The straightening process for a crooked smile doesn't end when the braces come off. There's one more crucial phase to undergo to make sure we don't lose the progress you've achieved: wearing an orthodontic retainer.
Although often viewed as a nuisance, retainers are important because they prevent realigned teeth from reverting to their old positions. This is possible because the periodontal ligament, the gum attachment that allows us to move teeth in the first place, can contain “muscle memory” that naturally tries to draw teeth back to where they once were.
A retainer prevents this from happening: During wear the subtle pressure they exert keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they're firmly established, usually after several months. While most patients initially wear a retainer around the clock, this will gradually taper off until they're worn primarily during sleep hours.
While retainers come in many different styles and sizes, most fall into one of two categories: removable or non-removable (bonded). The first type, a custom-made appliance a patient can easily take in and out of the mouth, has its advantages. Removing it makes it easier to clean the teeth. They're also adaptable to reduced wear schedules for eating, brushing and flossing, or for special occasions.
But a removable retainer may be noticeable to others. Its removability can also lead to problems. Out of the mouth they're prone to be lost, resulting in additional replacement costs. And immature patients may be easily tempted to take them out too often—or not wear them at all.
A bonded retainer solves many of these potential problems. Because the retainer wire is securely bonded to the back of the teeth, it's not visible to others. And because it can't be removed except by an orthodontist, there's virtually no chance of losing it or haphazard wear.
On the other hand, bonded retainers can occasionally break, requiring repair or replacement. And flossing is more difficult than with a removable retainer, although a little training from a dental hygienist can make that easier.
The choice of retainer depends on the individual and their priorities. But whether removable or bonded, a retainer is absolutely essential for protecting your new, hard-earned smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
What makes a beautiful smile? Beautiful teeth, for sure. But there's also another component that can make or break your smile, regardless of your teeth's condition: your gums. Although their primary function is to protect and stabilize the teeth, your gums also enhance them aesthetically by providing an attractive frame.
But just as a painting displayed in an oversized frame can lose some of its appeal, so can your smile if the size of your gums appears out of proportion with your teeth. Normally, a smile that displays more than four millimeters of gum tissue is considered “gummy.”
There are some things we can do to improve your gum to teeth ratios. What we do will depend on which of the following is the actual cause for your gummy smile.
Excess gum tissue. We'll start with the obvious: you have excess gum tissue that obscures some of the visible tooth crown. We can often correct this with a surgical procedure called “crown lengthening,” which removes some of the excess tissue and then reshapes the gums and bone to expose more teeth length.
Teeth that appear too short. The problem may not be your gums — it could be your teeth appear too short. This can happen if the teeth didn't erupt fully, or if they've worn down due to aging or a grinding habit. One option here is to “lengthen” the tooth cosmetically with veneers, crowns or other bonding techniques.
Higher lip movement. Rather than your teeth and gums being out of size proportion, your upper lip may be rising too high when you smile, a condition known as hypermobility. One temporary fix is through Botox injections that paralyze the lip muscles and prevent their movement from overextending. We could also use periodontal surgery to perform a lip stabilization procedure that permanently corrects the upper lip movement.
Overextended jaw. Your gums may seem more prominent if your upper jaw extends too far down and forward. In this case, orthognathic (jaw straightening) surgery might be used to reposition the jaw relative to its connection with the skull. Setting the jaw up and back in this way would reduce the prominence of the gums when you smile.
As you can see, treatments range from cosmetic techniques to moderate surgical procedures. A full dental exam will help determine which if any of these measures could reduce gumminess and improve your smile.
If you would like more information on correcting gummy smiles, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
The monarchs of the world experience the same health issues as their subjects—but they often tend to be hush-hush about it. Recently, though, the normally reticent Queen Elizabeth II let some young dental patients in on a lesser known fact about Her Majesty's teeth.
While touring a new dental hospital, the queen told some children being fitted for braces that she too “had wires” once upon a time. She also said, “I think it's worth it in the end.”
The queen isn't the only member of the House of Windsor to need help with a poor bite. Both Princes William and Harry have worn braces, as have other members of the royal family. A propensity for overbites, underbites and other malocclusions (poor bites) can indeed pass down through families, whether of noble or common lineage.
Fortunately, there are many ways to correct congenital malocclusions, depending on their type and severity. Here are 3 of them.
