Posts for: September, 2015
For years preparing teeth for fillings or other restorations has required the use of a drill. Although quite effective in removing decayed structure and preparing the tooth for bonding, it usually requires a local anesthetic. That and the noise it generates can be unsettling for many patients.
In recent years, a different type of technique known as “air abrasion” has increased in popularity among dentists. Known also as “particle abrasion,” the technique uses a stream of fine particles to remove decayed tooth structure and is less invasive than the traditional drill. Although the technology has been around since the mid-20th Century, recent developments in suction pumps that remove much of the dust created have made it more practical. It also works well with new natural-looking bonding materials used for tooth structure replacement.
The fine particles — usually an abrasive substance like aluminum oxide — are rapidly discharged through a hand-held instrument using pressurized air aimed at affected tooth areas. Decayed teeth structure is softer than healthier tissue, which allows air abrasion to precisely remove decay while not damaging the other.
Besides removing decay or abrading the tooth for bonding, air abrasion can also be used to minimize stained areas on surface enamel and to clean blood, saliva or temporary cements from tooth surfaces during dental procedures. It’s also useful for smoothing out small defects in enamel or aiding in sealant applications.
It does, however, have a few limitations. It’s not as efficient as the traditional drill with larger cavities or for re-treating sites with metal (amalgam) fillings. Because of the fine texture of the abrasive particles, affected teeth need to be isolated within the mouth using a rubber dam or a silicone sheet. High-volume suction must be continually applied to capture the fine particles before the patient swallows them or it fills the procedure room with a fine cloud of material.
Still, while air abrasion technology is relatively new, it has clear advantages over the traditional drill in many procedures. As advances in the technology continue, air abrasion promises to offer a more comfortable and less invasive experience in dental treatment.
In real life he was a hard-charging basketball player through high school and college. In TV and the movies, he has gone head-to-head with serial killers, assorted bad guys… even mysterious paranormal forces. So would you believe that David Duchovny, who played Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files and starred in countless other large and small-screen productions, lost his front teeth… in an elevator accident?
“I was running for the elevator at my high school when the door shut on my arm,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had fainted, fallen on my face, and knocked out my two front teeth.” Looking at Duchovny now, you’d never know his front teeth weren’t natural. But that’s not “movie magic” — it’s the art and science of modern dentistry.
How do dentists go about replacing lost teeth with natural-looking prosthetics? Today, there are two widely used tooth replacement procedures: dental implants and bridgework. When a natural tooth can’t be saved — due to advanced decay, periodontal disease, or an accident like Duchovny’s — these methods offer good looking, fully functional replacements. So what’s the difference between the two? Essentially, it’s a matter of how the replacement teeth are supported.
With state-of-the-art dental implants, support for the replacement tooth (or teeth) comes from small titanium inserts, which are implanted directly into the bone of the jaw. In time these become fused with the bone itself, providing a solid anchorage. What’s more, they actually help prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs after tooth loss. The crowns — lifelike replacements for the visible part of the tooth — are securely attached to the implants via special connectors called abutments.
In traditional bridgework, the existing natural teeth on either side of a gap are used to support the replacement crowns that “bridge” the gap. Here’s how it works: A one-piece unit is custom-fabricated, consisting of prosthetic crowns to replace missing teeth, plus caps to cover the adjacent (abutment) teeth on each side. Those abutment teeth must be shaped so the caps can fit over them; this is done by carefully removing some of the outer tooth material. Then the whole bridge unit is securely cemented in place.
While both systems have been used successfully for decades, bridgework is now being gradually supplanted by implants. That’s because dental implants don’t have any negative impact on nearby healthy teeth, while bridgework requires that abutment teeth be shaped for crowns, and puts additional stresses on them. Dental implants also generally last far longer than bridges — the rest of your life, if given proper care. However, they are initially more expensive (though they may prove more economical in the long run), and not everyone is a candidate for the minor surgery they require.
Which method is best for you? Don’t try using paranormal powers to find out: Come in and talk to us. If you would like more information about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework,” and “Dental Implants.”