For a predictable outcome, a dental implant should be placed as soon as the bone and gum tissues following a tooth extraction have healed. But what happens if the tooth has been missing for months or years? You might then run the risk of not having enough bone to properly place an implant.
This can happen because of a disruption in the growth cycle of living bone tissue. As older bone cells dissolve (resorption), new bone develops to take its place. This is a dynamic process, as the amount and exact location of the new growth is in response to changes in the mouth, particularly from forces generated by the teeth as we chew. If, however, this stimulation transmitted to the bone no longer occurs because the tooth is missing, the bone will tend to dissolve over time.
In fact, within the first year after a tooth loss the associated bone can lose as much as a quarter of its normal width. This is why we typically place bone grafting material in an empty socket at the same time as we extract the tooth. This encourages bone growth during the healing period in anticipation of installing a dental implant or a fixed bridge. If, however, the bone has diminished to less than required for a dental implant, we must then use techniques to encourage new bone growth to support a future implant.
One such technique for restoring bone in the back of the upper jaw is to surgically access the area through the maxillary sinus (a membrane-lined air space within the bone structure of the face) positioned just over the jawbone to place grafting material. During surgery performed usually with local anesthesia, the surgeon accesses the sinus cavity, lifts the tissue membrane up from the sinus floor and applies the grafting material on top of the bone. Eventually, the new bone growth will replace the grafting material.
If successful, the new bone growth will be sufficient to support an implant. Thanks to this renewed growth, you’ll soon be able to enjoy better function and a transformed smile provided by your new implant.
If you would like more information on forming new bone for implants through sinus 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 “Sinus Surgery.”
As permanent teeth gradually replace primary (“baby”) teeth, most will come in by early adolescence. But the back third molars—the wisdom teeth—are often the last to the party, usually erupting between ages 18 and 24, and the source of possible problems.
This is because the wisdom teeth often erupt on an already crowded jaw populated by other teeth. As a result, they can be impacted, meaning they may erupt partially or not at all and remain largely below the gum surface.
An impacted tooth can impinge on its neighboring teeth and damage their roots or disrupt their protective gum attachment, all of which makes them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Impacted teeth can also foster the formation of infected cysts that create areas of bone loss or painful infections in the gums of other teeth.
Even when symptoms like these aren’t present, many dentists recommend removing the wisdom teeth as a preemptive measure against future problems or disease. This often requires a surgical extraction: in fact, wisdom teeth removal is the most common oral surgical procedure.
But now there’s a growing consensus among dentists that removing or not removing wisdom teeth should depend on an individual’s unique circumstances. Patients who are having adverse oral health effects from impacted wisdom teeth should consider removing them, especially if they’ve already encountered dental disease. But the extraction decision isn’t as easy for patients with no current signs of either impaction or disease. That doesn’t mean their situation won’t change in the future.
One way to manage all these potentialities is a strategy called active surveillance. With this approach, patient and dentist keep a close eye on wisdom teeth development and possible signs of impaction or disease. Most dentists recommend carefully examining the wisdom teeth (including diagnostic x-rays and other imaging) every 24 months.
Following this strategy doesn’t mean the patient won’t eventually have their wisdom teeth removed, but not until there are clearer signs of trouble. But whatever the outcome might be, dealing properly with wisdom teeth is a high priority for preventing future oral health problems.
If you would like more information on wisdom teeth and their potential impact 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come with a Dilemma.”
You've seen the ads for obtaining a new tooth in one day with a dental implant. Those aren't exaggerated claims — you can leave the dental office the same day with a new tooth that looks and functions like the old one.
But the dramatic marketing aside, there is a bit more to the story. Same day tooth replacement isn't appropriate in every situation. And even when it is, there are risks for failure.
We can minimize those risks, however, by focusing on certain goals during the three distinct phases in the process: removing the natural tooth; placing the metal implant into the jawbone; and affixing the visible, crown.
It's crucial during tooth extraction that we avoid damaging the socket bone that will ultimately support the implant's titanium post. If the socket walls break down it could set up future gum recession or cause us to abort the implant procedure altogether that day.
When placing the implant, we want to focus on achieving a strong hold. Due to its special affinity with titanium, bone cells gradually grow and adhere to the post to firmly anchor the implant in time. But since we're immediately loading a crown rather than allowing the bone to fully integrate first, we need to ensure the implant has a secure hold from the get-go. We can only achieve this with precise placement based on careful examination and planning, as well as adequate bone.
Even so, the implant still needs to integrate with the bone for a lasting hold, and that takes time. Even with normal biting forces the implant risks damage during this integration period. That's why we place a temporary crown a little shorter than the surrounding teeth. Those adjacent teeth will take the brunt of the biting force and not the implant.
Once the bone has fully integrated, we'll replace the temporary crown with a permanent one the proper height proportional to the other teeth. Even with the temporary crown, though, you'll still have a life-like tooth the day we removed the older one.
The key to success is planning — first determining if you meet the criteria for a same-day implant and then mapping out and carefully executing each succeeding step. Doing this will ensure your same-day implant is a success from day one.
If you would like more information on same-day tooth replacement, 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 “Same-Day Tooth Replacement with Dental Implants.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Losing a tooth from disease or accident can be traumatic. The good news, though, is that it can be replaced with a life-like replica that restores your smile. One of the most popular and durable solutions is a dental implant, which replaces not only the root of the tooth but the crown as well.
But there's a possible wrinkle with implants — for accurate placement there must be a sufficient amount of bone around it. This could be a problem if you've been missing the tooth for sometime: without the stimulus provided by a tooth as you chew, older bone cells aren't replaced at an adequate rate. The bone volume gradually diminishes, as up to 25% of its normal width can be lost during the first year after tooth loss. A traumatic injury can damage underlying bone to an even greater extent.
There is a possible solution, but it will require the services of other specialists, particularly a periodontist trained in gum and bone structure. The first step is a complete examination of the mouth to gauge the true extent of any bone loss. While x-rays play a crucial role, a CT scan in particular provides a three-dimensional view of the jaw and more detail on any bone loss.
With a more accurate bone loss picture, we can then set about actually creating new bone through grafting procedures. One such technique is called a ridge augmentation: after opening the gum tissues, we place the bone graft within a barrier membrane to protect it. Over time the bone will grow replacing both the grafting material and membrane structure.
Once we have enough regenerated bone, we can then perform dental implant surgery. There are two options: a “one-stage” procedure in which a temporary crown is placed on the implant immediately after surgery; or a “two-stage” in which we place the gum tissue over the implant to protect it as it heals and bone grows and attaches to it. In cases of pre-surgical bone grafting, it's usually best to go with the two-stage procedure for maximum protection while the bone strengthens around it.
Necessary preparation of the bone for a future dental implant takes time. But the extra effort will pay off with a new smile you'll be proud to display.
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