Although tooth decay is a major problem to watch for in your child’s teeth, it isn’t the only one. As their teeth transition from primary (“baby”) to permanent, you should also be on the lookout for a developing poor bite or malocclusion.
Although the signs can be subtle, you may be able to detect an emerging malocclusion, starting usually around age 6, if you know what to look for. Here are 4 signs your child may be developing a poor bite.
Excessive spacing. This is something that might be noticeable while the child still has their primary teeth. If you notice an excessive amount of space around the front teeth, the sizes of the jaws and the teeth may be disproportional.
Abnormal overlapping. The upper teeth normally just cover the bottom teeth when the jaws are closed. But a malocclusion may be forming if the lower teeth cover the upper (underbite), the upper teeth extend too far over the lower (deep bite) or there’s space between the upper and lower front teeth (open bite).
Different overlapping patterns. Watch as well for some of the teeth overlapping normally while others don’t, a sign of a cross bite. For example, the back upper teeth may cover their counterparts in a normal fashion while the lower front teeth abnormally overlap the top front. The roles here between front and back teeth can also be reversed.
Abnormal eruptions. Permanent teeth normally follow a pattern when erupting, but certain factors could disrupt the process. For example, a jaw that’s developed too small can cause crowding as incoming teeth vie for space; as a result, some permanent teeth may erupt out of their proper position. Likewise, if a baby tooth is out of its normal position or prematurely lost, the permanent tooth may erupt out of position too.
The good news with each of these developing bite problems is that we can correct them or at least minimize their future effect if caught early. So if you notice any of these signs or anything else out of the ordinary, see an orthodontist as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to have your child undergo a thorough orthodontic evaluation around age 6.
If you would like more information on bite problems in children, 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 “Problems to watch for in Children Ages 6 to 8.”
You don’t have to be a dental professional to appreciate a beautiful smile. Likewise, you’ll also know when something’s not quite right with one.
Such can be the case when a tooth fails to erupt properly, causing most or all of the crown to remain below the gum line, a condition known as impaction. Upper canines (or “eyeteeth,” for their location in the arch under the eyes) are especially susceptible to impaction: located on either side of the lateral incisors, which are on either side of the central incisors (the two center front teeth).
The upper canines are important both for function and appearance. Working with their lower counterparts they help cut through food as we chew, so you lose some of that efficiency when they don’t erupt properly. Impacted teeth are susceptible to abscesses and cysts, and can impinge upon and damage the roots of other teeth. And just as importantly, their absence also disrupts the smile as nearby teeth tend to move or “drift” toward the open space.
Rather than remove the impacted canines as is often done with back teeth, it may be more advantageous for both function and appearance to “coax” them into full eruption. This requires first pinpointing their exact location below the gums using x-rays or cone beam 3-D imaging.
If the teeth are in reasonably good position we must first prepare them for orthodontic treatment by surgically exposing the crown from the gums and bonding a small bracket to it. We then attach a small gold chain to the bracket that extends outside of the gums when we suture them back into place. The chain is attached to orthodontic hardware that exerts pressure on the impacted tooth for several months to “pull” it out into the arch.
This procedure has the best chance of success if undertaken before the end of jaw development in early adulthood. Otherwise, it may be better to remove the impacted canines and replace them with dental implants, followed by orthodontic treatment of other teeth to restore their proper position and bite relationships. In either case, your impacted upper canines don’t have to be a problem — we can restore both your mouth function and your smile.
If you would like more information on impacted teeth and treatment options, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
Braces are a common part of many teenagers’ life experience — but not every bite problem is alike. Sometimes, there’s a need for accurately moving only a few teeth while making sure others don’t. This is where Temporary Anchorage Devices (TADs) can help streamline that effort and even reduce treatment time.
Orthodontics wouldn’t work at all if we didn’t already have a natural tooth movement mechanism in our mouths. That ability rests with the periodontal ligament, a tough, elastic tissue between the teeth and the bone that firmly attaches to both with tiny collagen fibers. Though quite secure in holding teeth in place, the ligament attachment also allows teeth to move in response to changes in the bone and jaw structure.
Braces are made of brackets cemented to tooth surfaces through which tiny wires pass. The wires are anchored, usually to other teeth or groups of teeth, and tightened to apply pressure against the other teeth. The ligament does the rest: as the teeth are “pressured” to move in a certain direction, new bone, ligament and an anchoring substance known as cementum forms behind it to secure the tooth in its new position.
The anchorage teeth are not intended to move. In some situations, though, it’s difficult to keep them from not moving — much like trying to keep a boat anchor from not dragging through sand on the sea bottom. TADs help alleviate this problem: it’s a mini-screw or mini-implant that’s temporarily placed in the jawbone to which the tension wire can be secured. They’re placed in the best positions for isolating the teeth that need to be moved without compromising the position of nearby teeth that don’t.
With the site numbed with a local anesthetic, we install the TAD through the gum tissue into the bone with a special device; their screw-shaped design holds them securely in place. They’re then removed when the orthodontic treatment is complete.
While a simple procedure, precise placement requires collaboration between the orthodontist and the oral surgeon or dentist who installs them. They also need special attention during daily hygiene to keep them clean. Still, with difficult bite situations they can help bring about the right outcome — a straight and beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment options, 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 “What are TADs?”
Think you’re too old to have your teeth straightened? In reality, healthy teeth can be moved at any age to better positions. For the many adults who have some form of malocclusion (bad bite), orthodontics is still a viable option even in later years.
As important as it is to self-image and confidence, treating misaligned teeth can benefit you more than just improving your smile. Misaligned teeth may be harder to keep clean, setting up a mouth environment advantageous to the development of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the risks of both rising with age. And normally aligned teeth are easier to chew with than those misaligned.
Age isn’t the determining factor for whether you’re a good candidate for orthodontics — but your dental health is. Gum disease in particular can cause supporting bone loss, which can complicate orthodontic treatment. It’s important then that we first perform a complete oral examination and attempt to treat problems such as decay or gum disease first before attempting tooth movement.
What type of orthodontic treatment you’ll need will depend on the type of malocclusion you have and its relationship to the way your jaws fit together. Because your adult jaws have fully developed you may need orthognathic (“jaw straightening”) surgery to address certain advanced forms of malocclusion. If your bite problems aren’t that severe (the majority of situations) they can be treated with braces or, an increasingly popular alternative, clear aligners. These customized clear plastic trays are nearly invisible compared to metal braces and are effective for most patients.
Following the completion of tooth movement and other bite procedures, you will most likely need to wear a retainer to help prevent the teeth from reverting to their older positions. You may need to wear the retainer for a longer period than a younger patient, or perhaps indefinitely. Even with this mild inconvenience, though, you’ll still experience the positive effects of healthier and better functioning teeth and a great new smile.
If you would like more information on 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”