Perhaps you've heard about dental implant surgery — or maybe you've been told you are a candidate for the procedure. You may already know that today, implants are the “gold standard” of tooth replacement options. It's no wonder why: They have a documented success rate of over 95%, and can last a lifetime. But if you're put off by the thought of implant surgery, then it may be reassuring to learn the following five facts.
1. The entire implant process is planned before surgery is done.
This usually involves taking radiographs (X-rays), and sometimes CT scans, as precision guides to implant placement. Before the minor surgical procedure begins, we have already examined the bite and the bone structure, and determined exactly where the implant will fit in. There should be no surprises during the surgery — which is only one phase of the implant process.
2. Implant surgery uses the highest-quality materials and state-of-the-art techniques.
The implant itself is fabricated of commercially pure titanium, or a titanium alloy. This metal has a unique property — it's capable of osseo-integration, which means it can actually fuse with bone. During the implant procedure, the bone is handled with utmost care: it's gently prepared to receive the implant, and cooled with water to prevent tissue damage. If you don't have enough of your own bone tissue to support an implant, it has even become routine to restore bone with grafting techniques.
3. The surgical procedure itself is generally painless.
Almost all implants are placed using local anesthesia — typically, a numbing shot. If you're especially anxious about the procedure, it's possible to be given sedatives or anti-anxiety medications beforehand. Of course, we will make sure you don't feel any pain before we begin! Some mild vibration is generally all that you may experience during the procedure, but it's very rarely a cause for concern.
4. There is little discomfort following the procedure.
On the day of surgery and perhaps the day after, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) of the aspirin or ibuprofen family is usually all that's needed to control minor discomfort. You may also be given a prescription for antibiotics and/or a mouth rinse to aid healing.
5. The result: Natural-looking teeth that can last a lifetime.
Implants have become dentistry's premier option for replacing missing teeth. Their placement involves minimally-invasive techniques, and has a success rate higher than any other tooth replacement system. And, given proper care, they can last for the rest of your life. Could you ask for more?
If you have questions about dental implant surgery, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Dental Implants.”
Chewing gum, so much a part of modern culture, actually has ancient roots — humans have been chewing some form of it for thousands of years. While gum chewing is a benign habit for the most part, it does raise some dental health concerns.
The good news for jaw function is that chewing gum is unlikely to cause any long-term problems for your joints if you respond to your body’s warning signals. Our joints, muscles and associated nerves have a built-in mechanism of fatigue and pain signaling to help us avoid overuse. Furthermore, the action of chewing stimulates the production and release of saliva. Among saliva’s many beneficial properties is its ability to neutralize acid, which can soften and erode tooth enamel. It also strengthens enamel by restoring some of the calcium and other minerals lost from acid.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the physical act of chewing gum isn’t without risks. Chewing gum “exercises” your jaw muscles and makes them stronger, so they’re able to deliver more force to your teeth. This could lead to future tooth mobility and excessive wear. It’s important then that you don’t chew gum excessively to avoid this kind of damage to your teeth.
Unfortunately, there’s more bad news involving a key ingredient in many brands. Many manufacturers use sugar (sucrose) to sweeten their product, which is a major part of its appeal. Sugar, however, is a prime food source for oral bacteria responsible for tooth decay. The prolonged presence of sugar in the mouth when we chew gum can negate the beneficial effects of increased saliva.
A sweetener called xylitol, though, could be the answer to “having your gum and chewing it too.” This alcohol-based sugar (which, by the way, has almost half the calories of table sugar) has the opposite effect on bacteria — rather than becoming a food source it actually inhibits bacterial growth. Studies have even shown that products like chewing gum, mints or candy sweetened with xylitol can contribute significantly to a reduction in dental caries (cavities) caused by decay.
The better news: you don’t have to give up chewing gum for the sake of your teeth — just be sure to choose products with dental-friendly ingredients and don’t chew excessively. You’ll not only reduce the risks of tooth decay and damage, you’ll also promote a healthier environment in your mouth.
If you would like more information on chewing gum and its effects on dental 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 articles “Chewing Gum” and “Xylitol in Chewing Gum.”
Your otherwise beautiful smile has one noticeable flaw — one or more of your teeth are deeply discolored or stained. More than likely this staining is deep within the teeth, what we refer to as intrinsic staining. There are a number of reasons this can occur — from fillings or use of antibiotics, for example — and our first approach should be to attempt a whitening technique.
