Posts for: December, 2014
Since their development in the laboratory over five decades ago, lasers have found increasing use in our everyday lives. In the field of medicine, it’s not uncommon to find lasers in the offices of dermatologists, ophthalmologists and surgeons, to name just a few. Now, some dentists are finding that lasers can offer an alternative means of treating gum disease — and one that may have advantages in certain situations.
You probably know that a laser produces a special kind of light — in fact, its name is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Essentially, a medical laser uses electrical energy to produce an intense and narrow beam of concentrated light. This light can be directed to a particular area, often via a fiber-optic channel. The laser’s precision allows a doctor or technician to focus the light energy exactly where it’s needed — to remove diseased tissue, seal off blood vessels, and sterilize a wound, for example.
For several years, periodontists — dentists who specialize in treating diseases of the gums — have been researching the use of lasers for treating certain types of gum disease. In standard clinical practice, hand-held instruments and ultrasonic cleaning tools are used at regular time intervals (3 – 6 months) to remove the sticky bacterial biofilm, as well as calculus (tartar), that forms in between teeth and gums. If that still isn't effective, gum surgery may be required to access the affected area, remove diseased tissue, and reduce pocket depth (the space below the gum line that gets larger as bone loss occurs) to prevent reinfection.
Recently, however, several new procedures have been developed that use lasers to accomplish some or all of these goals. One type of therapy uses a special laser that emits pulses of light with a specific wavelength (color) of 1064 nanometers. This light passes through healthy cells like a sunbeam through a window — but when it encounters darkly-pigmented bacteria, it vaporizes them instantly!
One of the potential advantages of laser treatment is its precision: focused directly on the area where trouble occurs, it targets diseased tissue but leaves healthy tissue alone. Another is that laser treatment is less invasive: It requires less tissue removal, and may cause less discomfort and tissue shrinkage (gum recession) than conventional periodontal surgery. And because it produces small amounts of heat, it can seal blood vessels and help control bleeding.
While lasers have long shown promise for treating gum disease, until recently it wasn’t clear if they offered any advantages over traditional methods. Now, several studies have shown that certain laser treatments can be just as effective as traditional gum surgery in many cases — with the potential benefit of being less invasive. In the future, the use of lasers for periodontal procedures is likely to increase.
It’s important to remember that no single treatment — not even a laser — can “zap” gum disease in one fell swoop. Controlling periodontal disease requires effective at-home oral hygiene combined with regular professional care. If you have questions about periodontal disease, please call our office to schedule a consultation.
Ah, the baby teeth: those cute little pearl buttons that start to appear in a child’s mouth at around 6 to 9 months of age. Like pacifiers and bedtime stories, they’ll be gone before you know it — the last usually disappear by age 10-13. So if the dentist tells you that your young child needs a root canal, you might wonder why — isn’t that tooth going to be lost anyway?
The answer is yes, it is — but while it’s here, it has some important roles to play in your child’s development. For one thing, baby teeth perform the same functions in kids as they do in adults: Namely, they enable us to chew, bite, and speak properly. The primary teeth also have a valuable social purpose: they allow us to smile properly. If a baby tooth is lost prematurely at age 6, the child may suffer detrimental effects for five years or more — and that’s a long time for someone so young!
Even more important, baby teeth have a critical function in the developing mouth and jaw: Each one holds a space open for the permanent tooth that will eventually replace it — and it doesn’t “let go” until the new tooth is ready to come in. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost too soon, other teeth adjacent to the opening may drift into the empty space. This often means that the permanent teeth may erupt (emerge above the gum line) in the wrong place — or sometimes, not at all.
The condition that occurs when teeth aren’t in their proper positions is called malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite). It can cause problems with eating and speaking, and often results in a less-than-perfect-looking smile. It’s the primary reason why kids get orthodontic treatment — which can be expensive and time-consuming. So it makes sense to try and save baby teeth whenever possible.
Procedures like a root canal — or the similar but less-invasive pulpotomy — are often effective at preserving a baby tooth that would otherwise be lost. But if it isn’t possible to save the tooth, an appliance called a space maintainer may help. This is a small metal appliance that is attached to one tooth; its purpose is to keep a space open where the permanent tooth can come in.
If your child is facing the premature loss of a primary tooth, we will be sure to discuss all the options with you. It may turn out that preserving the tooth is the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. If you have questions about your child’s baby teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
For decades, dental x-rays have helped us accurately diagnose and treat a wide array of dental diseases and conditions. But even with recent advances in digital imaging, the traditional x-ray does have one drawback: its two-dimensional view doesn’t always provide the “big picture” that a three-dimensional viewpoint can provide.
But a new type of x-ray technology can do just that: known as cone beam computed tomography (CBCT), these machines record hundreds of digital images as a cone-shaped beam of x-ray energy is projected through a device that rotates around a person’s head. A computer then assembles the images into a single three-dimensional image that can be manipulated on screen to view from various angles. Not only does this provide greater context and detail, it does so with no more radiation exposure than a standard 20-film digital full-mouth x-ray series.
