Not long ago the dental bridge was the alternative treatment of choice to partial dentures for restoring lost teeth. Over the last few decades, however, dental implants have nudged bridgework out of this premier spot.
That doesn’t mean, though, that bridgework has gone the way of the horse and buggy. In fact, it may still be a solid restorative alternative to partial dentures for certain people.
A traditional bridge consists of a series of porcelain crowns affixed to each other like pickets in a fence. The end crowns are fitted onto the teeth on either side of the empty tooth space; known as abutment teeth, they support the bridge. The crowns in the middle, known as pontics (from the French for “bridge”), replace the teeth that have been lost.
Bridges have been an effective and cosmetically pleasing method for tooth replacement for nearly a century. To achieve those results, though, a good portion of the abutment teeth’s structure must be removed to accommodate the crowns. This permanently alters these teeth, so they’ll require a restoration from that point on.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can be installed in the missing space without impacting any neighboring teeth. What’s more, implants provide greater support to the underlying bone than can be achieved with bridgework.
But not everyone is a viable candidate for implants, and ironically the reason most often has to do with the bone. If a patient has suffered significant bone volume loss, either because of disease or the long-term absence of the natural teeth, there may not be enough bone to properly support an implant. Unless we can adequately restore this lost bone volume through grafting, we’ll need to consider another type of restoration.
That’s where bridgework could be a viable option for patients in this or similar situations. With continuing advances in materials and new applications, the traditional bridge still remains an effective and important means to restore a smile marred by missing teeth.
If you would like more information on 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Lots of people don’t know that April is National Stress Awareness Month; don’t fret if you’re one of them. For many, stress is already a common feature of everyday life. According to the American Psychological Association, 62% of Americans are stressed at their jobs, and stress has been estimated to cause the loss of some 275 million working days every year.
In addition to its other negative physical and mental consequences, stress can also spell trouble for your oral health. It may lead to the problems of teeth clenching and grinding, which dentists call bruxism. A habitual behavior that can occur in the daytime or at night, bruxism is thought to affect perhaps one in ten adults. While the evidence that stress causes bruxism is not conclusive, there’s a strong case for the linkage.
Bruxism sometimes causes symptoms like headaches, soreness or pain in the jaw muscles or joints, and problems with fully opening the mouth. It can be detected in the dental office by excessive tooth wear, and/or damage to tooth surfaces or dental work. Grinding or tapping noises heard at night may indicate that someone is grinding their teeth while sleeping. In children, nighttime bruxism is common and not necessarily a reason for concern; in adults, it may be more troubling.
So what can you do if you’re experiencing this problem? If you find yourself clenching and grinding during the daytime, simply becoming more aware of the behavior and trying to limit it can help. A bit of clenching during times of stress isn’t abnormal, but excessive grinding may be reason for concern. Many of the same techniques used to relieve stress in other situations—such as taking a step back, talking out your issues, and creating a calmer and more soothing environment—may prove helpful here as well.
Occasionally, prescription drugs may cause bruxism as an unwanted side effect; in this case, a medical professional may recommend changing your medication. The use of stimulants like coffee and mood altering substances like alcohol and illicit drugs have also been associated with teeth grinding—so if you’re having this issue, consider foregoing these substances and making healthier lifestyle choices.
There are also a number of dental treatments that can help protect your teeth from excessive grinding. The most common is an occlusal guard or “night guard.” This is a custom-fabricated appliance made of plastic that fits comfortably over your teeth. Usually worn at night, it keeps your teeth from actually coming into contact with each other and being damaged. Occasionally, additional treatments such as bite adjustment or orthodontics may be recommended to help solve the problem.
If you would like more information about teeth clenching and grinding, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
Semi-annual office cleanings are important for keeping teeth healthy and disease-free. If you’ve replaced some of your teeth with dental implants, though, you may be thinking they don’t need as much attention from your hygienist.
It’s quite the opposite — cleaning around implants is important, and actually requires additional attention. The reason for this relates to both how dental implants attach to the jaw and their constructive materials.
Natural teeth are held in place by the periodontal ligament with tiny fibers that attach to the teeth on one side of it and to the jawbone on the other. The ligaments and the gingival (gum) fibers (which are also attached to the tooth) provide some disease resistance to the teeth through its rich blood vessel and collagen network. Dental implants, on the other hand, anchor directly into the jawbone. The titanium integrates with the bone, which naturally attracts to the metal and grows around it, which provides the implant’s eventual attachment strength. The implant doesn’t attach to the gum tissue and won’t develop the same relationship with the periodontal ligament as natural teeth.
