While crooked teeth are usually responsible for a malocclusion (poor bite), the root cause could go deeper: a malformed maxilla, a composite structure composed of the upper jaw and palate. If that’s the case, it will take more than braces to correct the bite.
The maxilla actually begins as two bones that fit together along a center line in the roof of the mouth called the midline suture, running back to front in the mouth. The suture remains open in young children to allow for jaw growth, but eventually fuses during adolescence.
Problems arise, though, when these bones don’t fully develop. This can cause the jaw to become too narrow and lead to crowding among the erupting teeth and a compromised airway that can lead to obstructive sleep apnea. This can create a cross-bite where the upper back teeth bite inside their lower counterparts, the opposite of normal.
We can remedy this by stimulating more bone growth along the midline suture before it fuses, resulting in a wider maxilla. We do this by installing a palatal expander, an appliance that incrementally widens the suture to encourage bone formation in the gap, which over time will widen the jaw.
An expander is a metal device with “legs” extending out on both sides and whose ends fit along the inside of the teeth. A gear mechanism in the center extends the legs to push against the teeth on both sides of the jaw. Each day the patient or caregiver uses a key to give the gear a quarter turn to extend the legs a little more and widen the suture gap. We remove the expander once the jaw widens to the appropriate distance.
A palatal expander is an effective, cost-efficient way to improve a bite caused by a narrow jaw, but only if attempted before the bones fuse. Widening the jaw after fusion requires surgery to separate the bones — a much more involved and expensive process.
To make sure your child is on the right track with their bite be sure to see an orthodontist for an evaluation around age 6. Doing so will make it easier to intervene at the proper time with treatments like a palatal expander, and perhaps correct bite problems before they become more expensive to treat.
If you would like more information on treating malocclusions, 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 “Palatal Expanders: Orthodontics is more than just Moving Teeth.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
Your nightly snoring has become a major sleep disturbance for you and other family members. But it may be more than an irritation — it could also be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition that increases your risk for life-threatening illnesses like high blood pressure or heart disease.
Sleep apnea most often occurs when the tongue or other soft tissues block the airway during sleep. The resulting lack of oxygen triggers the brain to wake the body to readjust the airway. This waking may only last a few seconds, but it can occur several times a night. Besides its long-term health effects, this constant waking through the night can result in irritability, drowsiness and brain fog during the day.
One of the best ways to treat sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This requires an electric pump that supplies constant pressurized air to a face mask worn during sleep to keep the airway open. But although effective, many patients find a CPAP machine clumsy and uncomfortable to wear. That's why you may want to consider an option from your family dentist called oral appliance therapy (OAT).
An OAT device is a custom-made appliance that fits in the mouth like a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. The majority of OAT appliances use tiny metal hinges to move the lower jaw and tongue forward to make the airway larger, thus improving air flow. Another version works by holding the tongue away from the back of the throat, either by holding the tongue forward like a tongue depressor or with a small compartment fitted around the tongue that holds it back with suction.
Before considering an OAT appliance, your dentist may refer you to a sleep specialist to confirm you have sleep apnea through laboratory or home testing. If you do and you meet other criteria, you could benefit from an OAT appliance. There may be other factors to consider, though, so be sure to discuss your options with your dentist or physician to find the right solution for a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea treatments, 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 “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”
Magician Michel Grandinetti can levitate a 500-pound motorcycle, melt into a 7-foot-tall wall of solid steel, and make borrowed rings vanish and reappear baked inside bread. Yet the master illusionist admits to being in awe of the magic that dentists perform when it comes to transforming smiles. In fact, he told an interviewer that it’s “way more important magic than walking through a steel wall because you’re affecting people’s health… people’s confidence, and you’re really allowing people to… feel good about themselves.”
Michael speaks from experience. As a teenager, his own smile was enhanced through orthodontic treatment. Considering the career path he chose for himself — performing for multitudes both live and on TV — he calls wearing an orthodontic device (braces) to align his crooked teeth “life-changing.” He relies on his welcoming, slightly mischievous smile to welcome audiences and make the initial human connection.
A beautiful smile is definitely an asset regardless of whether you’re performing for thousands, passing another individual on a sidewalk or even, research suggests, interviewing for a job. Like Michael, however, some of us need a little help creating ours. If something about your teeth or gums is making you self-conscious and preventing you from smiling as broadly as you could be, we have plenty of solutions up our sleeve. Some of the most popular include:
- Tooth Whitening. Professional whitening in the dental office achieves faster results than doing it yourself at home, but either approach can noticeably brighten your smile.
- Bonding. A tooth-colored composite resin can be bonded to a tooth to replace missing tooth structure, such a chip.
- Veneers. This is a hard, thin shell of tooth-colored material bonded to the front surface of a tooth to change its color, shape, size and/or length; mask dental imperfections like stains, cracks, or chips, and compensating for excessive gum tissue.
- Crowns. Sometimes too much of a tooth is lost due to decay or trauma to support a veneer. Instead, capping it with a natural-looking porcelain crown can achieve the same types of improvements. A crown covers the entire tooth replacing more of its natural structure than a veneer does.
If you would like more information about ways in which you can transform your smile, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the techniques mentioned above by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening,” “Repairing Chipped Teeth,” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
All eyes were on Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas in Game 1 of the second-round NBA Playoff series against the Washington Wizards — and not just because he scored a game-high of 33 points! Even more dramatic was the moment his jaw collided with an opponent’s elbow, sending one of his front teeth flying out of his mouth and onto the floor.
Press reports said the Celtics’ team physician attempted to reinsert the tooth, but it didn’t remain in place when Thomas resumed playing the game. Over the next several days, he reportedly underwent a total of ten hours of oral surgery, and was fitted with a four-piece temporary bridge. A statement from the team noted that Thomas suffered “a complete fractured tooth and two other subluxed/shifted teeth… [He] will receive a permanent bridge at a future date.” So what does all that mean?
When we say a tooth is fractured, it means the crown (visible part) of the tooth has broken off from its roots, either above or below the gum line. Depending on the severity of the fracture, it is sometimes possible to save the natural tooth by performing a root canal to prevent bacterial infection, and then placing a crown (cap) on the tooth to restore its appearance and function. In more severe cases, however, the tooth can’t be saved and must be extracted.
Unfortunately, that isn’t Thomas’ only problem. He also has two subluxed teeth — that is, teeth that have shifted from their original position, but haven’t been knocked out of their sockets. Subluxed teeth often result from a severe blow to the mouth, and may be treated by stabilization or splinting. Team officials haven’t said exactly what was done during Thomas’ dental treatment, but it could very well have involved extracting the roots of any teeth that couldn’t be saved, and possibly placing dental implants in his jaw for future tooth restoration.
A dental implant is a small screw-shaped titanium post that is inserted directly into the bone of the upper or lower jaw in a minor surgical procedure. In time, it becomes fused with the bone itself, offering a sturdy anchorage for replacement teeth. One implant can support one replacement crown; two or more implants can support a number of replacement teeth joined together as a unit. This is called a dental bridge.
Bridges can also be supported by adjacent healthy teeth — but first, the outer surfaces of the crown must be prepared (reduced in size), so that the bridge can be attached over the remaining part of the crown. In many instances, implants are preferred because they do not compromise the structure of healthy teeth nearby.
Dental difficulties didn’t end Isaiah Thomas’ season — but an earlier hip injury that became aggravated finally did.Â As unfortunate as this is, maybe now at least the NBA star will have a chance to let those injured teeth heal, and show up next season with a smile that’s as good as new.
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