However, if that doesn't produce the desired result, porcelain laminate veneers are another option you might consider. Veneers are made of dental porcelain, a bio-compatible material that can be shaped and colored to closely match neighboring teeth. After a minimal amount of tooth reduction (removal of some of the enamel from the tooth surface) to prepare for the laminate, the veneers are then permanently bonded to the tooth surface and cover the discolored natural tooth. Besides changing the appearance of discolored or stained teeth, veneers can also be used to correct other imperfections such as chipped or misshapen teeth.
Patients, however, have a common question: how long will the veneers last? With proper care, veneers can last anywhere from seven years to more than twenty years. It's possible, though, to damage them — for example, you can break them if you bite down on something that goes beyond the porcelain's tolerance range, such as cracking nut shells with your teeth (not a good idea even for natural teeth!). You should also keep in mind that veneers are composed of inert, non-living material and are attached and surrounded by living gum tissue that can change over time. This process may eventually alter your appearance to the point that the veneer may need to be removed and reapplied to improve the look of your smile.
If a veneer is damaged, all is not necessarily lost. It may be possible to re-bond a loosened veneer or repair a chipped area. The worst case is replacement of the veneer altogether. Chances are, though, this will only happen after the veneer has already served you — and your smile — for many years.
If you would like more information on porcelain laminate 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.”
You've probably heard about dental implants — today's best option for replacing missing teeth; maybe you even have one or more already. A dental implant is a tiny screw-shaped metal post that sits in your jawbone and supports a lifelike dental crown. Natural teeth and implant-supported teeth have differences and similarities.
The main difference between implants and natural teeth — besides the fact that you were born with one and not the other — is the way they attach to your bone. Implants actually fuse to the bone, becoming part of it. This is a unique property of titanium, the metal from which implants are made. Maintaining that attachment is extremely important; we will discuss how best to ensure that in a moment.
Natural teeth do not ever become part of the bone that surrounds them. Instead, they attach to it via the periodontal ligament (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth), which is made up of tiny fibers that go into the tooth on one side and the bone on the other. These fibers form a sort of hammock for each tooth.
Another difference is that natural teeth can decay while implant-supported teeth can't. But that doesn't mean you don't have to worry about dental hygiene — far from it! And here's where we get to the main similarity: oral hygiene is extremely important to maintain both teeth and implants. Lax oral hygiene for either can result in bacterial infections that may lead to gum disease, and even bone loss.
The main enemy of a properly fused implant is a bacterial infection known as “peri-implantitis” (“peri” – around; implant “itis” – inflammation), which starts when bacterial biofilm (plaque) is allowed to build up on implant-supported crowns. Peri-implantitis can lead to a well-like or dish-shaped loss of bone around the implant, which in turn can cause the implant to lose its attachment to the bone. If this happens, the implant can no longer function. Fortunately, this infection is preventable with good brushing and flossing techniques at home, and regular professional cleanings here at the dental office.
So another similarity, then, is that natural teeth and implants can last a lifetime with proper care. And that's the result we're aiming for!
If you are one of the millions of Americans with missing teeth, then you're probably aware of some of the obvious side effects. You may feel self-conscious during conversations or simply avoid smiling altogether to conceal your dental issue. It is not uncommon for missing teeth to affect your confidence, but did you know that there are other problems that result from tooth loss?
For starters, if you have lost enough teeth, eating may become more difficult, in particular healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables. This is one of the main reasons that inadequate dental care frequently results in nutritional deficiency.
Another very serious issue that results from missing teeth is bone loss. We sometimes refer to this as a “hidden consequence,” because you may not actually see or feel this issue right away. Did you know that bone is actually living tissue that needs constant stimulation to maintain its form and density? Thus, when a tooth is lost, the bone in the jaw that surrounded and supported that tooth melts away. There is a 25% decrease in width of bone during the first year after tooth loss and an overall 4 millimeters decrease in height over the next few years. The longer you have missing teeth, the greater the loss of bone.
As bone loss continues, it can actually affect the structure of your face. If you lose your teeth early in adulthood, by age 45 you might start to notice sunken cheeks. By age 60, your cheeks and lips will lose their support, resulting in a collapsed and aged look. If your teeth are not replaced, this process will continue, and you will be in danger of losing much of the structural support of your lips and cheeks.
Luckily, we can use dental implants to not only restore your smile, but also to halt this bone loss. Implants look, feel and function like your natural teeth and are made of titanium, which has the unique ability to fuse with your living bone. Among the many benefits of implants, they continue to provide stimulation to your bone, preventing further bone loss.
With a success rate of more than 95%, implants are the best long-term solution for tooth replacement.
If you would like more information about implants and bone loss, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
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