A loose baby tooth is normal and expected; a loose permanent tooth is quite another matter: it’s an advanced sign of disease that could lead to losing the tooth.
The reasons for its looseness may vary. You may have experienced “primary occlusal trauma,” in which the teeth have experienced a prolonged excessive biting force beyond their tolerance. This can be caused by habitual grinding or clenching the teeth.
You may have also experienced “secondary occlusal trauma”: although the biting forces are within normal ranges, the teeth still can’t handle the stress due to degraded bone support and gum tissue detachment. Clenching habits combined with weakened bone and gums will only accelerate and worsen the damage.
The most frequent cause in adults for loose teeth is secondary trauma from periodontal (gum) disease. Bacterial plaque built up on teeth from poor oral hygiene causes a chronic infection that eventually weakens gum attachment to the teeth. A loose tooth is a late sign of this damage.
Treatment for disease-based loose teeth has a twofold approach. First, we thoroughly clean the tooth, root and gum surfaces of all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) to reduce the infection and inflammation and restore tissue health. This is often accompanied by antibiotic treatments to reduce bacteria below the gum tissue.
For the loose teeth themselves, we may need to modify the forces against them while the gums and bone heal. One way to lessen the biting force on a tooth is to reshape its and the opposing tooth’s biting surfaces. For extensive looseness we can also splint the affected tooth or teeth with other teeth. Temporarily, we can apply splinting material to the outside of both the loose and stable teeth or cut a small channel into them and apply bonding material to join them. A permanent option is to crown both the affected teeth and nearby stable teeth and fuse the crowns together.
These and other stabilizing techniques, like occlusal night guards to reduce the effects of teeth grinding or orthodontic treatment, will help secure the teeth. Coupled with disease treatment and renewed dental care and hygiene practices, you may be able to keep that loose tooth from being lost.
If you would like more information on treating loose 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
For generations, dentures have helped people avoid the dire consequences of total teeth loss. Now, implant technology is making them even better.
Composed of life-like prosthetic teeth fixed within a plastic or resin gum-colored base, dentures are manufactured to fit an individual patient’s mouth for maximum fit, comfort and performance. But dentures also have a critical drawback—they can’t stop bone loss in the jaw.
Bone is constantly regenerating as older cells dissolve and then are replaced by newer cells. In the jawbone, the forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this new cell growth. When teeth are missing, though, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus and may not regenerate at a healthy rate, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can’t transmit this chewing stimulus to the bone. In fact, the pressure they produce as they rest on top of the gums may actually accelerate bone loss. Over time then, a denture’s once secure and comfortable fit becomes loose.
In the past, most patients with loose dentures have had them relined with new dental material to improve fit, or have new dentures created to conform to the changed contours of the jaws. But implant technology now offers another alternative.
Implants are in essence a tooth root replacement. Dentists surgically implant a titanium metal post directly into the jawbone that naturally attracts bone cells to grow and adhere to it over time (a process called osseointegration). This not only creates a secure and lasting hold, it can also stop or even reverse bone loss.
Most people know implants as single tooth replacements with a porcelain crown attached to the titanium post. But a few strategically placed implants can also support either removable or fixed dentures. Removable dentures (also called overdentures) usually need only 3 or 4 implants on the top jaw and 2 on the bottom jaw for support through built-in connectors in the dentures that attach to the implants. A fixed bridge may require 4-6 implants to which they are permanently attached.
There are pros and cons for each of these options and they’re both more expensive than traditional dentures. In the long run, though, implant-supported dentures could be more beneficial for your bone health and hold their fit longer.
If you think gum disease only happens to the other guy (or gal), think again. If you’re over 30 you have a 50-50 chance for an infection. After 65 the risk climbs to 70 percent.
Fortunately, we can effectively treat most cases of gum disease. But depending on its severity, treatment can involve numerous intensive sessions and possible surgery to bring the disease under control. So, why not prevent gum disease before it happens?
First, though, let’s look at how gum disease most often begins—with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth and gum surfaces. If plaque isn’t consistently removed through daily brushing and flossing, it doesn’t take long—just a few days—for the bacteria to infect the gums.
