Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
When it comes to our children’s safety, there isn’t much nowadays that isn’t under scrutiny. Whether food, clothing, toys and more, we ask the same question: can it be harmful to children?
That also includes tried and true healthcare practices. One in particular, the routine x-ray, has been an integral part of dental care for nearly a century. As a means for detecting tooth decay much earlier than by sight, it has without a doubt helped save billions of teeth.
But is it safe for children? The reason to ask is because x-rays are an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. As with other forms of radiation, elevated or frequent exposure to x-rays could damage tissue and increase the future risk of cancer.
But while there is potential for harm, dentists take great care to never expose patients, especially children, to that level or frequency of radiation. They incorporate a number of safeguards based on a principle followed by all healthcare professionals in regard to x-rays called ALARA, an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable.” This means dentists and physicians use as low an exposure of x-ray energy as is needed to achieve a reasonable beneficial outcome. In dentistry, that’s identifying and treating tooth decay.
X-ray equipment advances are a good example of ALARA in action. Digital imaging, which has largely replaced film, requires less x-ray radiation for the same results than its older counterpart. Camera equipment has also become more efficient, with modern units containing lower settings for children to ensure the proper amount of exposure.
Dentists are also careful how often they take x-ray images with their patients, only doing so when absolutely necessary. As a result, dental patients by and large experience lower dosages of x-ray radiation in a year than they receive from natural radiation background sources found every day in the environment.
Dentists are committed to using x-ray technology in as safe and beneficial a way as possible. Still, if you have concerns please feel free to discuss it further with your dental provider. Both of you have the same goal—that your children have both healthy mouths and healthy bodies for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety for 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.”
There are several reasons why dental implants are so popular. Perhaps the most important, though, is their longevity: if maintained properly implants can last for decades. However, they’re not indestructible—certain mouth conditions could put them at risk for early failure. But if you address emerging problems early, you may be able to prevent that unfortunate outcome.
Your implants may be in danger, for example, if you have a teeth grinding or clenching habit. This occurs when a person involuntarily and repeatedly bites down on their teeth when not chewing or speaking. Usually triggered in adults by high stress, teeth grinding can subject both natural teeth and implants to damaging levels of force. Over time this can cause bone loss around an implant and weaken their support. It could also cause a direct break in an implant.
But there are ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of teeth grinding. One effective way is a custom-made bite guard you wear while you sleep. Made of hard plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other, reducing the amount of force generated.
A more prominent problem is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by built-up dental plaque on tooth surfaces. This can trigger inflammation, a normal defensive response that when it persists for an extended period of time can damage tissues and supporting bone. It can also cause a specific form of gum disease related to implants called peri-implantitis, in which the tissues that support an implant become infected and weaken, leading eventually to possible implant failure.
If you have implants, then, you should brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease, as well as see your dentist at least every six months for cleanings and checkups. And if you notice anything like reddened, swollen or bleeding gums, see your dentist immediately. The sooner you undergo treatment, the better the outcome for your implants as well as your overall health.
Dental implants can give you years of great service and can prove to be well worth the cost. But you’ll have to stay on your guard against gum disease and other mouth conditions that could endanger them down the road.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method that Rarely Fails.”
Moving teeth to better positions through orthodontics not only improves dental function and health, it can vastly improve your appearance. But to achieve a result that continues to be attractive as you age requires thorough planning and forethought.
That’s because your body continues to change all during life. While the most accelerated growth happens in childhood and adolescence, even older adults continue to change, especially in their facial features. A good deal of research has helped identify and catalog these changes, which orthodontists now incorporate into their corrective treatments for poor bites (malocclusions).
For example, the lips grow until they reach their maximum thickness in girls usually around age 14 and boys age 16. But researchers have also found lip thickness gradually diminishes for most people beginning in their late teens until about age 80. In other words, the appearance of your lips in your elderly years will be vastly different than in your teens. The same holds true for other facial features: our facial profile flattens as the nose becomes longer and more pronounced while the lower part of the face shortens.
Using this knowledge of the effects of aging on the face, orthodontists now attempt to anticipate “where” the facial features will be decades down the road. This projection can help them design a treatment plan that takes advantage of these projected changes.
For example, orthodontists may begin treatment before a patient’s teenage years with techniques that serve to guide jaw growth. Keeping that development on track will help if or when braces may be needed a few years later. Guiding jaw growth will help shorten the distance of where a patient is in their orofacial development and where they should be later in life with normal development.
Orthodontists aren’t predictors of the future. But armed with an understanding of the aging process, they can help patients head in the right direction to produce a smile and facial appearance that will endure well into later life.
If you would like more information on moving teeth to achieve a more attractive appearance, 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 “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
Nothing grabs your attention like a sharp tooth pain, seemingly hitting you out of nowhere while you’re eating or drinking. But there is a reason for your sudden agony and the sooner you find it out, the better the outcome for your oral health.
To understand tooth sensitivity, we need to first look at the three layers of tooth anatomy. In the center is the pulp filled with blood vessels and nerve bundles: it’s completely covered by the next layer dentin, a soft tissue filled with microscopic tubules that transmit sensations like pressure or temperature to the pulp nerves.
The third layer is enamel, which completely covers the crown, the visible part of a tooth. Enamel protects the two innermost tooth layers from disease and also helps muffle sensations so the tooth’s nerves aren’t overwhelmed. The enamel stops at about the gum line; below it the gums provide similar protection and sensation shielding to the dentin of the tooth roots.
Problems occur, though, when the dentin below the gums becomes exposed, most commonly because of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection caused by dental plaque triggers inflammation, which over time can weaken gum tissues and cause them to detach and shrink back (or recede) from the teeth. This can leave the root area vulnerable to disease and the full brunt of environmental sensations that then travel to the nerves in the pulp.
Tooth decay can also create conditions that cause sensitivity. Decay begins when certain oral bacteria multiply and produce higher than normal levels of acid. The acid in turn dissolves the enamel’s mineral content to create holes (cavities) that expose the dentin. Not treated, the infection can eventually invade the pulp, putting the tooth in danger of being lost unless a root canal treatment is performed to remove the infection and seal the tooth from further infection.
So, if you begin experiencing a jolt of pain while eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, see your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. And protect your teeth from dental disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing, as well as seeing your dentist for regular dental cleanings and checkups. Don’t ignore those sharp pains—your teeth may be trying to tell you something.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
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