Common Procedures

BONDING

CROWNS & BRIDGES

ORAL CANCER SCREENINGS

CLEANING

EXTRACTIONS

 

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BONDING

We are proud of the ways in which dentistry can restore broken or decayed teeth to full beauty and function. One of the easiest and least expensive ways of doing this is with dental bonding.

Bonding uses tooth-colored materials to replace missing tooth structure or hide cosmetically unappealing minor defects in a tooth — chips, discoloration, and even minor spacing irregularities. Bonding materials are called “composite resins” because they contain a mixture of plastic and glass, which adds strength and translucency. The composite actually bonds, or becomes one, with the rest of the tooth.

Composite resins come in a variety of tooth shades for truly lifelike results. When bonding is done with a skilled hand and an artistic eye, it may be impossible to distinguish the bonded tooth from its neighbors. Though bonding will not last as long as a dental veneer, it also does not require the involvement of a dental laboratory and, most often, can be done without drilling of the tooth. It's a particularly good solution for teens, who often need to wait until their teeth have finished maturing before choosing a more permanent type of dental restoration.

THE BONDING PROCESS

Because it does not involve dental laboratory work, tooth bonding can usually be accomplished in a single visit to the dental office. Expect the whole procedure to take 30 minutes to an hour. First, the surface of the tooth to be bonded will be cleaned so it is plaque-free. The surface will then need to be “etched” with an acidic gel that opens up tiny pores in the surface. After the etching gel is rinsed off, the liquid composite resin in a well-matched shade is painted on in a thin layer, filling these tiny pores to create a strong micromechanical bond. A special curing light is used to harden this bonding material. Once the first layer is cured, another layer is painted on and cured. Layers can continue to be built up until the restoration has the necessary thickness. The bonding material is then shaped using a dental drill to give it just the right form. Once the tooth not only looks great but fits in perfectly with your bite, it will receive a final polishing.

CARING FOR BONDED TEETH

Bonded teeth should be brushed and flossed daily, and professionally cleaned at the dental office twice per year, just the same as the rest of your teeth. The most important thing to keep in mind about caring for your bonded tooth is that composite resin can absorb stain, just as natural teeth can. Therefore, you will want to avoid smoking, red wine, coffee and tea to the extent possible. Also, while composite can darken, it cannot be lightened. So if you are thinking about having your teeth whitened, it should be done before your tooth is bonded so that a composite shade can be selected to match the lighter color of your whitened teeth. If you whiten your teeth after bonding, the bonded tooth may not match all the rest. Finally, try not to bite your nails, hold writing implements in your mouth, or use your teeth in other ways that could put excessive force on the bonding material and chip it. With proper care, a bonded tooth should stay beautiful for 3 to 10 years.


Crowns & bridges

Dentistry is an art as well as a science; dental crowns offer a perfect example of this. A dental crown or “cap” is a covering that fits over a damaged, decayed or unattractive tooth. It can even replace a tooth entirely as part of dental bridgework.

A crown completely covers a tooth above the gum line. This is in contrast to a dental veneer, which only covers a tooth's front surface and needs natural tooth structure to support it. Therefore, if a tooth is missing a significant amount of structure above the gum line, a crown would be the restoration of choice.

Crowns strengthen damaged teeth, allowing them to function normally again. When crafted from today's high-tech porcelains (dental ceramics), crowns are virtually indistinguishable from natural teeth. They can even be designed to improve upon a tooth's original appearance.

There are other materials besides porcelain that we can use to make dental crowns, depending on what qualities are most important. For durability, cast gold can't be beat. However, this is not always the most aesthetic choice — especially towards the front of the mouth. Other possibilities include porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns (PFM), which have a metal interior for strength and a porcelain exterior for a more natural appearance, and all-porcelain crowns with zirconia, representing the strongest ceramic. We would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of these various options with you.

CROWNING OR CAPPING A TOOTH

Crowning or capping a tooth will usually take two to three visits. At the first visit, your tooth is prepared to receive its new crown. First, it is shaped to fit inside the new covering. This will involve some drilling to give the tooth a uniform shape. The tooth and the surrounding area will be numbed beforehand. If there is very little tooth structure left to begin with, the tooth may have to be built up with filling material, rather than filed down, to support the crown.

After the tooth is prepared, impressions of your teeth are taken, either digitally or with reliable, putty-like impression materials, and sent to the dental laboratory. There, the impressions will be used to make models of your teeth for the creation of a crown. The models will serve as guides to the highly skilled lab technicians, who will ensure that your new crown is designed to enhance your smile and function well within your bite.

Before you leave the office, a temporary crown will be attached to your tooth to protect it until the permanent crown is ready. At the second visit, your permanent crown will be attached to your tooth with either a resin that hardens when exposed to a special light source, or a type of permanent cement.

BRIDGE

Crowns can also be used to create a lifelike replacement for a missing tooth. This is done with bridgework, which spans the space of the missing tooth and requires at least three crowns. Two of those crowns will be placed over healthy teeth on either side of the missing tooth; these healthy teeth are referred to as abutment teeth. The two crowned abutment teeth become supports for a third crown placed in between them; that third crown is referred to as a pontic. If more than one tooth is missing, more crowns will be needed to bridge the gap in between the abutment teeth.

