Posts for: February, 2016
What do young saber tooth tigers, which have been extinct about 10,000 years, have in common with human kids today? At first glance, not a lot. Smilodon fatalis, the big cat of North America, reached adulthood at around age three and weighed up to 600 pounds. But these ice-age mammals are probably best known for their dagger-like canine teeth, which (as shown by many well-preserved skeletons) grew up to 7 inches long. And that’s where the comparison between kids and kitties gets interesting.
The toothy felines had primary (baby) teeth and adult teeth, which developed in a similar way to human dentition. The primary teeth came in first, persisted during the young cat’s development, and shared space in the mouth as the adult teeth were erupting (growing in) — with one big difference. According to a recent study reported in the academic journal PLOS ONE, those colossal canines grew at an astonishing rate: up to 6 millimeters per month! By comparison, human primary teeth emerge from the gums at around 0.7mm per month, while permanent teeth may grow up to 2mm per month.
It’s understandable why those tiger teeth developed so rapidly: Life in the Ice Age was hard, and predators needed every advantage just to stay alive. But while human baby teeth take longer to develop (and to go away), they, too, are vitally important.Â For one thing, the primary teeth let kids bite, chew, speak (and smile) properly, until they are replaced by adult teeth — a process that isn’t usually finished until a child reaches the age of 12-13. So those “baby” teeth allow kids to have good nutrition — and positive social interactions — for a significant part of childhood!
There’s another important thing primary teeth do before they’re gone: They help ensure that the succeeding teeth come in properly, by holding a space in the jaw that will later be filled by a permanent tooth. If baby teeth are lost prematurely, those spaces can close up, resulting in permanent teeth that emerge too close together, or in the wrong places. This condition, called malocclusion (bad bite), can usually be corrected by orthodontics. But it’s better to avoid the inconvenience (and cost) of braces, if possible.
That’s why it’s so important to take care of your child’s baby teeth. Even though they won’t be around forever, they have a vital role to play right now. So be sure proper attention is paid to your child’s oral hygiene: That means avoiding sugar, and remembering to brush and floss every day. And be sure to come in regularly for routine exams, cleanings, and needed care. It’s the best way to keep those little teeth from “going extinct” too soon!
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s baby teeth, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Early Loss of Baby Teeth.”
Your gums can take a lot — they’re resilient and they endure a variety of abrasive foods over a lifetime. But resilience isn’t the same as invulnerability: your gums can be weakened by periodontal (gum) disease or by over-aggressive brushing that causes them to shrink away (recede) from the teeth they protect.
Unfortunately, it’s not a rare problem — millions suffer from some degree of gum recession, caused mainly by gum disease. This aggressive infection arises from bacteria in dental plaque, a thin film that builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. Fortunately, gum disease can be effectively treated in its early stages by removing plaque above and below the gum line. Diseased gums will quickly rebound to their normal health.
Unfortunately, though, heavily recessed gums from advanced stages of gum disease (as well as those who’ve inherited thinner gum tissues and are more susceptible to recession) may not come back fully without help. This can affect the health and survival of affected teeth, as well as your appearance.
Plastic periodontal surgery can help restore these lost tissues. There are a number of procedures that can be used depending on the exact nature of the recession, and most involve some form of tissue grafting. A specimen of donated gum tissue (either from another portion of the patient’s gums or a thoroughly cleansed and properly processed donation from another person) is surgically attached to the gums at the recession site.
The graft can be completely freed from the harvest area or in some cases a part of it remains attached to receive blood supply while the rest is grafted to the site. These procedures, especially the latter, require meticulous skill and sophisticated microsurgical techniques to make an effective attachment. If the tooth root is involved, it must be thoroughly prepared beforehand through polishing and decontamination to ensure the new graft will take. The graft is sutured in place and sometimes covered with a moldable dressing for protection.
As the area heals, the tissues begin to grow around the graft, restoring better coverage for the tooth. Coupled with comprehensive gum disease treatment, this form of plastic surgery can restore new health to teeth and a transformed smile.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession with plastic surgery, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
Your family uses fluoride toothpaste and your drinking water is fluoridated too. So with the fluoride your child already takes in, is it really necessary for topical fluoride treatments during their regular dental visits?
The answer is most definitely. Fluoride has a unique ability to strengthen enamel, your teeth’s protective cover against decay and other diseases. It does this by infusing itself in the enamel structure and making it that much more resistant to acid attack and decay.
This infusion occurs in two ways. First, growing teeth obtain it through the bloodstream as they incorporate other minerals that make up the enamel structure. The very small amount of fluoride added to drinking water — as low as one part per million (ppm) — imparts sufficient fluoride to developing teeth. In the absence of fluoridated water, dietary fluoride supplements can achieve the same effect.
The second way is just after the teeth have erupted and are still quite young. In this case, fluoride coming in direct contact with the enamel surface is absorbed, resulting in changes to the enamel’s crystalline structure that will create added strength. This can occur to a limited degree through fluoride toothpaste or other dental products. The concentration of fluoride in these products, though, is relatively low (850-1500 ppm) as mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety.
Professional applications, on the other hand, are much higher — 12,300 to 22,600 ppm depending on their form. They’re applied, of course, under strict clinical guidelines to cleaned tooth surfaces, usually as a gel, foam or varnish. The latter form will often continue leaching fluoride into the enamel for a month or more.
These topical applications can greatly strengthen the teeth of children who don’t have the benefit of fluoridated water or may be at higher risk for dental disease because of socio-economic conditions. But they can still be helpful for children with adequate fluoride exposure and low risk factors for disease. At the very least, fluoride treatments can give your child an added boost of protection as their teeth continue to develop.
If you would like more information on topical fluoride treatments 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 “Topical Fluoride.”
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”