Bacterial plaque, the primary cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, can collect on an implant crown just as readily as on a natural tooth. Although the materials that make up an implant can’t be affected by a plaque-induced infection, the gum tissues and supporting bone around it can. In fact, because implants lack the disease resistance of the gingival fibers and the ligament attachment, an infection can turn rapidly into a condition known as peri-implantitis that could cause bone and tissue loss and lead to the loss of the implant.
Your hygienist understands the importance of removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from around your dental implant. This often calls for different instruments made of plastics or resins that won’t scratch the implant’s highly polished surface. Scratches provide a haven for bacteria to collect and make it more difficult to dislodge them. Likewise, if the hygienist uses ultrasonic equipment that loosens plaque through vibration, the hygienist will often use nylon or plastic tips to minimize damage to the implant.
And don’t forget your own personal hygiene habits — they’re just as important with dental implants as with natural teeth. Keeping plaque under control, both at home and with your dentist, is crucial to longevity for your dental implants.
If you would like more information on maintaining and cleaning dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
For lots of sports fans, March is the month to get caught up in basketball “madness.” But many people forget that basketball—whether it's played on a school court or a big-city arena—can be just as dangerous for your teeth as some “full-contact” sports. Just ask Chicago Bulls point guard Kris Dunn. In the last three minutes of the January 17 NBA game between the Bulls and the Golden State Warriors, Dunn stole the ball and went in for the dunk. But the momentum from his fast break left him tumbling head-over-heels, and his face hit the floor.
The game stopped as Dunn was evaluated by medical staff; they found he had dislocated his two front teeth. The next day, the Bulls announced that his teeth had been stabilized and splinted—but Dunn would be out indefinitely because of a concussion.
Teeth that are loosened or displaced are known in dental terminology as luxated. These are fairly common dental injuries in both children and adults—but surprisingly, they don't always produce painful symptoms. Treating luxated teeth generally involves repositioning them and then splinting them in place for stability. Depending on the severity of the injury, the outlook for splinted teeth can be quite favorable. However, it may involve several treatments over a period of time—for example, a root canal if the tooth's inner pulp has been damaged, and possibly additional restorative or cosmetic work.
If the injured teeth can't be saved, they can usually be replaced by dental implants or a bridge. Bridges rely on adjacent teeth (also called abutment teeth) for their support. These teeth must be prepared (reduced in size) to accommodate the dental crowns that will hold the bridge in place, as well as the ones that will replace the missing tooth or teeth. Dental implants, today's gold standard of tooth replacement, are supported by root-like inserts made of titanium that are set directly into the jawbone. These dental implants support lifelike crowns that look and feel like natural teeth, and can last for years with routine care.
Better still, many dental injuries can be prevented by wearing a protective mouthguard. We can provide a custom-fabricated mouthguard, made from an exact model of your bite, which offers the maximum in comfort and protection. This is a vital piece of safety equipment that should be part of every sports enthusiast's gear.
With good dental care, it's a sure bet that Kris Dunn will be smiling when he returns to the court. We wish him a speedy recovery.
If you have questions about treating injured teeth or obtaining a custom mouthguard, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) jolted our collective consciousness in the 1980s. The deadly disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had no known cure and, at the time, no effective treatment.
HIV is a retrovirus, a virus with a genetic makeup and reproduction system differing from other kinds. After taking up permanent residency in the body, HIV begins “hijacking” the replication process of cells in the body's immune system and replacing it with a copy of its own. This destroys the cells' ability to protect the body from hostile organisms. As the virus affects more and more cells, the patient's condition ultimately develops into AIDS.
An estimated 35 million people worldwide (1.2 million in the U.S.) are currently infected with the virus. Thanks to new antiretroviral drugs, though, HIV can be kept from accelerating into AIDS. While their condition remains serious, many HIV positive patients can now live long and relatively normal lives. Even so, having the virus requires them to pay close attention to their health, including their mouth.
Even while stalled from becoming AIDS, HIV can still cause oral problems for 30 to 80% of patients. The fungal infection candidiasis (also known as thrush) is the most common of these problems, which appears as lesions, cracking skin or creamy white patches on the tongue or palate that easily bleed. Patients also have higher risks for dry mouth, oral cancer and periodontal (gum) disease.
HIV positive patients must practice diligent daily oral care and see their dentist for checkups regularly. Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment can keep gum disease and other damaging conditions under control. Monitoring oral health is also important because certain mouth conditions could be an early sign the infection is entering a new advanced stage in the body that requires additional attention.
Keeping vigilant in all aspects of health is a way of life for someone with HIV. Such vigilance, though, can help them maintain a healthy mouth and even prolong their life.
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