While it’s not always easy to detect gum disease early on, there are signs to look for like red, swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, and bad breath or taste. The infection is usually more advanced if you notice pus-filled areas around your gums or loose teeth. If you see any of these (especially advanced signs like loose teeth) you should contact us as soon as possible.
Obviously, the name of the game with prevention is stopping plaque buildup, mainly through daily brushing and flossing. Technique is the key to effectiveness, especially with brushing: you should gently but thoroughly scrub all tooth surfaces and around the gum line, coupled with flossing between teeth.
To find out how well you’re doing, you can rub your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss—you should feel a smooth, almost squeaky sensation. You can also use plaque-disclosing agents that dye bacterial plaque a particular color so you can easily see surface areas you’ve missed. You can also ask us for a “report card” on how well you’re doing during your next dental visit.
Dental visits, of course, are the other essential part of gum disease prevention—at least every six months (or more, if we recommend) for cleaning and checkups. Not only will we be able to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, we’ll also give your gums a thorough assessment. By following this prevention regimen you’ll increase your chances of not becoming a gum disease statistic.
If you would like more information on recognizing and 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
While we often associate tooth decay with cavities forming in a tooth’s visible or biting surfaces, the occurrence of this all too common disease isn’t limited to those areas. Cavities can develop in any part of a tooth exposed to bacteria.
Gum recession, the shrinking back of the gums from the teeth, can cause such exposure in areas normally covered by the gums. Because these areas are usually more vulnerable to infection when exposed, cavities can develop at or right below the gum line. Because of their location it can be difficult to fill them or perform other treatments.
One way to make it less difficult is to perform a crown lengthening procedure. While the term sounds like we’re increasing the size of the tooth, we’re actually surgically altering the gums to access more of the affected tooth surface for treatment. It’s typically performed in a dental office with local anesthesia by a general dentist or a periodontist, a specialist in the gums.
During the procedure, the dentist starts by making small incisions in the gums to create a tissue “flap” that can be lifted out of the way. This exposes the underlying bone, which they then reshape to support the gum tissue once it’s re-situated in its new position. The dentist then sutures the gums back in place. Once the gums heal, the decayed area is ready for treatment.
Crown lengthening is also useful for other situations besides treating cavities. If a tooth has broken off at the gum line, for example, there may not be enough remaining structure to support a crown. Crown lengthening can make more of the underlying tooth available for the crown to “grab” onto. It’s also useful in some cases of “gummy smiles,” in which too much of the gum tissue is visible in proportion to the tooth size.
Because crown lengthening often involves removing some of the bone and is thus irreversible, you should discuss this procedure with your dentist in depth beforehand. It could be, though, this minor procedure might make it easier to preserve your teeth and even make them look more attractive.
We readily understand the physical costs of a decayed tooth or infected gums — pain, discomfort and loss of function. It’s much more difficult to understand the emotional and social costs of a lost smile. Without that understanding we may be tempted to view restorative solutions as a luxury we can’t afford.
But there is a definite cost to a smile that embarrasses or makes you unhappy. It can inhibit your friendships and family relations and cause you to become withdrawn from others. Your career may suffer, especially if your vocation involves networking or similar social outreach where you no longer feel free to be outgoing. Most of all, though, your own feelings about your look can keep you from pursuing the things you love or that matter the most to you.
Viewed in that light, a “smile makeover,” a comprehensive approach to transforming your appearance, is an investment in a better life, not a frivolity. Although the word “cosmetic” can mean “a superficial outer adornment,” in the dental profession the meaning is much deeper. Dentists who specialize in smile design are focused on the overall effect of their work — not only with your mouth but with your whole face.
The process begins with a complete examination of your mouth to identify your particular dental needs. We also want to know about your expectations and desires for a better smile. We use that, along with the realities of your physical condition and other factors, to develop a treatment plan. The plan may be as singular as whitening procedures or porcelain veneers applied to the outside of your teeth — or it may be comprehensive with a variety of procedures that could include other specialties like orthodontics or oral surgery. The overall aim is to develop a plan that’s right for you, and realistically satisfies your expectations.
The end result can be life-changing. Even subtle changes can alter your own image perceptions and free you to be yourself in your personal and professional relationships. In the end the positive impact of your new smile will more than offset the costs for achieving it.
If you would like more information on smile transformation, 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 Impact of a Smile Makeover.”
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