You’ve invested a lot of time and money in orthodontic treatment to improve your smile. If you’re not careful, though, your teeth could actually move back to their old positions. The reason why is related to the same natural tooth-moving mechanism we use to straighten teeth in the first place.
Teeth are held in place by an elastic, fibrous tissue called the periodontal ligament lying between the teeth and the jawbone and attaching to both with tiny collagen fibers. The periodontal ligament allows for incremental tooth movement in response to pressure generated around the teeth, as when we chew (or while wearing braces).
Unfortunately, this process can work in reverse. Out of a kind of “muscle memory,” the teeth can revert to the older positions once there’s no more pressure from the removed braces. You could eventually be right back where you started.
To avoid this, we have to employ measures to hold or “retain” the teeth in their new positions for some time after the braces come off. That’s why we have you wear a dental appliance called a retainer, which maintains tooth position to prevent a relapse. Depending on what’s best for your situation, this could be a removable retainer or one that’s fixed to the teeth.
Patients typically wear a retainer around the clock in the immediate period after braces, and then eventually taper off to just nighttime wear. Younger patients must wear one for several months until the new teeth positions become more secure and the chances of a rebound diminish. For older patients who’ve matured past the jaw development stage, though, wearing a retainer may be a permanent necessity to protect their smile.
Retainer wear can be an annoyance, but it’s an absolute necessity. Think of it as insurance on your investment in a new, more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on improving your smile through orthodontics, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Major league baseball player Aaron Judge made news in July by breaking Joe DiMaggio's record for most home runs scored by a New York Yankees rookie. Then he made news again, this time for breaking something else. Following their game-winning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 11th inning, the Yanks met for a spontaneous victory celebration at home plate. It was all fun and games… until an errant helmet accidentally slammed into Judge's mouth, breaking off half his left front tooth. Ouch!
Even if you're not playing big-league baseball, accidents sometimes happen. So what's the best dental treatment if you chip or break a tooth? It all depends on how much is broken off.
When a tooth has a small chip in it, dental bonding may be sufficient. Layering on tooth-colored bonding material results in a natural look, and it can be completed in one dental visit. However, bonding material in time will discolor, and it is not as strong as real tooth structure, so eventually it may need re-treatment.
Dental veneers or crowns may be used to restore more seriously damaged teeth. Veneers, thin porcelain shells that cover the front surface of teeth, can be used to restore minor to moderate chips. A crown (“cap”) is used when the damage is greater and more structural support is required. A crown replaces the visible part of the tooth above the gum line.
When the soft pulp tissue inside the tooth is damaged, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. Despite the outdated rumors some people have heard, root canal procedures don't cause pain — they actually relieve it. During the procedure, exposed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is sealed. Then a lifelike crown is placed so the tooth looks as good as new.
If the tooth cannot be saved — for example, it breaks off below the gum line — a dental implant may be your best option. Dental implants are small titanium posts that are surgically inserted and then capped with an artificial crown. Implant-supported teeth can last a lifetime and are usually indistinguishable from natural teeth.
So what happened with Judge's tooth? Thanks to a Friday morning visit to the dentist, he was smiling again with a temporary crown — and smiling over the fact that his tooth garnered more attention than the Yankees' dramatic 11th inning win.
If you have questions about cosmetically-pleasing tooth restorations, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. (If you have a dental injury, call us immediately!) You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “A Step-by-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Teeth-replacing dental implants not only look life-like, they’re made to last. For one thing, the metals and dental materials used in them are impervious to bacterial infection.
But that doesn’t mean implants are impervious to failure. Implants depend on the bone and other natural mouth structures for support. If the bone becomes weakened due to disease, the implant could become unstable and ultimately fail.
Peri-implantitis, the condition that can lead to this kind of failure, is a major concern for implant longevity. It’s a type of periodontal (gum) disease triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up quickly in the absence of adequate brushing and flossing. The gum tissues around the implant become infected and inflamed.
If the infection isn’t properly treated with renewed oral hygiene and clinical plaque removal, it could spread below the gum line and begin to damage the underlying gum tissues and bone. This could destroy the all-important connection between the titanium implant post and the bone. The implant could eventually loosen and become completely detached from the bone.
The key is early intervention before the bone becomes damaged. Besides plaque removal we may also need to apply antibiotics in some form to control the growth of disease-causing bacteria. If the disease has fairly advanced we may also need to consider surgical repair to strengthen the attachment between implant and bone.
You can help to avoid peri-implantitis altogether by practicing consistent daily brushing and flossing around all your teeth including the implant, and seeing your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum swelling, redness or bleeding. Staying on top of your gum health will help not only the natural tissues and remaining teeth in your mouth, it will help preserve your implants for decades to come.
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Before you consider cosmetic changes to your smile, ask yourself one question: how's your bite? How your teeth are positioned and aligned doesn't just affect their function — it also affects your appearance. A proper bite is foundational to a beautiful smile — and it deserves your attention first.
Here are 3 important steps for addressing your bite problem on your way to a more attractive smile.
Get an orthodontic evaluation. Only a dentist or orthodontist can determine if your teeth are properly aligned and working well with each other — and if not, why. With their knowledge and expertise they'll be able to tell you what specific bite problem (malocclusion) you have and the best treatment to correct it to support any future cosmetic enhancement.
Consider your tooth-movement options carefully. If you have a malocclusion, your dentist or orthodontist may recommend correction before undertaking other cosmetic work. In most cases, you'll have two choices. The first is traditional metal braces, which uses wires held in place and anchored by brackets cemented to the teeth. They're effective, but must be fixed in place and aren't considered attractive. The other choice is clear aligners, which use custom removable plastic trays worn in sequence to gradually move teeth. They're easier for oral hygiene and are hardly noticeable to others, but may not work in every bite situation.
Don't slack on the retainer phase of treatment. The day will come when the braces or aligners come out of your mouth for good. But your realignment project isn't over — you'll need to wear a retainer appliance for a while. Re-aligned teeth can relapse to their former positions, so it's essential you wear a retainer to keep them where they've been moved. Without a retainer, all the time and effort invested in your bite will have been to no avail.
In a nutshell: get the big picture about your bite, choose the treatment best for you and follow through on every phase. The end result will be a solid platform for the smile you've always dreamed about.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, 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 “The Magic of Orthodontics: The Original Smile Makeover.”
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