Hopefully, you’ve developed a long-term care relationship with your family dentist. Better known as a general dentist, these professionals are the central players in maintaining your oral health, and your first stop when you have a problem with your teeth or gums.
But there are times when a particular dental situation calls for a specialist, a dentist with additional training (as much as three years or more in their area of specialty) and the equipment and advanced techniques for your particular need. Here, then, are some of the other kinds of dental professionals your general dentist may refer you to if you need specialized care.
Periodontist — From the Latin peri (“around”) and dont (“tooth”), this dentist cares for the supporting structures of the teeth, particularly the gums and bone. Besides treating advanced cases of periodontal (gum) disease, they’re also adept at reconstructive and cosmetic gum procedures or the placement of dental implants.
Orthodontist — Although known commonly as the “braces” doctor, orthodontists have a much wider concern: the interaction and alignment of teeth and jaws. With a keen understanding of growth and development, orthodontists can employ a number of treatments, including braces, to bring teeth into better positions that will improve function and appearance.
Endodontist — Teeth damaged from disease or injury may need treatments that involve the interior of the tooth — the pulp and root canals. While your general dentist can perform basic root canal treatments, an endodontist has the added knowledge and equipment to treat more difficult cases.
Prosthodontist — As with a prosthetic limb that replaces a lost arm or leg, prosthodontists specialize in replacing lost teeth (prostho means “artificial”). Prosthodontists can skillfully create functional, life-like dentures, as well as natural tooth and implant crowns to replace portions of visible teeth.
Oral Surgeon — These dentists are skilled in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions involving the head and neck (the “maxillo-facial” region). They often work in consultation with general dentists and other specialties for treating complex mouth conditions. Besides tooth extraction and other dental procedures, oral surgeons can also surgically correct jaw alignment or treat trauma to the face and neck area. They also place grafts to stimulate bone growth for future implants.
If you would like more information on how dental specialties can benefit your 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 “The Dental Universe.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Unlike the natural tooth it replaces, a dental implant is impervious to decay. But don’t think that means you can relax your oral hygiene habits — even though the implant itself can’t be infected, the surrounding gum tissues and bone can. And if they’re not properly cared for you might eventually lose the implant.
In fact, implants may be more susceptible to problems from impacted food that becomes wedged between the gums and teeth than their natural counterparts. Natural teeth are connected to the jaw by way of a resilient, elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament: the ligament resides in the space between the tooth root and the bone and attaches to both through tiny fibers. The bone and ligament are protected by an attachment of gum tissue that covers all of the surrounding bone and attaches to the root surface. The outer gum tissue surface is covered by a protein called keratin that makes it resistant to wear.
On the other hand, these periodontal ligament fibers don’t exist when implants are present as the implant is fastened directly to the bone. Because it doesn’t have this ligament attachment, and the gum tissues around can’t attach to the implant as with natural teeth, it may be more vulnerable to bacteria or trauma caused by food impaction. So, cleaning and caring for dental implants is just as important, if not more so than with natural teeth.
If the gums around an implant become infected and inflamed it could lead to peri-implantitis, a condition that can destroy the bone attachment between the implant and the bone. In other words, the loss of bone support can weaken the integration of the implant with the bone. As more and more attachment is lost, the implant can loosen and eventually be lost.
The best way to avoid this is with consistent daily hygiene and regular dental checkups. And, if you notice any signs of swelling or redness of the gums around an implant, contact us as soon as possible. The sooner we begin treatment to alleviate the infection, the less danger there will be of losing your implant.
If you would like more information on how to care for dental implants and other 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 “Infections around Implants.”
Considering the costs, many people view replacing a back tooth as less important than a more visible front tooth. They’re rarely seen, so who will notice?
You might, eventually. A missing back tooth can set off a chain reaction of problems that can affect your overall dental health. Besides playing an important role in chewing food, back teeth also redistribute most of the chewing force away from the front teeth. Their absence can also affect the bite: adjacent teeth to the missing one will tend to migrate toward the open space, causing them to tip and rotate into an improper position. This can cause an increase in tooth mobility, excessive wear and erosion, and endanger their survival in the long run.
To avoid these and other problems you should consider some form of replacement. Most dentists prefer a dental implant for its life-like appearance and durability, and because its titanium post has a natural affinity with bone. Bone cells will grow around and permanently adhere to the implant, which may stop and even reverse bone loss in some cases.
Implants, though, require a certain amount of bone structure initially to anchor and position properly. If you have inadequate bone and don’t want to bone graft the area, the next best option is a fixed bridge, in which the missing tooth is replaced with an artificial crown known as a pontic. The pontic is fused between two support crowns that are permanently affixed to the natural teeth on either side of the missing tooth (also known as abutments). While fixed bridges restore function and inhibit tooth migration, they require the natural tooth supporting the bridge to be reduced to accommodate the crowns placed on them. This permanently alters them and places them at higher risk for future nerve damage, gum disease and decay.
One final option is a removable partial denture (RPD). Although RPDs restore function and improve appearance, their movement within the mouth may place additional stress on the teeth that hold them in place. This movement over time could damage or loosen them.
We can discuss which option is best for you after a complete dental exam. The important thing, though, is to replace the back tooth as soon as possible — doing nothing could cost you much more in the long run.
If you would like more information on tooth replacement, 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 “Replacing Back Teeth.”
If you have chronic jaw pain, you know how difficult eating, speaking or even smiling can be. Many sufferers will do anything to gain relief, even surgery. But before you go down that road, consider the traditional conservative approach to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) management first—it could provide the most relief with the least risk of side effects.
The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the head. These ball and socket joints also contain a cushioning disk to facilitate movement. This disk is believed to be the primary focus for jaw pain problems known collectively as TMD.
Doctors now believe injury, stress, metabolic issues, jaw anatomy defects or similar factors trigger the chain reaction of muscle spasms, pain and soreness that can erupt during a TMD episode. A TMD patient may experience pain within the jaw muscles or joints themselves, clicking sensations, or an inability to open the jaw to its full range.
TMD therapy has traditionally followed an orthopedic path—treating jaw joints like any other joint. In recent years, though, a more aggressive treatment model has emerged that promotes more invasive techniques like orthodontics, dental work or jaw surgery to relieve discomfort. But the track record for this model, especially concerning jaw surgery, remains hazy at best and offers no guarantee of relief. These techniques are also irreversible and have even made symptoms worse in some patients.
It’s usually prudent, then, to try conservative treatments first. This can include pain and muscle relaxant medication, jaw exercises, stretching and massage, and dietary changes to reduce chewing force. Patients with teeth grinding habits may also benefit from a bite guard worn at night to reduce the biting force during sleep and help the joints relax.
By finding the right mix of treatments, you may be able to find significant relief from TMD symptoms with the conservative approach. If not, you might then discuss more invasive options with your dentist. But even if your dentist recommends such a procedure, you would be wise to seek a second opinion.
TMD can definitely interfere with your quality of life and peace of mind. But there are ways to reduce its effects and make for a happier life.
If you would like more information on managing chronic jaw pain, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
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