Braces and clear aligners. Braces are the tried and true way to straighten misaligned teeth, while the clear aligner method—removable plastic mouth trays—is the relative “new kid on the block.” Braces are indeed effective for a wide range of malocclusions, but their wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss, and they're not particularly attractive. Clear aligners solve both of these issues, though they may not handle more complex malocclusions as well as braces.
Palatal expanders. When the upper jaw develops too narrowly, a malocclusion may result from teeth crowding into too small a space. But before the upper jaw bones fuse together in late childhood, orthodontists can fit a device called a palatal expander inside the upper teeth, which exerts gentle outward pressure on the teeth. This encourages more bone growth in the center to widen the jaw and help prevent a difficult malocclusion from forming.
Specialized braces for impacted teeth. An impacted tooth, which remains partially or completely hidden in the gums, can impede dental health, function and appearance. But we may be able to coax some impacted teeth like the front canines into full eruption. This requires a special orthodontic technique in which a bracket is surgically attached to the impacted tooth's crown. A chain connected to the bracket is then looped over other orthodontic hardware to gradually pull the tooth down where it should be.
Although some techniques like palatal expanders are best undertaken in early dental development, people of any age and reasonably good health can have a problem bite corrected with other methods. If you are among those who benefit from orthodontics, you'll have something in common with the Sovereign of the British Isles: a healthy, attractive and straighter smile.
As a parent, you strive to instill good habits in your children: looking both ways for traffic, doing chores or washing behind the ears. Be sure you also include sound habits for teeth and gum care.
Daily brushing and flossing should be at the top of that habit list. These hygiene tasks remove dental plaque, a bacterial film that builds up on teeth and is most responsible for diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Although you'll have to perform these tasks for them early on, your aim should be to teach them to do it for themselves. The best approach is to teach by example: If your child sees you're serious about your own oral hygiene, they're more likely to do so as well.
You should also help them form habits around the foods they eat. Like other aspects of our health, some foods are good for our teeth and gums, and some are not. The primary food in the latter category is sugar: This popular carbohydrate is also a favorite food source for disease-causing oral bacteria.
It's important, then, to minimize sugar and other processed foods in your child's diet, and maximize their consumption of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other foods rich in calcium and phosphorous. Instilling good eating habits at an early age can boost both their dental and general health throughout their lives.
Finally, help the budding star athlete in your family develop the habit of wearing a protective mouthguard during contact sports. Your best choice is a custom-made mouthguard by a dentist: Although they cost more than the more common “boil and bite” mouthguard, they tend to offer more protection and are more comfortable to wear. A mouthguard could help your child avoid a costly dental injury that could affect them the rest of their life.
Adopting good dental hygienic, dietary, and safety habits at an early age can have a huge impact on your child's teeth and gum development. And if those early habits “stick,” it could mean a lifetime of disease-free dental health.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop sound dental habits, 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 “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Dental visit anxiety is a serious problem: Half of all Americans admit to some level of dental fear, while 15% avoid dental care altogether due to acute anxiety. The harm this can cause to dental health is incalculable.
But dentists have a number of sedation techniques that can relax anxious patients and allow them to receive the care they need. Although often used together, sedation is slightly different from anesthesia, which aims to deaden pain sensation. The aim of sedation is to calm the emotions and state of mind.
Sedation isn't a new approach: Physicians have used substances like root herbs or alcohol to relieve anxiety since ancient times. Modern dentistry also has a long history with sedation, dating from the early 1800s with the first use of nitrous oxide gas.
Modern dental sedation has expanded into an array of drugs and techniques to match varying levels of anxiety intensity. At the milder end of the scale are oral sedatives, taken an hour or so before a dental appointment to produce a calmer state. This may be enough for some patients, or it can be used in conjunction with nitrous oxide.
For those with more intense anxiety, dentists can turn to intravenous (IV) sedation. In this case, the sedative is delivered directly into the bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted in a vein. This causes a quicker and deeper reaction than oral sedatives.
Although similar to general anesthesia, IV sedation does differ in significant ways. Rather than unconsciousness, IV sedation places a patient in a “semi-awake” state that may still allow them respond to verbal commands. And although the patient's vital signs (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) must be monitored, the patient doesn't need breathing assistance as with anesthesia.
There's one other benefit: The drugs used often have an amnesic effect, meaning the patient won't remember the treatment experience after recovery. This can be helpful in creating more pleasant memories of their dental experience, which could have its own sedative effect in the future.
Whether oral, gas or IV, sedatives are a safe and effective way to calm dental fears during treatment. That could help someone with anxiety maintain their oral health.
If you would like more information on reducing dental anxiety, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
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