When your braces finally come off, you’ll hopefully be astounded by what you see –once-crooked teeth replaced by a more attractive smile. But you might also see something you didn’t expect: noticeable white spots on some of your teeth.
These spots called white spot lesions (WSLs) appear lighter than the surrounding tooth enamel due to mineral loss just beneath the surface. This happens because bacterial or food acids have contacted the enamel surface for too long and dissolved the underlying calcium and other minerals. This results in a small discolored and chalky-like area in the enamel.
WSLs are common during orthodontics because wires and brackets create hard to reach places for brushing and flossing, which can accumulate bacterial plaque. The bacteria produce acid, which weakens the enamel at these places. The tiny white spots that result are more than just unattractive—they can become entry points into the tooth for decay. That’s why they should be dealt with as soon as possible—and preferably before they’re created.
To that end, you’ll need to do as thorough a job as possible brushing and flossing while undergoing orthodontic treatment. To improve your thoroughness try using an interproximal toothbrush that can maneuver more closely around braces hardware than a regular brush. You can also improve your flossing with a floss threader or a water flosser, a device that sprays pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque.
If you do develop WSLs, there are some things we can do to treat them. We can attempt to re-mineralize the affected enamel with the help of topical fluoride (either pastes or gels for home use or with an office application) or a re-mineralizing agent. We can also use techniques like microabrasion, which restores damaged areas beneath the surface, or inject a liquid, tooth-colored resin beneath the WSL’s surface to improve appearance and protect against decay.
If while wearing braces you do notice any white spots or other tooth discoloration let your dentist or orthodontist know right away. The sooner your dental providers can begin dealing with potential WSLs the better your chances for a healthy and beautiful outcome after braces.
If you would like more information on oral 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.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
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.”
A “perfect storm” of dental disease could be brewing for your teenager undergoing orthodontic treatment. As braces or other appliances complicate hygiene efforts, newly erupted permanent teeth and changing hormone levels could also increase their susceptibility to tooth decay or gum disease.
Here are a few tips for helping your teenager maintain healthy teeth and gums while wearing braces.
Eat a Healthy Diet. Nutrition is a key component in a healthy mouth. Your teenager should eat a diet low in sugar, a key food source for bacteria that cause dental disease, and acidic foods and beverages that cause enamel erosion. Limit between-meal snacks to only a few times a day and drink acidic beverages only at mealtime.
Brush all Tooth and Gum Surfaces. For patients who wear braces, it’s important to thoroughly brush above and below the wire running through the affixed brackets. Holding the brush at a 45-degree angle, brush between the wire and gums all the way around both the upper and lower jaws, then repeat the same technique brushing surfaces below the wire.
Clean Between Teeth. Flossing can be difficult while wearing braces, but plaque removal from between teeth is necessary for healthier teeth and gums. Orthodontic patients can benefit from special flossing tools like floss threaders, small interdental brushes or irrigators that remove plaque with sprayed water under pressure.
Incorporate Fluoride into Your Dental Care. A proven decay-fighter, fluoride strengthens enamel against erosion and infection. In addition to hygiene products and many drinking water systems, we can also supplement fluoride through gels or varnishes applied to the teeth during office visits, as well as prescription toothpastes or rinses with higher levels of fluoride for patients at higher risk of dental disease.
Use an Antibacterial Mouthrinse. Orthodontic patients with gingivitis (gum inflammation) or other bacterial-induced conditions may benefit from over-the-counter or prescribed antibacterial mouthrinses.
Maintaining an orthodontic patient’s teeth and gums can be difficult, but not impossible. A little extra attention — along with regular office cleanings and checkups — will go a long way in preventing dental disease.
If you would like more information on effective oral hygiene while undergoing orthodontic treatment, 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
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