tissue to grow upon.
You can help prevent this situation by practicing effective daily hygiene and visiting your dentist for thorough cleanings at least twice a year (or more if recommended). And at the first signs of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—make an appointment as soon as possible to have it checked. The sooner we can detect and treat gum disease, the less likely a furcation invasion or worse will be in your future.
Your teen is about to embark on an orthodontic journey to a straighter, more attractive smile. But although you're excited about the outcome, you both may be steeling yourselves for a few years of "life with braces."
But maybe not—your teen may be able to take advantage of a different kind of corrective appliance: clear aligners. This 21st Century teeth movement method has a number of advantages over braces. For teens, though, there's one big one that could have a huge impact on their social life—clear aligners are nearly invisible to other people.
Clear aligners consist of a series of clear, removable, computer-generated trays based on photographs, models and x-rays of an individual patient's teeth and bite. Each of the trays is slightly different from the previous one in the series, and by wearing each one for about two weeks before moving on to the next, the aligners gradually move the teeth to the desired new positions.
Besides reducing embarrassment often associated with wearing metal braces, clear aligners have other benefits. Unlike braces, they can be removed for eating, easier oral hygiene or for rare special occasions (although for best effectiveness, they should be worn for 20 to 22 hours each day). Recent developments like added elements that help target certain teeth for movement or "power ridges" for more controlled and efficient force have increased the range of bite problems they can be used to correct.
While this means clear aligners can be used for many bite problems, in some severe cases braces and other orthodontic treatments might still be necessary. And because they're not fixed like braces (only the orthodontist can remove them) the patient must have the maturity and self-discipline to wear them consistently.
Your teen will need to undergo a thorough orthodontic examination to see if clear aligners are a viable option for them. If so, it could make the next few treatment years less stressful for both of you.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens: User-Friendly Orthodontics.”
While crooked teeth are usually responsible for a malocclusion (poor bite), the root cause could go deeper: a malformed maxilla, a composite structure composed of the upper jaw and palate. If that’s the case, it will take more than braces to correct the bite.
The maxilla actually begins as two bones that fit together along a center line in the roof of the mouth called the midline suture, running back to front in the mouth. The suture remains open in young children to allow for jaw growth, but eventually fuses during adolescence.
Problems arise, though, when these bones don’t fully develop. This can cause the jaw to become too narrow and lead to crowding among the erupting teeth and a compromised airway that can lead to obstructive sleep apnea. This can create a cross-bite where the upper back teeth bite inside their lower counterparts, the opposite of normal.
We can remedy this by stimulating more bone growth along the midline suture before it fuses, resulting in a wider maxilla. We do this by installing a palatal expander, an appliance that incrementally widens the suture to encourage bone formation in the gap, which over time will widen the jaw.
An expander is a metal device with “legs” extending out on both sides and whose ends fit along the inside of the teeth. A gear mechanism in the center extends the legs to push against the teeth on both sides of the jaw. Each day the patient or caregiver uses a key to give the gear a quarter turn to extend the legs a little more and widen the suture gap. We remove the expander once the jaw widens to the appropriate distance.
A palatal expander is an effective, cost-efficient way to improve a bite caused by a narrow jaw, but only if attempted before the bones fuse. Widening the jaw after fusion requires surgery to separate the bones — a much more involved and expensive process.
To make sure your child is on the right track with their bite be sure to see an orthodontist for an evaluation around age 6. Doing so will make it easier to intervene at the proper time with treatments like a palatal expander, and perhaps correct bite problems before they become more expensive to treat.
If you would like more information on treating malocclusions, 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 “Palatal Expanders: Orthodontics is more than just Moving Teeth.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Lately, you’ve noticed your young child’s primary teeth don’t appear to be coming in straight. Is it a problem?
The answer to that question is best answered by an early orthodontic evaluation performed by an orthodontist. It’s advisable for a child as young as 7 to undergo such an exam.
While a child’s primary teeth have a short life span of a few years, that doesn’t make them less important than the permanent teeth that replace them. In fact, they’re extremely influential for permanent tooth development — each one serves as a guide for its replacement to erupt in a proper position. A future malocclusion (bad bite) that becomes more apparent later in life would have been well underway years before.
Orthodontists have the training and expertise to spot these emerging problems in their early stages. Early detection can reduce the extent — and costliness — of future orthodontic treatment by introducing preventative or interceptive measures — even while there’s still a mix of primary and permanent teeth in the mouth. For example, a child wearing a simple type of retainer that influences the development of the bite could minimize or even correct a growing malocclusion.
You can also take advantage of opportunities to discover potential orthodontic problems early through a general or pediatric dentist. By having regular dental cleanings and checkups, the dentist might observe early bite development that should be reviewed by an orthodontist. If not, it’s still a good idea to undergo an orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7.
Given the stage of jaw and facial structure development, waiting until puberty to focus on orthodontic problems may be too late for some problems — and much more expensive than if caught and treated earlier. Getting ahead of these issues earlier in your child’s dental development will help ensure they’ll have a healthy bite throughout their life.
If you would like more information on early orthodontic monitoring, 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 “Early Orthodontic Evaluation” and “Preventative & Cost Saving Orthodontics.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.