The number of abutment teeth necessary to replace missing teeth is influenced by the number of missing teeth, the size and length of the abutment tooth roots, the amount of bone support each abutment tooth has, as well as where in the mouth the missing tooth is located. For example, if you have three missing teeth, four abutment teeth may be necessary, thereby creating a seven-tooth bridge. Engineering and designing of the bridge requires an understanding of how to replace teeth, as well as the biology of the supporting gum and bone tissue.

Crowns and bridgework require the same conscientious care as your natural teeth. Be sure to brush and floss between all of your teeth — restored and natural — every day to reduce the buildup of dental plaque. When you have crowns, it is even more important to maintain your regular schedule of cleanings at the dental office. Avoid using your teeth as tools (to open packages, for example). If you have a grinding habit, wearing a nightguard would be a good idea to protect your teeth and your investment.

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Oral cancer screenings

Although oral cancer may not get as much attention as some more widely-known types of cancer, that doesn't mean it's any less deadly. In fact, it is estimated that in the United States, oral cancer is responsible for killing one person every hour, every day. While it accounts for a relatively small percentage of all cancers, oral cancer is dangerous because it isn't usually detected until it has reached an advanced stage. At that point, the odds aren't great: only about 6 in 10 people will survive after five years of treatment.

If there was a simple test that could give you an early warning about whether you're likely to have this disease, would you take it? The good news is — there is! Since early detection has been shown to increase the survival rate of oral cancer to 80% or better, this test can truly save lives. And best of all, having an oral cancer screening is part of something you should be doing anyway: getting regular dental checkups.

An oral cancer examination is fast and painless. Its objective is to identify small changes in the lining tissues of the mouth, lips and tongue that may signify the early stages of this type of cancer. The screening is primarily a visual and tactile (touch) examination. If any abnormalities are noted, a small tissue sample can be retrieved for further testing in a laboratory.

Who's At Risk for Developing Oral Cancer?

The answer might surprise you. Oral cancer used to be thought of as an older person's disease, and it still mostly affects those over 40. But today, younger people form the fastest-growing segment among oral cancer patients. This is primarily due to the spread of the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16).

Of course, the other major risk factors still apply: If you're middle aged or older, a moderate to heavy drinker or a long-time tobacco user, you have a greater chance of developing oral cancer. Chronic exposure to the sun, long known to cause skin cancer, is also associated with cancers of the lips. Genetic factors are thought to have a major impact on who gets the disease as well.

DETECTING ORAL CANCER

A thorough screening for oral cancer is part of your routine dental checkup — another reason why you should be examined regularly. The screening includes a visual assessment of your lips, tongue, and the inside of your mouth, including a check for red or white patches or unusual sores. You may be palpated (pressed with fingers) to detect the presence of lumps and swellings, and your tongue may be gently pulled aside for an even better view. A special light, dye, or other procedure may also be used to help check any suspect areas. If anything appears to be out of the ordinary, a biopsy can be easily performed.

If you notice abnormal sores or color changes in the tissue of your mouth, lips and tongue, they may be a symptom of oral cancer — most, however, are completely benign. But sores or other unusual changes that haven't gone away by themselves after 2-3 weeks should be examined. Remember, the only way to accurately diagnose oral cancer is through a laboratory report. Early diagnosis, aided by thorough screenings at your regular dental checkups, is one of the best defenses against oral cancer.


CLEANING

Even if you brush and floss your teeth faithfully, it is important that you have your teeth professionally cleaned on a regular basis. (Of course, if you aren't quite so meticulous about your oral hygiene, it's even more important!) After a thorough cleaning, your teeth will feel smooth and squeaky-clean, and they will probably look a lot brighter too. But professional teeth cleanings aren't done for looks alone.

Why do your teeth need this kind of attention? Essentially, it's because over time they tend to build up a layer of plaque (a sticky, bacteria-rich film) and hard deposits (called tartar, or calculus) that are very difficult to remove without special tools. When these deposits are allowed to remain on the tooth surfaces or below the gum line, they provide ideal conditions for bacteria to grow and multiply. The acids produced by some bacteria cause tooth decay and gum disease; if left uncontrolled, this can lead to inflammation and infection of the gums, and possibly influence systemic (whole body) diseases.

Dentists have a special term for preventive procedures like tooth cleaning: prophylaxis, from the Greek word meaning to protect or guard against. In this case, the focus is on preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Performed in conjunction with a routine dental examination, a professional cleaning can go a long way toward controlling these two common maladies. While your teeth are being cleaned, it's also a good opportunity to take a close look at your oral health in general and check for a few specific problems.

The Professional Cleaning Procedure

Teeth cleaning is often performed by a dental hygienist — a highly trained technician who uses a special set of tools designed just for this purpose. Because everyone's teeth are a little different, your cleaning will be tailored to your particular needs. However, many cleanings follow a similar pattern.

