While the sport of golf may not look too dangerous from the sidelines, players know it can sometimes lead to mishaps. There are accidents involving golf carts and clubs, painful muscle and back injuries, and even the threat of lightning strikes on the greens. Yet it wasn’t any of these things that caused professional golfer Danielle Kang’s broken tooth on the opening day of the LPGA Singapore tournament.
“I was eating and it broke,” explained Kang. “My dentist told me, I've chipped another one before, and he said, you don't break it at that moment. It's been broken and it just chips off.” Fortunately, the winner of the 2017 Women’s PGA championship got immediate dental treatment, and went right back on the course to play a solid round, shooting 68.
Kang’s unlucky “chip shot” is far from a rare occurrence. In fact, chipped, fractured and broken teeth are among the most common dental injuries. The cause can be crunching too hard on a piece of ice or hard candy, a sudden accident or a blow to the face, or a tooth that’s weakened by decay or repetitive stress from a habit like nail biting. Feeling a broken tooth in your mouth can cause surprise and worry—but luckily, dentists have many ways of restoring the tooth’s appearance and function.
Exactly how a broken tooth is treated depends on how much of its structure is missing, and whether the soft tissue deep inside of it has been compromised. When a fracture exposes the tooth’s soft pulp it can easily become infected, which may lead to serious problems. In this situation, a root canal or extraction will likely be needed. This involves carefully removing the infected pulp tissue and disinfecting and sealing the “canals” (hollow spaces inside the tooth) to prevent further infection. The tooth can then be restored, often with a crown (cap) to replace the entire visible part. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted (removed).
For less serious chips, dental veneers may be an option. Made of durable and lifelike porcelain, veneers are translucent shells that go over the front surfaces of teeth. They can cover minor to moderate chips and cracks, and even correct size and spacing irregularities and discoloration. Veneers can be custom-made in a dental laboratory from a model of your teeth, and are cemented to teeth for a long-lasting and natural-looking restoration.
Minor chips can often be remedied via dental bonding. Here, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to the surfaces being restored. The resin is shaped to fill in the missing structure and hardened by a special light. While not as long-lasting as other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can often be completed in just one office visit.
If you have questions about restoring chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin.”
Although distressing to many parents, infants and toddlers sucking their thumb is a common if not universal habit. Most children phase out of it by around age 4, usually with no ill effects. But thumb-sucking continuing into late childhood could prove problematic for a child’s bite.
Thumb sucking is related to how young children swallow. All babies are born with what is called an infantile swallowing pattern, in which they thrust their tongues forward while swallowing to ensure their lips seal around a breast or bottle nipple when they nurse. Thumb-sucking mimics this action, which most experts believe serves as a source of comfort when they’re not nursing.
Around 3 or 4, their swallowing transitions to a permanent adult swallowing pattern: the tip of the tongue now positions itself against the back of the top front teeth (you can notice it yourself when you swallow). This is also when thumb sucking normally fades.
If a child, however, has problems transitioning to an adult pattern, they may continue to thrust their tongue forward and/or prolong their thumb-sucking habit. Either can put undue pressure on the front teeth causing them to move and develop too far forward. This can create what’s known as an open bite: a slight gap still remains between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut rather than the normal overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower.
While we can orthodontically treat an open bite, we can minimize the extent of any treatments if we detect the problem early and intervene with therapies to correct an abnormal swallowing pattern or prolonged thumb sucking. For the former we can assist a child in performing certain exercises that help retrain oral and facial muscles to encourage a proper swallowing pattern. This may also help diminish thumb sucking, but we may in addition need to use positive reinforcement techniques to further discourage the habit.
To stay ahead of possible problems with thumb sucking or the swallowing pattern you should begin regularly taking them to the dentist around their first birthday. It’s also a good idea to have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 for any emerging bite problems. Taking these positive steps could help you avoid undue concern over this common habit.
If you would like more information on managing your child’s thumb-sucking habit, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Want to give your kids the best start possible for a lifetime of good dental health? The most important thing you can do is train them in effective brushing and flossing. It's more than having a nice smile and fresh breath: these hygiene tasks remove the daily buildup of bacterial plaque, the primary cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, which are most responsible for poor oral health.
But those aren't the only habits they should be cultivating. Here are 3 tips for helping your child develop great dental health habits.
Encourage healthy eating. Teeth and gums are like other parts of the body: they need the "building blocks" found in nutritious foods to help grow strong, healthy tissues. By focusing on a diet leaner on processed items and richer in whole, less-processed vegetables, meats and dairy products, you'll be helping your child build strong defenses against dental disease.
Keep sugary snacks under control. Of all the items in your child's diet, sugar could have the greatest impact on their teeth. Disease-causing bacteria thrive on this particular carbohydrate, multiplying and producing mouth acid—the main enemy of tooth enamel—as a byproduct. So, limit sugary snacks as much as possible, opting instead for more nutritional between-meal treats. In fact, try to make sure they only consume sugary treats at mealtime, not in between.
Encourage an end to thumb-sucking or pacifiers by age 3. Most infants and very young children suck their thumbs or, alternatively, a pacifier. There's no harm in this habit unless it extends into later childhood where it could affect their bite. You can avoid this outcome by encouraging your child with mainly positive reinforcement to stop sucking their thumbs or other objects before their third birthday. Your dentist can also help with tips and support in those efforts.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Help your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Braces can be a long, involved process, but gaining a more attractive smile and better oral health is worth it. Sometimes, though, braces can produce unintended short-term consequences.
Brace brackets and wires do the work of moving teeth to better positions. They can, however, hinder the wearer's hygiene efforts to remove plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, from tooth surfaces. Plaque buildup increases the risk of dental disease and other ill effects.
One such effect while you're wearing braces is the formation of tiny spots that look pale and chalky on otherwise smooth and polished enamel. These are white spot lesions (WSLs), where acid has remained for too long on the tooth enamel. They occur because acid-producing bacteria escape removal during brushing and flossing due to the braces hardware.
We want to try to prevent WSLs while wearing braces, and not just because they're unattractive. You're actually looking at enamel erosion, which could lead to cavity development at those weakened spots.
Although difficult for you as a braces wearer, daily brushing and flossing is crucial to WSL prevention. You'll need to take more time to be sure you're reaching all around the wires and brackets. You can improve your effectiveness with special brushes for braces and floss threaders or water irrigators. You can also help keep acid levels low by cutting back on acidic foods and beverages, especially sodas, coffee or spicy foods.
Even if you develop WSLs we can treat them effectively, especially if caught early. One way is by aiding enamel re-mineralization through saliva stimulation (the mouth's acid neutralizer) or applying fluoride to the teeth to strengthen enamel. We can also use caries infiltration, a technique that injects tooth-colored resin below the surface of the lesion. This strengthens the weakened enamel and gives the area the appearance of translucence like normal enamel.
While you're wearing braces, focus diligently on keeping your teeth clean of plaque and keep up your regular cleaning visits with us. If you notice any unusual discolorations or abnormalities, see us as soon as possible. Stopping WSLs from developing will help ensure your teeth are healthy and attractive after the braces come off.
If you would like more information on dental care with 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.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
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