While CBCT hasn’t replaced the traditional x-ray, it’s making its mark in a number of specialized areas of dentistry. The following are just a few of the ways CBCT is improving both accuracy and treatment outcomes.
Orthodontics. CBCT can provide a much more detailed view of the entire jaw; this can help us determine the best locations for realigning teeth safely and effectively.
Dental Implants. With a CBCT scan we can precisely locate nerve canals, sinuses and adjacent teeth before implant surgery to locate the best position for the implant.
TMD Treatment. To help develop the best treatment approach for alleviating the pain and dysfunction of temporo-mandibular joint disease (TMD), a CBCT scan can provide us detailed information on how the disease is affecting a patient’s joints, teeth, sinuses and airway.
Impactions. An impacted tooth can exert damaging pressure against the roots of neighboring teeth. A CBCT scan allows us to observe the impacted tooth from various vantage points to determine the best treatment approach for neighboring teeth, nerve canals and sinuses.
If you would like more information on CBCT technology, 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 “Getting the Full Picture With Cone Beam Dental Scans.”
Fluoride has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel against decay. That’s why it’s not only added to toothpaste and other dental products, but also to drinking water — in nearly three-quarters of U.S. water systems.
While research has eased most serious health questions about fluoride, there remains one moderate concern. Too much fluoride over time, especially in infants and young children, could lead to “enamel fluorosis,” an excess of fluoride in the tooth structure that can cause spotting or streaking in the enamel. While often barely noticeable, some cases of fluorosis can produce dark staining and a pitted appearance. Although not a symptom of disease, fluorosis can create a long-term cosmetic concern for the person.
To minimize its occurrence, children under the age of 9 shouldn’t regularly ingest fluoride above of the recommended level of 0.70 ppm (parts per million). In practical terms, you as a parent should monitor two primary sources of fluoride intake: toothpaste and drinking water.
Young children tend to swallow toothpaste rather than spit it out after brushing, which could result in too much fluoride ingestion if the amount is too great. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry therefore recommends a small “smear” of toothpaste for children under two, and a pea-sized amount for children up to age six. Brushing should also be limited to no more than two times a day.
Your child or infant could also take in too much fluoride through fluoridated drinking water, especially if you’re using it to mix infant formula. You should first find out the fluoride levels in your local water system by contacting the utility or the health department. If your system is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “My Water’s Fluoride” program, you may be able to access that information on line at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF/Index.asp.
If the risk for developing fluorosis in your area is high, you can minimize your infant’s intake with a few recommendations: breastfeed rather than use formula; use “ready-to-feed” formula that doesn’t need mixing and contains lower fluoride levels; and use bottled water specifically labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “de-mineralized,” or “distilled.”
Fluoride can be a wonderful adjunct to dental care in reducing risk for tooth decay. Keeping an eye on how much fluoride your child takes in can also minimize the chance of future appearance problems.
If you would like more information on the possible effects of fluoride on young children, 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 Development and Infant Formula.”
Are tooth-colored fillings safer than silver fillings?
No. Both are considered safe based on the most reliable and up-to-date scientific evidence. Still, tooth-colored fillings do have some definite advantages. Not only do they blend in with your smile far better than “silver” (dental amalgam) fillings, but they often require less removal of healthy tooth structure. That’s because in order to fill a tooth with amalgam, it is necessary to create indentations in the tooth called “undercuts” to hold the amalgam in; this requires the removal of some healthy tooth material. With a tooth-colored filling, we need only remove the decayed part of the tooth to place the filling.
Are there any disadvantages?
Yes, tooth-colored fillings don’t always wear as well as metal fillings — particularly on back molars where they are subjected to the most stress from chewing. They are also more expensive and less likely to be fully reimbursed under dental insurance plans.
Are there different types of tooth-colored fillings?
Yes, three different choices of tooth-colored fillings are available:
- Composite — This mixture of plastic and glass is the most common type of tooth-colored filling. Newer materials can hold up almost as long as amalgam fillings and look very natural, though they can stain over time just as natural teeth do.
- Porcelain — High-tech dental ceramics are considered the most aesthetic choice of filling material. They don’t stain as composites can, but their relatively high glass content can make them more brittle and prone to breakage. They may be more expensive than composites.
- Glass Ionomer — Made of acrylic and glass powders, these inexpensive, translucent fillings blend in acceptably well with natural teeth and have the advantage of releasing small amounts of fluoride to help prevent decay. However, they generally don’t last as long as other restorative materials.
We would be happy to offer guidance on which choice would be best in your own unique situation.
If you have any questions about tooth-colored fillings, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Natural Beauty of Tooth-Colored Fillings.”