You have a lot of options for replacing missing teeth, from state-of-the-art dental implants to affordable, but effective partial dentures. But if the teeth in question have been missing for a while, you may first have to undergo orthodontic treatment. Here's why.
While they may feel rigid and firm in the jawbone, teeth are actually held in place by periodontal (gum) ligaments. These elastic tissues lie between the teeth and the bone and attach to both with tiny filaments. This mechanism allows the teeth to incrementally move over time in response to biting pressures or other environmental factors.
When a tooth goes missing the teeth on either side of the space naturally move or "drift" into it to help close the gap. This natural occurrence can reduce the space for a restoration if it has gone on for some time. To make room for a new prosthetic (false) tooth, we may have to move the drifted teeth back to where they belong.
If you're thinking metal braces, that is an option—but not the only one. Clear aligners are another way to move teeth if the bite problem (malocclusion) isn't too severe. Aligners are a series of custom-made, clear, plastic trays worn over the teeth. The patient wears each tray, slightly smaller than the previous one in the series, for about two weeks before changing to the next one. The reduction in size gradually moves teeth to their intended target position.
Many adults prefer clear aligners because they're nearly invisible and don't stand out like metal braces. They're removable, so you can take them out for cleaning or for special occasions. And, we can also attach a prosthetic tooth to the tray that temporarily covers the missing tooth space.
Whichever orthodontic treatment you choose, once completed we can then proceed with restoration to permanently replace your missing teeth. While it can be a long process, the end result is a beautiful smile that could last for years to come.
If you would like more information on your 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 “Straightening a Smile before Replacing Lost Teeth.”
After months of wearing braces it's time for the big reveal: your new and improved smile! Your once crooked teeth are now straight and uniform.
But a look in the mirror at your straighter teeth might still reveal something out of place: small chalky-white spots dotting the enamel. These are most likely white spot lesions (WSLs), points on the enamel that have incurred mineral loss. It happens because mouth acid shielded by your braces contacted the teeth at those points for too long.
Most mouth acid is the waste product of bacteria that thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up on tooth surfaces. High levels of acid are a definite sign that plaque hasn't been removed effectively through brushing and flossing.
But normal hygiene can be difficult while wearing braces: it's not easy to maneuver around brackets and wires to reach every area of tooth surface. Specialized tooth brushes can help, as well as floss threaders that help maneuver floss more easily through the wires. A water irrigator that uses pulsating water to remove plaque between teeth is another option.
However, if in spite of stepped-up hygiene efforts WSLs still develop, we can treat them when we've removed your braces. One way is to help re-mineralize the affected tooth surfaces through over-the-counter or prescription fluoride pastes or gels. It's also possible re-mineralization will occur naturally without external help.
While your teeth are sound, their appearance might be diminished by WSLs. We can improve this by injecting a liquid tooth-colored resin below the enamel surface. After hardening with a curing light, the spot will appear less opaque and more like a normal translucent tooth surface. In extreme cases we may need to consider porcelain veneers to cosmetically improve the tooth appearance.
In the meantime while wearing braces, practice thorough dental hygiene and keep up your regular cleaning visits with your general dentist. If you do notice any unusual white spots around your braces, be sure to see your dentist or orthodontist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care during orthodontic treatment, 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 “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
The primary goal of dental care is to preserve teeth. But there are circumstances in which removing a tooth, even a relatively healthy one, could prove best in the long run.
A malocclusion (poor bite) related to crowding might fit such a circumstance. Crowding occurs when the size of the jaw is too small for the teeth coming in. With not enough space, some teeth could erupt out of their proper positions. Removing certain teeth frees up space to eventually allow braces or other orthodontic devices to re-align the teeth.
The teeth most frequently removed are the first bicuspids, located between the cuspid (the "eyeteeth" directly under the eyes) and the back teeth, and the second premolar. Removing these won't normally affect appearance or functionality once orthodontic or cosmetic treatments are complete.
Because of the mechanics of jaw development it might be necessary to perform these extractions several years before orthodontic treatment. This could create another potential problem: the time lag could adversely affect bone health.
This is because bone, as living tissue, has a life cycle with cells forming, functioning and then dissolving, and new cells taking their place. When teeth are chewing or in contact with each other they generate force that travels through the tooth roots to the bone and stimulates cell growth at a healthy replacement rate.
But when a tooth is missing, so is this stimulation. This slows the replacement rate and eventually leads to decreased bone volume. Too much bone loss could create obstacles for orthodontic treatment or a future dental implant.
To avoid this, the dentist will often place a bone graft with processed bone mineral within the empty tooth socket right after extraction. The graft serves as a scaffold for bone cells to grow upon. The graft (plus any other added growth boosters) can help maintain a healthy level of bone volume to facilitate future orthodontic or restorative treatments.
Since targeted extraction for orthodontics is time-sensitive, you should have your child's bite evaluated by an orthodontist by age 7 to see if any action is necessary. The earlier a malocclusion is detected, the more likely a more attractive and healthy smile will be the ultimate outcome.
If you would like more information on correcting poor bites, 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.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.