One of the most widely used forms of dental imaging is the bitewing x-ray. So called because of the shape of the device that holds the exposable film a patient clenches between their back teeth, the bitewing x-ray is an effective means for detecting the earliest stages of tooth decay.
These early signs are small lesions on a tooth surface caused by mineral loss in the enamel. While we can identify them on front teeth through visual examination or bright lighting, they’re nearly impossible to see on the biting surfaces of back teeth. The bitewing x-ray solves this problem.
During the procedure, a narrow beam of x-rays is directed at the back teeth area. Since X-rays can transmit through solid matter, they pass through the teeth and gums to expose the film attached to the bitewing assembly.
X-rays pass through matter at different rates depending on the density of the tissue — a slower rate for harder tissues like teeth and bone and a faster rate for soft tissues like the gums. As a result, x-rays through teeth expose less of the film and appear as a lighter image than the gums. This difference is so precise even a tooth’s softer dentin appears slighter darker than its harder outer enamel.
This precision helps us identify decay lesions. Because the lesions on the enamel are less dense than the normal enamel, they’ll appear as dark spots. By detecting them at this stage we have a better chance for reversing the effects of decay or at least minimizing damage that’s already occurred.
Because x-rays emit radiation, there’s a natural concern about over-exposure and we go to great lengths to reduce it. Children may undergo a bitewing x-ray twice a year for developing teeth, while adults with healthy teeth are typically x-rayed just once a year. Advances in digital film and other technology have also helped lower the exposure rate.
Today’s standard 4-film bitewing x-ray produces about four days worth of what we receive on average from normal background radiation, so the health risk is quite negligible. The benefit, on the other hand, is much greater — the early detection of tooth decay could ultimately save a tooth.
Implant-supported fixed bridges are growing in popularity because they offer superior support to traditional bridges or dentures. They can also improve bone health thanks to the affinity between bone cells and the implants' titanium posts.
Even so, you'll still need to stay alert to the threat of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection usually triggered by dental plaque could ultimately infect the underlying bone and cause it to deteriorate. As a result the implants could loosen and cause you to lose your bridgework.
To avoid this you'll need to be as diligent with removing plaque from around your implants as you would with natural teeth. The best means for doing this is to floss around each implant post between the bridgework and the natural gums.
This type of flossing is quite different than with natural teeth where you work the floss in between each tooth. With your bridgework you'll need to thread the floss between it and the gums with the help of a floss threader, a small handheld device with a loop on one end and a stiff flat edge on the other.
To use it you'll first pull off about 18" of dental floss and thread it through the loop. You'll then gently work the sharper end between the gums and bridge from the cheek side toward the tongue. Once through to the tongue side, you'll hold one end of the floss and pull the floss threader away with the other until the floss is now underneath the bridge.
You'll then loop each end of the floss around your fingers on each hand and work the floss up and down the sides of the nearest tooth or implant. You'll then release one hand from the floss and pull the floss out from beneath the bridge. Rethread it in the threader and move to the next section of the bridge and clean those implants.
You can also use other methods like specialized floss with stiffened ends for threading, an oral irrigator (or "water flosser") that emits a pressurized spray of water to loosen plaque, or an interproximal brush that can reach into narrow spaces. If you choose an interproximal brush, however, be sure it's not made with metal wire, which can scratch the implant and create microscopic crevices for plaque.
Use the method you and your dentist think best to keep your implants plaque-free. Doing so will help reduce your risk of a gum infection that could endanger your implant-supported bridgework.
If you would like more information on implant-supported bridges, 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 Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
Around 20 million people—mostly women after menopause—take medication to slow the progress of osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that weakens bones. But although effective, some osteoporosis drugs could pose dental issues related to the jawbones.
Osteoporosis causes the natural spaces that lie between the mineral content of bone to grow larger over time. This makes the bone weaker and unable to withstand forces it once could, which significantly increases the risk of fracture. A number of drugs have been developed over time that stop or slow this disease process.
Two of the most prominent osteoporosis drugs are alendronate, known also by its trade name Fosamax, and denosumab or Prolia. While originating from different drug families, alendronate and denosumab work in a similar way by destroying specialized bone cells called osteoclasts that break down worn out bone and help dissolve it. By reducing the number of these cells, more of the older bone that would have been phased out lasts longer.
In actuality this only offers a short-term benefit in controlling osteoporosis. The older bone isn’t renewed but only preserved, and will eventually become fragile and more prone to fracture. After several years the tide turns negatively for the bone’s overall health. It’s also possible, although rare, that the bone simply dies in a condition called osteonecrosis.
The jawbones are especially susceptible to osteonecrosis. Forces generated by chewing normally help stimulate jawbone growth, but the medications in question can inhibit that stimulus. As a result the jawbone can diminish and weaken, making eventual tooth loss a real possibility.
Osteonecrosis is most often triggered by trauma or invasive dental procedures like tooth extractions or oral surgery. For this reason if you’re taking either alendronate and denosumab and are about to undergo a dental procedure other than routine cleaning, filling or crown-work, you should speak to your physician about suspending your medication temporarily. Dentists often recommend a suspension of three to nine months before the procedure and three months afterward.
Some research indicates this won’t worsen your osteoporosis symptoms, especially if you substitute another treatment or fortify your skeletal system with calcium and vitamin D supplements. But taking this temporary measure could help protect your teeth in the long run.
If you would like more information on the effect of osteoporosis treatment on dental health, 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
One of the unfortunate aspects of aging is tooth wear. Depending on your diet, years of biting and chewing can cause enamel along the biting surfaces to erode. Your body also can't replace enamel — so when it comes to teeth it's not a question of if, but how much your teeth will wear during your lifetime.
To make matters worse, certain conditions cause tooth wear to accelerate. Teeth softened by acids or tooth decay, for example, erode faster than healthier teeth. So will grinding habits: often fueled by stress, these include chewing on hard items like nails, pencils or bobby pins.
You may also grind your teeth, usually while you sleep. Normal biting and chewing produces pressure of about 13 to 23 pounds per square inch: grinding your teeth at night can well exceed this, even up into the hundreds of pounds.
There are some things we can do to alleviate these issues. For clenching and grinding habits, one primary step is to address stress through counseling or biofeedback therapy. For nighttime teeth grinding we can create a bite guard to wear while you sleep that will prevent your teeth from generating abnormal forces.
Finally, it's important that you take care of your teeth through daily oral hygiene, regular office cleanings and checkups, and a nutritious diet for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Keeping your teeth free from diseases that could compromise your enamel as well as other aspects of your mouth will help them stay as strong as possible.
If you would like more information on slowing the rate of tooth wear as you age, 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 and Why Teeth Wear.”
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