Dentists extract millions of teeth each year, mostly because of disease. But sometimes a healthy tooth is removed to gain a more favorable, long-term dental health outcome.
An example of this is extracting teeth for the sake of orthodontic treatment. This is often beneficial when treating bite problems caused by crowding, a condition in which not enough space on the jaw exists to accommodate all of the teeth coming in. When this happens, the limited space can force teeth out of their proper alignment.
Crowding also complicates correcting the bite problem with braces: As with the eruption phase, there's no available room for orthodontic movement. One solution that may arise after a detailed examination is to open up space on the jaw by removing some of the teeth.
Planning this kind of tooth extrication requires careful forethought with the end in mind—ultimately, the dental providers involved want the resulting appearance after braces to look as natural as possible. For that reason, dentists usually choose teeth for extraction that are outside of the "smile zone" (the teeth visible while smiling) like premolars and molars.
Additionally, dentists are concerned about bone loss after extracting the teeth. Bone often diminishes around empty tooth sockets, especially if those sockets were damaged during extraction. This loss in bone can weaken the jaw structure and cause significant problems while moving teeth with braces.
To avoid this, dentists take great care during tooth removal not to damage the socket. Additionally, they may place a bone graft within the socket immediately after removing the tooth, especially if the space will remain vacant for a significant period of time. A bone graft serves as a scaffold upon which new bone cells can form and accumulate.
After the extractions, the orthodontist may then proceed with correcting the bite. Patients may also need some form of prosthetic teeth to fill in the spaces while wearing braces. Often prosthetic teeth can be incorporated with the braces for a more natural look. After braces, any remaining gaps may require further restoration, either with dentures, bridges or, later in adulthood, dental implants.
Complex bite problems like crowding pose unique challenges in correcting them. But using techniques like tooth extraction can help achieve a successful and satisfactory outcome.
If you would like more information on treatments for bite problems, 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.”
Although the air we breathe has one destination—the lungs—it can arrive there via two possible routes: through the nose or the mouth. In terms of survival, it matters little through which path air travels—just so it travels one of them!
In terms of health, though, breathing through the nose is more beneficial than through the mouth, and is our default breathing pattern. The nasal passages filter minute noxious particles and allergens. Air passing through these passages also produces nitric oxide, a gaseous substance that relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.
On the other hand, chronic mouth breathing during childhood can impact oral health. While breathing through the nose, the tongue rests against the roof of the mouth and thus becomes a mold around which the upper jaw and teeth develop. But mouth breathing places the tongue on the lower teeth, which deprives the upper jaw of support and can lead to an abnormal bite.
So why would people breathe through their mouth more than their nose? Simply put, it's more comfortable to do so. Because breathing is so critical for life, the body takes the path of least resistance to get air to the lungs. If obstructions caused by allergic reactions or swollen tonsils or adenoids are blocking the nasal pathway, the action moves to the mouth.
But chronic mouth breathing can often be treated, especially if addressed in early childhood. This may require the services of an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) and possible surgical intervention to correct anatomical obstructions. It's also prudent to have an orthodontist evaluate the bite and institute corrective interventions if it appears a child's jaw development is off-track.
Even after correcting obstructions, though, it may still be difficult for a child to overcome mouth breathing because the body has become habituated to breathing that way. They may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), which retrains the muscles in the face and mouth to breathe through the nose.
Chronic mouth breathing isn't something to be ignored. Early intervention could prevent future oral and dental problems and help the person regain the overall health benefits for nose breathing.
If you would like more information on overcoming chronic mouth breathing, 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 Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”
During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations?”
Root canals often get a bum rap. Although the procedure saves millions of teeth every year, it's often erroneously portrayed as an unpleasant experience. And if that wasn't enough, a long-discredited medical theory has found new life on the internet asserting root canals are a health danger.
First off, root canals play an immensely important role in treating teeth with advanced decay. If not promptly treated, a cavity can turn into a major infection of the interior tooth pulp and root canals, and ultimately the supporting bone. Teeth with this level of decay are not long for this world.
A root canal treatment stops this disease process in its tracks. After numbing the tooth and surrounding gums, we drill a small hole into the tooth's interior and then remove all of the infected tissue within the pulp and root canals. After disinfecting these areas, we fill them with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha.
After sealing off the access hole—and later capping the tooth with a life-like crown—the tooth is secure from further decay. And, by the way, the procedure doesn't hurt, thanks to local anesthesia. If anything, any pain caused by the decay attacking the tooth's nerves has now been alleviated.
So, what about the idea floating on the Web that root canals are dangerous? The "root" for this conjecture is a theory by Weston Price, an early 20th Century dentist, that leaving a "dead" body part in the body leads to various health problems (including cancer). That would include a root-canaled tooth, which has had the living tissue in the pulp removed.
There's just one problem—Weston's theory was fully investigated in the 1950s and overwhelmingly discredited. The supposed cancer threat was also reviewed in a 2013 study, which found no link between root canals and increased cancer risk. In fact, dental patients who had undergone several root canals had a diminished risk.
Like all other health procedures, root canals have some risks of complication. But those complications are far from life-threatening—it's tooth-saving benefits are often worth the risk. So, fear not if your dentist says you need a root canal. It won't hurt and it won't endanger your health—and it could save your tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal therapy, 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 “Root Canal Safety.”
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