We instinctively know when a smile looks normal—and when it doesn't. It could be that something simply looks out of place like crooked teeth. But we might also notice when something is missing—as with one or both of the canine teeth.
The canine teeth align just under the eyes and are recognizable by their pointed ends. When they're missing, the smile looks “incomplete.” But “missing” in this case could mean “invisible”—the teeth are there, but hidden within the gums because they failed to come in properly and became impacted. This often happens on a smaller jaw where other teeth have crowded into the space intended for them.
Fortunately, we may have a remedy, and not just for appearance's sake—any impacted tooth can cause health problems, from gum abscesses to root damage of neighboring teeth. Although this might necessitate their surgical removal, we might also be able to coax them through the gums into better position in the jaw, if they're in a reasonably good position. This could result in both a boost to a patient's oral health and a more normal looking smile.
First, though, a patient will need to undergo a thorough bite evaluation by an orthodontist. Besides pinpointing the impacted teeth's precise location with x-rays or CT technology, an orthodontist will also want to assess the positions and condition of the rest of the teeth. If the conditions are right and there's enough room in the jaw, the orthodontist may recommend drawing the impacted canines into proper alignment in the jaw.
The process starts when an oral surgeon exposes the impacted teeth by surgically cutting through the gum tissue. They then attach a small bracket to the tooth with a tiny metal chain attached, the other end of which is looped over orthodontic hardware attached to other teeth. The tension on the chain by the hardware gradually nudges the teeth downward out of the gums. This is usually done in coordination with other measures to fully correct the bite.
If the procedure is successful, bringing the canines out of impaction reduces the problems those teeth could cause the person's oral health. But just as important, it can restore normality to their smile.
If you would like more information on treating impacted teeth, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Your gums don't just attractively frame your teeth—they protect them as well. If they shrink back (recede) from their normal covering, portions of the teeth could become exposed to bacteria and other hazards.
Unlike the visible crown, which is protected by enamel, the tooth root depends largely on the gums as a shield against bacteria and other hazards. When the gums recede, it exposes the roots and makes them more susceptible to disease or trauma. It may also cause sensitivity to hot and cold foods as the now exposed dentin gets the full brunt of temperature and pressure sensations once muffled by the gums.
There are actually a number of causes for gum recession. In rare cases, a tooth may not have erupted normally within its bony housing, which inhibits the gums from covering it fully. Thinner gum tissues, passed down genetically, are also more susceptible to recession. And a person can even damage their gums and cause them to recede if they brush too aggressively.
The most common cause, though, is advanced periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection arises from dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, usually because of poor hygiene practices. As the infection and resulting inflammation in the gums worsens, they lose their attachment to teeth resulting in a number of harmful outcomes that include recession.
The first step then in treating gum recession is to treat the underlying problem as much as possible. In the case of gum disease, effective treatment could stop mild to moderate recession and sometimes reverse it. For more extensive recession, a patient may need gum grafting surgery to help regenerate lost gum tissue.
You can help prevent gum disease, and thus lower your risk for recession, with daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque. Likewise, see your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque).
You should also visit your dentist promptly if you notice swollen or bleeding gums, or more of your teeth surfaces showing. The earlier your dentist diagnoses and begins treatment for gum recession, the better your chances for a healthy and more attractive outcome.
If you would like more information on maintaining good gum health, 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 “Gum Recession.”
If you're looking for a cosmetic enhancement with a “light” touch, you can't beat dental veneers. These custom-made wafers of dental porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, heavy staining or gaps, revitalizing your smile.
But with traditional veneers, a minimal impact doesn't mean no impact at all. Although they're quite thin—often a millimeter or less—they can still look bulky when bonded to unprepared teeth. Dentists usually remove a small amount of surface enamel to help them appear more natural.
The alteration itself is painless, and only the bare minimum of enamel is removed. Even so, the alteration is permanent—the tooth will require a veneer or other form of restoration from then on. But a new kind of veneer may make it possible to avoid any enamel removal, or much less. These no-prep or minimal-prep veneers are even thinner, between 0.3 and 0.5 millimeters.
With these ultra-thin veneers, your dentist may only perform a little minor enamel re-shaping, particularly the sides of the teeth, to ensure a good fit. As thin as they are—akin to that of a contact lens—no-prep veneers can be bonded to the teeth surface without the need for fitting them under the gum line.
No-prep veneers are ideal for people with smaller than normal teeth, or that appear smaller due to other facial features. This also includes teeth that have worn down from age or teeth grinding, or those that are misshapen in some way. They also work well with people who have a narrow smile where less teeth than normal are visible in the “smile zone.”
They can also be used with patients who have oversized or prominent teeth, but it may still require some enamel removal. The only qualification for anyone receiving ultrathin veneers is that their enamel is in reasonably good health.
Because there's little to no alteration of the teeth, no-prep veneers can be reversed. Removing them, though, is no easy task, so you'll still need to think long-term before obtaining one. All in all, though, no-prep veneers in the right setting can still transform your smile without much permanent change to your teeth.
If you would like more information on no-prep veneers, 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen died last fall after a long battle with oral cancer, another in a long line of performers, athletes, politicians and other well-known personalities with this serious form of cancer. But household names like Van Halen are just the tip of the iceberg: Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
Although not as common as other malignancies (around 2.5% of total cancers), oral cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at a dismal 57%. Part of the reason for this has been the longstanding difficulty detecting it in its earlier stages: Early signs are easy to miss or mistake for a benign sore. As a result, it's often diagnosed after advancing significantly, complicating treatment efforts.
To improve survivability, the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to better educate people on this deadly disease. Here are 3 things you can do to prevent oral cancer or improve your survival odds if you encounter it.
Know your individual risk factors. Some risk factors for oral cancer are out of your control—for example, your risk may be higher if you're a male over 40, or if you're African-American. But there are also factors you can control like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption or a poor diet, all of which can elevate your cancer risk. You can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes for factors you can control and prioritizing cancer screening if you have factors that you can't.
Pay attention to oral “oddities.” A small mouth sore or patch of odd-looking skin may be nothing—or it may be the beginning of oral cancer. If you do notice something unusual, especially if it seems to linger beyond a couple of weeks, have us examine it as soon as possible. If it does appear suspicious, you may need to undergo a biopsy, a cancer analysis of the suspected tissue. If it is cancerous, an early diagnosis could improve your outcome.
Visit your dentist regularly. There's more to semi-annual dental visits than teeth cleaning. Regular dental visits are an important component in your “early warning system” for oral cancer—we may notice something suspicious during your regular visit, often before you do. If you're older or have other risk factors for oral cancer, we can expand your regular exam to include a comprehensive cancer screening.
Oral cancer is a serious matter. But taking steps to prevent it and staying alert to its warning signs can help you overcome it.
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