Lasers have transformed our everyday lives, especially in healthcare. These intense beams of light of a single wavelength have revolutionized all manner of diagnostics and treatments, from general surgery to cosmetic therapy.
Dentistry has also been influenced by the laser revolution. Here are just a few of the areas where they’re growing in use and popularity.
Early disease detection. Laser instruments can take advantage of “fluorescence,” the tendency of bacteria to “glow” when exposed to certain wavelengths of light. This is proving more effective in detecting early tooth decay in pits and fissures (very tiny areas in a tooth’s biting surface) than traditional needle-like probing instruments called dental explorers. Newer lasers can now detect the same fluorescent qualities in soft tissues, which may reduce the detection time for oral cancer and make the difference between life and death.
Dental caries treatment. Lasers have become an alternative to the dental drill in treating teeth with dental caries (decay). Although with larger cavities lasers are somewhat slower than the conventional drill, they truly shine when it comes to early enamel caries and small cavities because they can be quite precise in the amount of tooth structure they remove. This feature allows them to be less invasive than a dental drill.
Periodontal treatment. Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection caused mainly by bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that have adhered to tooth surfaces. Lasers are emerging as an alternative to conventional periodontal (gum) surgery to treat voids or spaces below the gum line called periodontal pockets that have formed because of gum tissue detachment as supporting bone is lost. With their ability to target and destroy infected tissue without damaging nearby healthy tissue, lasers can achieve similar outcomes as traditional techniques but with less tissue damage and discomfort to patients afterward.
Research and development into laser technology continues to perfect these and other applications that promise to make dental procedures less invasive and more comfortable for patients.
The traditional way to restore a tooth with an artificial crown takes several weeks and multiple office visits: from tooth preparation and impression molding to crown production by a dental laboratory, followed by adjustments and cementing. Now, there’s an alternative that reduces this process to a fraction of the time, and all from your dentist’s office.
Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) is a digital system that enables dentists to create dental restorations with laboratory-grade materials in minutes rather than weeks. As it continues to innovate, you’ll see more and more dentists investing in the new technology for their patients.
A crown restoration with CAD/CAM begins like any other with decay removal and preparation of the tooth. It diverges, though, from the traditional in how an impression of your teeth and gums is obtained: instead of rubber-like molding materials to create a physical impression, we lightly dust the mouth interior with a reflective powder. Using a scanning wand, the reflective powder allows us to capture multiple, detailed images of your mouth that the CAD/CAM computer transforms into an accurate three-dimensional model.
We use the model to first assess if the tooth has been effectively prepared for a restoration. If so, the design feature of the system will provide us with thousands of tooth forms to choose from to match with your natural teeth. You’ll be able to view the proposed size and shape of the new crown via computer simulation before signing off on the design.
Next is the actual manufacture of the crown that takes place right in the dentist’s office. A pre-formed block of ceramic material is inserted in the milling equipment where, following the pre-determined computer design, the milling heads carve the ceramic block. After milling, we fine-tune the crown surface and apply stains or glazes fired to create a life-like color and texture that matches your natural teeth. We can then adjust the crown in your mouth and permanently affix it to the tooth.
While much of the CAD/CAM system is automated, ultimate success still depends on the dentist’s expertise and artistry. CAD/CAM enhances those skills with greater precision and in much less time than traditional crowns. It’s certainly a growing option for many people to restore the form and function of decayed teeth.
If you would like more information on computer-aided dental restorations, 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 “Creating In-Office Dental Restorations with Computers.”
Porcelain veneers are excellent for restoring otherwise sound teeth that are stained, chipped or slightly misaligned. But the question for many is, are they long-lasting?
Just as the term is used in building construction, a dental veneer is a thin covering of material that’s bonded to the outside of a tooth to conceal blemishes. Very thin layers of dental porcelain (a form of hardened glass colored to match a patient’s natural teeth) are created by a dental lab technician to achieve the preferred shape and size of the patient’s tooth. Unlike crowns or other restorations, veneers require very little tooth preparation to accommodate them.
As to their longevity: if cared for properly, a veneer could last for twenty years or more. While the veneer itself isn’t subject to the effects of dental disease, the tooth and the gums that support it are. Shrinking gum tissues as a result of periodontal (gum) disease, for example, could have a negative effect on the veneered tooth and subsequently the veneer. It’s important, then, that you properly practice daily brushing and flossing, along with keeping up regular office cleanings and checkups.
