What do a teenager with a poor bite, a senior citizen with multiple missing teeth or a middle-aged person with a teeth grinding habit all have in common? They may all depend on a dental appliance for better function or appearance.
There’s a wide variety of removable dental appliances like clear aligners or retainers for orthodontic treatment, dentures for tooth loss or night guards to minimize teeth grinding, just to name a few. But while different, they all share a common need: regular cleaning and maintenance to prevent them from triggering dental disease and to keep them functioning properly.
The first thing to remember about appliance cleaning is that it’s not the same as regular oral hygiene, especially if you have dentures. While they look like real teeth, they’re not. Toothpaste is a no-no because the abrasives in toothpaste designed for tooth enamel can scratch appliance surfaces. These microscopic scratches can develop havens for disease-causing bacteria.
Instead, use liquid dish detergent, hand soap or a specific cleaner for your appliance with a different brush from your regular toothbrush or a specialized tool for your particular appliance. Use warm but not very hot or boiling water: while heat indeed kills bacteria, the hot temperatures can warp the plastic in the appliance and distort its fit. You should also avoid bleach—while also a bacteria killer, it can fade out the gum color of appliance bases.
Be sure you exercise caution while cleaning your appliance. For example, place a towel in the sink basin so if the appliance slips from your hands it’s less likely to break hitting the soft towel rather than the hard sink. And while out of your mouth, be sure you store your appliance out of reach of small children and pets to avoid the chance of damage.
Cleaning and caring for your appliance reduces the risk of disease that might affect your gums or other natural teeth. It will also help keep your appliance working as it was designed for some time to come.
People mainly identify orthodontics with braces. But while they’re a major part of it, braces aren’t the only way this important dental specialty can make a difference in a person’s bite.
For example, orthodontics can help guide the development of a younger patient’s facial structure that could head off future upper teeth misalignment. The area of focus is the upper jaw and palate (the roof of the mouth) that jointly make up a structure called the maxilla. The maxilla is actually formed by two bones fused together in the center of the palate along what is known as the midline suture running from front to back in the mouth.
The two bones remain separated until puberty, which helps accommodate rapid structural growth during childhood. But problems can arise if the upper jaw is too narrow, causing a “cross-bite” where the lower back teeth bite abnormally outside the upper ones. This can crowd upper permanent teeth and cause them to erupt improperly.
Using a technique called palatal expansion we can correct this abnormality if we act before the maxillary bones fuse. The technique employs a custom-made appliance called a palatal expander that attaches to the posterior teeth of the upper arch. Expanders have two halves joined by a small screw device to increase tension against the teeth to widen the jaw. A parent or the patient (if old enough) increases the tension by using a special key to turn the adjustment screw a tiny amount each day. This may cause minor discomfort that normally eases in a few minutes.
The patient wears the device until the jaw expands to the desired width and then allows the bones to stabilize in the new position. This can sometimes create a small gap between the upper front teeth, but it often closes on its own or it may require braces to close it.
While palatal expanders are not for every case, they can help normalize development and improve the bite, and thus preclude more extensive orthodontic treatment later. But time is of the essence: after the maxilla has fused, surgery will be necessary to separate them and widen the palate. It’s important then not to delay if your child could benefit from this effective treatment.
If you would like more information on palatal expanders and other orthodontic treatments, 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 “Palatal Expanders.”
Orthodontists are able to achieve attractive results with traditional braces moving several teeth into a better position. In a way, braces are the original “smile makeover.”
But orthodontic treatment can also be useful if only a few teeth (like the two upper front teeth) need to be moved slightly. A treatment known as minor tooth movement takes only a few months as opposed to years for traditional multiple teeth movement, and with removable appliances that may use small springs or elastics to place gentle pressure on teeth to move them.
So, what constitutes a minor tooth movement scenario? As with any dental condition, the first step is a complete dental examination, particularly the bite. We also need to determine if enough room exists to close any space without compromising the bite with the opposing teeth, and if the teeth and their roots are in a good position to allow minor movement — otherwise, more extensive treatment may be called for. The surrounding gum tissues and bone also need to be healthy and disease-free, especially in adults.
We may also need to look more closely at the actual cause for a front tooth gap. If the gap is the result of the tongue habitually pressing against the back of the teeth and pushing them forward, it may then be difficult or impossible to close the gap with minor tooth movement techniques. The cause may also originate from the frenum (a thin, muscular tissue that rises up from between the upper front teeth toward the lip) if it has extended too far between the teeth. In this case we may first need to surgically remove some of the frenum tissue before attempting orthodontics or the teeth may gradually move back apart after closing the gap.
Although minor tooth movement normally doesn’t take as long as braces, it may still require several months. And just like with braces, you will need to wear a retainer for several months afterward until the bone stabilizes around the new position. Still, minor tooth movement could have a major impact on your smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, 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 “Minor Tooth Movement.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Finally — your braces are off! A look in the mirror reveals a straighter, more attractive smile. Unfortunately, it may also show something not so attractive — tiny, chalky spots on your teeth.
These “white spot lesions” are created by acid remaining too long in contact with the enamel, causing it to lose minerals at those places. The acid comes from plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles) that brushing and flossing fail to remove. Snacking on foods and beverages with added sugar or high acid content may also make it worse.
Besides their unattractiveness, these spots can lead to tooth decay — so it’s important to try to prevent it. Limiting sugar-added snacks and acidic beverages to mealtimes will help, but the main key to preventing lesions is more thorough brushing and flossing.
Because of the braces, this can take longer to do than if you weren’t wearing them. It’s also more difficult maneuvering your toothbrush or floss around the orthodontic hardware. You can improve thoroughness and access by using a powered brush or one specially designed for use with braces. And, a water flosser that removes plaque between teeth with a pulsating spray of water is an effective alternative to string floss.
Even if (despite your best efforts) some lesions form, we can still treat them. Resuming normal hygiene practices after braces may take care of it — if not, we can strengthen the affected areas of the enamel with pastes, gels, or other topical fluoride applications. We can also use a technique called caries infiltration that injects tooth-colored resin (often used for cosmetic dentistry) beneath the white spot to harden it, and leave it more translucent in resemblance of normal enamel. If these fail to produce satisfactory results, we can use cosmetic bonding that permanently covers the tooth with resin or veneers.
It’s best, though, if you can prevent the lesions while you’re wearing braces. Besides daily hygiene, be sure to keep up regular dental visits for teeth cleaning. Your efforts will go a long way toward keeping your newly aligned teeth bright and blemish-free.
If you would like more information on dental care and hygiene while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.