Even with modern prevention and treatment advances, losing teeth in later life is still a sad but common part of human experience. Just as generations have before, many today rely on dentures to regain their lost dental function and smile.
But although effective, dentures have their weaknesses. The most serious: they can't prevent jawbone deterioration, a common problem associated with tooth loss.
Bone health depends on chewing forces applied to the teeth to stimulate replacement growth for older bone cells. When teeth are gone, so is this stimulation. Dentures can't replicate the stimulus and may even accelerate bone loss because they can irritate the bone under the gums as they rest upon them for support.
But there's a recent advance in denture technology that may help slow or even stop potential bone loss. The advance incorporates implants with dentures to create two hybrid alternatives that may be more secure and healthier for the supporting bone.
The first is known as an overdenture, a removable appliance similar to a traditional denture. But instead of deriving its support from the gums alone, the overdenture attaches to three to four implants (or only two, if on the lower jaw) that have been permanently set into the jawbone. This not only increases stability, but the implants made of bone-friendly titanium attract and foster increased bone growth around them. This can help slow or even stop the cycle of bone loss with missing teeth.
The second type is a fixed denture. In this version, four to six implants are implanted around the jaw arch. The denture is then secured in place to these implants with screws. It's a little more secure than the overdenture, but it's also more expensive and requires good quality bone at the implant sites.
If you've already experienced significant bone loss you may first need bone grafting to build up the implant sites for these options, or choose traditional dentures instead. But if you're a good candidate for an implant-supported denture, you may find it provides better support and less risk of continuing bone loss than traditional dentures.
If you would like more information on implant-supported 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
X-ray imaging is such an intricate part of dentistry, we usually don't think twice about it. Without it, though, the fight against dental disease would be much harder.
At the same time, we can't forget that x-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. It's that very quality and the difference in the absorption rate between denser bone and teeth and softer diseased tissue that makes disease diagnosis possible.
But this same penetrative power can potentially harm the tissues it passes through. For that reason when practicing any form of x-ray diagnostics, dentists follow a principle known as ALARA, an acronym for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable." In lay terms ALARA means getting the most benefit from x-rays that we can with the lowest dose and exposure time possible.
While practicing ALARA with x-rays is important for patients of any age, it's especially so for children who are more sensitive to radiological energy given their smaller size and anatomy. We can't use the same settings, dosages or exposure times with them as with an adult.
To protect children, dentists have developed techniques and protocols that lessen their exposure time and rate, while still providing usable images for diagnosing disease. The bitewing is a good example of safe and effective pediatric x-ray imaging.
A bitewing is a plastic device holding exposable film that patients bite down on and hold in their mouth while x-raying. The x-rays pass through the teeth and gums and expose the film behind them on the bitewing. Using a bitewing we can capture a set of two to four radiographs to give us a comprehensive view of the back teeth, while exposing the child less radiation than they normally receive daily from background environmental sources.
This and other advances in equipment and digital imaging greatly reduce the amount of radiation patients receive during x-rays. If, though, you're still concerned about your child's x-ray exposure, talk with your dentist who can explain in more detail the x-ray safety protocols they follow. Just like you, they want your child to be as safe as possible while still benefiting from the diagnostic power of x-rays.
If you would like more information on safety precautions using x-rays with 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. If all of your teeth are missing, it’s especially critical to replace them as soon as possible.
There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth, including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures:
Removable dentures are the classic replacement teeth that you put in during the day and take out at night. (However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, research has found that keeping dentures in at night may help keep the airway open, so if you have this condition, be sure to mention it to your doctor and dentist it). Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining) or a remake.
Overdentures are removable dentures that attach onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. The ability to maintain hygiene is easier because you can remove them for cleaning.
Fixed implant-supported dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally after a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
If you would like more information about tooth-replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures” and “Removable Full Dentures.”
Every May, the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association asks people around the world to spread awareness of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. Anyone with fibromyalgia and its associated joint and muscle pain knows all too well how chronic pain can disrupt everyday life. And as we see frequently in the dental office, people contending with the jaw pain and dysfunction associated with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can equally relate.
But here’s the kicker—if you’ve been diagnosed with either TMD or fibromyalgia, there’s a good chance you’re also dealing with both conditions. For example, in one recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients, two-thirds reported also having fibromyalgia or similar kinds of health issues. Researchers are looking intently at possible connections between TMD and fibromyalgia since understanding any potential link between the two might open the door to new ways of treatment.
Fibromyalgia patients experience frequent muscle spasms and fatigue throughout their bodies, coupled with other problems like sleeplessness and memory difficulties. Most researchers today believe it’s caused by a malfunction within the central nervous system (CNS) to process pain. Those working with TMD research are also considering whether the same type of malfunction contributes to jaw joint pain and dysfunction.
TMD is an umbrella term for various disorders involving the jaw joints and associated muscles. When you come to the dental office, it is important that we know about any TMD pain you may be experiencing because this can affect your dental visits. For example, people with TMD may have trouble holding their mouth open for an extended period of time, so we can adjust dental exams and treatments accordingly. Also, we will want to look for underlying dental conditions that may have contributed to your TMD.
If you’re experiencing both TMD and fibromyalgia symptoms, be sure you let us as well as your rheumatologist know the various symptoms you’re experiencing with each condition, the treatments you’re undergoing and the medications you’re taking.
For TMD in particular, here are a few things you can do to reduce its impact on your daily life:
- Avoid foods that require heavy chewing or jaw widening;
- Use thermal therapies like warm compresses or ice packs to ease jaw stiffness and pain;
- Practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress in your life;
- Ask about muscle relaxants or other medications that might help.
You may find that some of these practices, particularly stress reduction, are also helpful in managing fibromyalgia. And if there is a deeper connection between TMD and fibromyalgia, unraveling the mystery could hopefully lead to even greater relief for both.
If you would like more information about managing your symptoms, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions” and “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
Losing teeth continues to be an all too common experience for people, especially those in their senior years. Fortunately, there are several ways to replace them, ranging from partial or full dentures to implants.
Some, though, postpone or simply choose not to replace a lost tooth, often because of the cost. But putting off a dental restoration could have a long-term impact on your health, and not in a good way. Continuing bone deterioration is one of the top consequences of delayed restoration.
Like other bones in the body, the jawbone is living tissue with cells that form, grow and eventually wear out. At the end of their life, these older cells give way to new cells. Eating and chewing play an important role in maintaining this growth cycle: the forces we generate as we chew travel up through the tooth roots to stimulate bone growth in the jaw.
When a tooth goes missing, though, the stimulus ends. Over time the bone cell replacement rate can fall off and the bone slowly loses volume. To make matters worse, bone loss can continue beyond the immediate bone underlying the tooth and affect the rest of the jawbone. The jaw can shrink in height and width, and in time become weaker overall and more susceptible to fracture.
But dental implant restorations in particular could help stop or even reverse bone deterioration at the site of the missing teeth. The titanium post implanted in the jaw attracts bone cells, which grow and adhere to its surface. Over time the bone fills in and becomes stronger.
You don't want to wait too long, though, because implants depend on a minimum amount of bone present for secure placement. You should therefore undergo an implant restoration as soon as it's practical after tooth loss. Otherwise, although we may be able to restore some of the lost bone with bone grafting, you may need to consider another restorative option.
When it comes to replacing missing teeth, time isn't on your side. But the right kind of dental restoration undertaken promptly can make for a brighter, healthier future.
If you would like more information on restoring lost teeth, 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 Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
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