It’s been a long road with your braces, but now they’re finally off. Hopefully the first glimpse of your new smile more than made up for the time and effort they required.
But while braces removal is a big milestone, it’s not the end of your treatment—not, that is, if you want to keep that new smile! You’ll now need to wear an appliance called a retainer for a few years or, in some cases, from now on.
Orthodontic retainers are a must after braces for the same reason braces work in the first place—your teeth can move. While the teeth attach to the jawbone via the roots, they’re firmly held in place by an elastic gum tissue network called the periodontal ligament. This tough but elastic tissue lies between the teeth and gums and attaches securely to both with tiny fibers.
While the ligament provides stability, it’s also dynamic—constantly remodeling to allow the teeth to move in response to biting pressure and other mouth factors. Orthodontists use this mechanism when moving teeth to better positions. The braces apply pressure on the teeth in the desired direction and the periodontal ligament responds as the teeth move.
Afterward, however, the ligament can still retain a kind of “muscle memory” for a time of the teeth’s old positions. Free of the pressure once supplied by the braces the teeth have a tendency, especially early on, to “rebound” to where they were.
A retainer helps prevent this by exerting just enough pressure to “retain” the teeth in their new positions. In the beginning this may require wearing the appliance around the clock, but you may be able later to reduce wear time to just a few hours a day. Rebounding is unpredictable, so you should continue to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations on retainer wear.
Wearing a retainer may seem like a drag, but it’s absolutely essential. Being diligent about it will help ensure that the beautiful smile you and your orthodontist worked so hard to obtain stays with you for years to come.
If you would like more information on getting a new smile through orthodontics, 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 Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Malocclusions (bad bites) may cause more than an appearance problem — with teeth and jaws not working together properly, you’re at higher risk for dental disease or accelerated tooth wear. Fortunately, most malocclusions can be corrected through orthodontics, a specialty for moving teeth to better functioning and more attractive positions.
If you’re considering orthodontic treatment for a malocclusion, here are the basics on 3 of the most common orthodontic appliances used for straightening misaligned teeth.
Metal Braces. These appliances have a proven track record for correcting most forms of malocclusion. Braces consist of metal brackets bonded to the front teeth and an anchor band to the back teeth. A thin metal wire passes through the brackets to attach to the bands in the back. Gradually increased tension in the wire incrementally moves the teeth to the desired position.
Clear Bracket Braces. While metal braces do an effective job of tooth movement, they leave less to be desired in appearance. Made of polymer material rather than metal, clear bracket braces offer a more appealing look. But while they’re similar in construction to the metal version, they’re more susceptible to breakage. Wearers must be extra cautious and avoid hard foods or extreme physical sports contact.
Clear Aligners. The previous appliances are fixed and can’t be removed by the wearer. Clear aligners take a different approach with removable plastic trays that fit snugly over the dental arch. A series of trays are computer generated to carefully match the patient’s mouth structure, each incrementally smaller than the previous one in the series. After wearing the first tray for two or three weeks, the wearer changes to the next (and slightly smaller) tray in the series, repeating the process until all the trays have been worn. Of the three options, the clear aligners offer the best appearance; however, they’re best suited for cases that don’t require complex movements.
We can advise you which option is best for you after a complete evaluation, factoring in age, lifestyle and the complexity of your malocclusion. Regardless of the choice, the aim is the same — achieving a healthier mouth, better function and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on 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 “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
A relatively easy and inexpensive way to improve your smile is to whiten your teeth. In fact, you may even be able to do it yourself at home. Although there are differences between at-home and professional whitening, the former can still be effective.
That effectiveness, though, might be dependent on how well you understand what home whitening can do and what it can’t. So before you purchase your kit, here are a few things to know about DIY teeth whitening.
Home kits are safe—when used as directed. Although nothing in life is completely risk-free, home whitening kits are relatively safe. But only if you follow the directions: If you overuse the bleaching solution beyond its intended use, you could wind up with permanent damage to your tooth enamel that can be costly to treat.
Bleaching solutions are relatively mild. Nearly all home kits use carbamide peroxide, a form of hydrogen peroxide, as their bleaching agent. Home kits usually contain no more than 10% of this agent, much lower than professional solutions. Used as directed, this amount of bleaching agent poses little to no risk to dental or general health. On the other hand, the weaker home kit solution does limit the extent of brightness you can achieve compared to stronger professional treatments.
For top results (or certain conditions), consider professional whitening. While you can obtain good results with a home whitening kit, professional whitening provides more precise brightness control and range, and may possibly last longer. That’s because your dentist has more advanced techniques and equipment, as well as stronger bleaching solutions. And, if your discoloration originates inside your teeth, a home kit won’t help—only a dentist can address that kind of discoloration.
Even if you decide to “go solo,” your dentist can still give you advice on what to look for in a home kit, as well as tips for the actual procedure. But whether you whiten at home or let your dentist do it, teeth whitening can take years off your smile and give you a more attractive look.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 Whitening Safety Tips: Are Bleaching Products Safe?”
Periodontal disease may start in the gums’ superficial layers, but it’s not likely to stay there. As the disease moves deeper it can wreak havoc on tooth roots and bone as well as gum tissue attachments. Teeth with multiple roots are in particular peril because of the “forks” called furcations that form where the roots separate from each other. Infected furcations can be very difficult to treat.
We primarily treat gum disease by removing its main source, a thin film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque that builds up on teeth. To remove it we most often use special hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to vibrate it loose. As the plaque and tartar diminish, the infection begins to wane.
But we can’t be completely successful in stopping the disease if any lingering plaque deposits remain. This especially includes furcations where the infection can cause significant damage to the roots. Although cleaning furcations of plaque can be difficult, it’s not impossible with the aforementioned tools and antimicrobial substances to disinfect the area.
The real problem, though, is access—effectively getting to the furcations to treat them. We may need to perform a surgical procedure called flap surgery where we create a hinged flap in the gum tissue to move it aside and access the root area beneath. Afterward we replace the flap and suture the tissue back in place.
In some cases, the infection may have already caused significant damage to the tissue and underlying bone. We may therefore need to graft gum or bone tissues to these damaged areas to stimulate re-growth. We may also need to surgically reshape the gum attachments around a tooth to make it easier in the future to access and clean the area.
These additional treatments around furcations can be very involved and labor-intensive. That’s why the best outcomes occur if we’re able to start treatment in the early stages of an infection. So, if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums contact your dentist as soon as possible. Treating gum disease as early as possible will help ensure your tooth roots won’t suffer extensive damage.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations? Branching Tooth Roots can be Periodontal Nightmares.”
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