First, the dental hygienist will do an oral examination to evaluate the health of your oral tissues. Then the cleaning will take place using either an ultrasonic scaler or metal instruments referred to as curettes to remove the plaque and calculus from the tooth surfaces. The ultrasonic scaler is a hand-held tool with a tiny tip that vibrates at a very high frequency. Hardened deposits are broken up by the rapid movement of the tip, which does not damage the tooth. A constant stream of liquid (called lavage) serves to cool the tip and aid in plaque removal; at the same time, it also washes away the debris.

Some hygienists prefer curettes, which are hand-held instruments that are curved and tapered to fit around and in between the teeth. If your teeth are sensitive, using hand-held instruments may be more comfortable for a professional cleaning. In the capable hands of a hygienist or dentist, it takes only moderate pressure to remove any stubborn buildup and scrub the teeth clean, regardless of which instruments are used.

Finally, your teeth are polished with a low-speed rotary brush fitted with a soft rubber tip. A slightly gritty, toothpaste-like gel is applied, and the tip spins around and polishes the teeth, making them smooth and shiny.

A Requirement for Good Oral Health

Most people don't feel any noticeable discomfort during dental cleanings; some even report they enjoy the experience — especially the dramatic results when it's done! If you haven't had a cleaning in a while, however, it may take you a few moments to get used to getting your teeth cleaned. If you experience any discomfort, however, it may be possible to apply a topical numbing gel or another type of anesthetic.

If your gums are irritated due to bacterial buildup, they may become sore or bleed slightly during the cleaning. It may be possible to prevent this from occuring in the future with oral hygiene measures you can perform at home (such as improved flossing techniques or special mouth rinses); it might also indicate that you need more frequent in-office cleanings. This type of regular maintenance will help you avoid more involved dental procedures down the road — and it will give you the best chance of keeping your teeth for life!

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EXTRACTION

The main goal of dentistry is to preserve your natural teeth and keep them healthy for as long as possible. There are times, however, when it is in your best interest (or your child's) to have a tooth extracted (removed). This could be the case for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have a tooth that has been severely damaged by trauma or decay; or an impacted wisdom tooth that may cause trouble for you later on. Maybe your teenager will soon undergo orthodontic treatment and has insignificant space for his adult teeth, referred to as crowding. Or your younger child has a baby tooth that's stubbornly adhering, even though it's past time for it to go.

Whatever the reason, tooth extraction is more often than not a very routine procedure. How straightforward this minor surgery is will depend on where the tooth to be extracted is located in the mouth, and what its roots are like. For example, a front tooth with a single straight root is easier to remove than a molar with multiple roots. This is especially true when that molar is a wisdom tooth that is impacted, meaning it is below the surface surrounded by gum tissue and bone. Often, a wisdom tooth is blocked from fully erupting (growing in) by other teeth in its path.

Still, tooth extraction is nothing to be feared when done by an experienced hand. Keep in mind that a tooth is not rigidly fixed in its surrounding bone, though that's how some may picture it. In fact, it is attached to the bone via a network of fibers that form what's known as the periodontal ligament. By carefully manipulating the tooth, these fibers can be detached and the tooth freed without much trouble.

Reasons for Extracting a Tooth

As mentioned above, there can be a variety of reasons for extracting a tooth. Be sure to ask questions about the pros and cons of any dental treatment, including extraction.

The Process of Extracting a Tooth

The first step in any extraction is a radiographic (x-ray) examination to assess the position of the tooth roots and the condition of the surrounding bone. This will allow any possible complications to be anticipated. A thorough medical and drug history is taken, to ensure that you are healthy enough to undergo the procedure, and your options for anesthesia will be discussed.

Tooth extraction is usually carried out with local anesthesia, which will numb the teeth to be removed, and the surrounding bone and gum tissues. Additional sedatives might also be used, including oral sedatives (taken in pill form), nitrous oxide (which is inhaled) and/or conscious sedation, which is given intravenously (into a vein). The latter is usually required for more complicated (or multiple) tooth extractions. By the time the sedation medication has worn off, you won't even be aware that the surgery was done.

As your tooth is being removed, steps are taken to ensure the bone that surrounds it isn't damaged. Sometimes, in the process of removing a tooth, a small amount of lab-processed bone-grafting material is placed into the socket to help preserve the bone volume there. This is particularly important when the extraction is going to be followed at some point by the placement of a dental implant, which needs to fuse to existing bone, or orthodontics, which gently moves teeth through bone.

What to Expect After Tooth Extraction

Immediately after your tooth is extracted, the socket will be covered with sterile gauze; gentle pressure will be applied for 10-20 minutes to control any bleeding. Small sutures (stitches) might also be used for this purpose. It's normal to experience some mild to moderate post-operative discomfort and/or swelling. Taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and/or aspirin the day of surgery should control most symptoms. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to ensure infection-free healing. Using ice packs on the outside of your jaw, and eating softer foods until you feel more comfortable can also be helpful. Within a few days, all should be back to normal.