There’s one other important consideration: while porcelain veneers can withstand normal biting forces, if they’re subjected beyond their tolerance they could shatter. You should be careful not to subject your veneered teeth to an abnormal biting force, such as biting down on an extremely hard object. If you tend to grind your teeth at night, wearing a night guard can minimize the force created from the grinding.
It’s possible to repair and re-bond a loose or slightly chipped veneer. In some cases, though, severe damage may require a replacement. Still, by using common sense about what you bite down on and taking proper care of your teeth and gums, you can minimize the chances of damage and enjoy many years of a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on porcelain 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 “Porcelain Veneers: How Long will Your Porcelain Veneers Last?.”
Dental implants have become the standard for long-term tooth replacement. From mechanics to movie stars, people from all walks of life have discovered the advantages of replacing a missing tooth with an implant. Obviously, restoring your smile is a definite advantage, but an implant can also help to maintain the health of your jawbone and adjacent teeth.
The implant is a small, screw-like titanium post that is placed into your jawbone to function as the root part of the tooth. The living bone tissue will actually attach to the titanium post, fusing them together. This will not only provide a sturdy anchor for a natural-looking crown, but will provide stability for bridgework or dentures. You will then be able to smile, chew and talk as if all of your teeth are natural. The procedure will also help to stabilize the bone, reducing long-term bone loss that occurs when a missing tooth is not replaced.
At this point, if you are thinking that there must be a lot of pain involved, I have good news for you. There is very little pain involved after the procedure is completed and no pain at all during the procedure. Typically, it is a routine surgery that takes place in a dentist’s office under local anesthesia where the immediate area is numbed. If there is any apprehension at all about the procedure, we will offer alternative anesthesia or sedation options during the planning process.
To determine who will be a good candidate for the implant procedure, a plan must be in place to assure the success of the implant. Part of the plan includes:
- Reviewing your past medical and dental history. We must know your complete past and present medical history and medication use, since good health is essential. There are certain conditions and diseases that can affect the healing of an implant.
- Performing a comprehensive dental examination. An evaluation of your dental problems and needs will determine if implants are in your best interests. An assessment of the health and mass of the jawbone as well as the number and location of the implant(s) that are needed to restore your bite and smile back to health will also be determined.
When the implant procedure has been successfully completed, there is one more step. As with your natural teeth, preventive maintenance is crucial for long-term success. A daily routine of brushing and flossing along with regular professional dental cleanings and checkups will help ensure continued gum health and proper functioning of your implants.
If you are wondering whether dental implants are right for you, contact us for more information or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about dental implants by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Dental Implant Surgery.”
Many people have questions about the proper use of antibiotics — especially today, as the overuse of these medications has become a concern. It isn’t necessary for most people to take antibiotics before having a dental procedure. But for a few — notably, those with particular heart conditions and, in some cases, joint replacements — pre-medication is advisable. The question may be even more confusing now, because the standard recommendations have recently changed — so let’s try and sort things out.
First, why would anyone need antibiotics before dental treatment? Essentially, it’s because of the chance that an open wound could allow bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream. For people in good health, the body is capable of quickly containing and neutralizing the bacterial exposure. But people with some types of heart disease, heart transplants, and/or total joint replacements have a greater likelihood of developing a bacterial infection, which can be dangerous — or even life-threatening. The same may be true of people whose immune systems are compromised.
At one time, people with a broad range of heart problems and artificial joints were advised to pre-medicate; today, new research indicates that fewer people need to take this step. Antibiotics are currently recommended before dental procedures if you have:
- An artificial heart valve, or a heart valve repaired with artificial material
- A history of endocarditis
- A heart transplant with abnormal heart valve function
- Cyanotic congenital heart disease (a birth defect where blood oxygen levels are lower than normal) that hasn’t been fully repaired — including children with surgical shunts and conduits
- A congenital heart defect that has been completely repaired with artificial material or with a device — but only for the first six months after the repair procedure
- Repaired congenital heart disease with residual defects, such as leakage or abnormal flow
In addition, not everyone who has an artificial joint needs antibiotic premedication. Instead, your health care providers will rely on your individual medical history to determine whether this step is required in your situation. However, having a compromised immune system (due to diabetes, cancer, arthritis, chemotherapy and other factors) is still an indication that antibiotics may be needed.
The question of whether or not to pre-medicate is an important one — so it’s vital that you share all relevant medical information with your doctors and dentists, and make sure everyone is in the loop. That way, the best decisions can be made regarding your treatment.
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