Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
You might be a bit apprehensive if your dentist recommends a root canal treatment, especially if it's your first. That's understandable: Popular culture has portrayed the root canal as an unpleasant experience.
But as a routine dental procedure, root canal treatments have been responsible for saving millions of decayed teeth. And, with local anesthesia, the procedure is painless. In fact, a root canal treatment stops pain that often results from advanced tooth decay.
So, let's take the mystery out of the root canal. Here's the 411 on this vital but often misunderstood dental procedure.
Why the name “root canal”? The terms for the procedure—root canal therapy, root canal treatment or simply “root canal”—arise from one of the principal parts of the tooth involved, root canals. These are tiny passageways that lead from the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp, to the tooth roots. While treatment often focuses on decay or diseased tissue within the pulp, the root canals can be infected too and must be included in the later filling process.
Who can perform a root canal? All general dentists are trained in basic root canal procedures. Depending on your tooth's condition, your family dentist may be able to perform it. But if your tooth has an intricate root canal network or some other complication, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth and root treatments. Endodontists can perform advanced root canal techniques and have the specialized equipment to handle intricate cases.
What happens during a root canal? Although details may vary depending on the type of tooth and extent of decay, there's a basic process for all root canal procedures. After numbing the tooth and surrounding tissues, the dentist drills into the tooth to access the inner pulp chamber and root canals, then removes the diseased tissue and disinfects the empty chamber and canals. After preparing the canals, the dentist then fills the empty spaces. This, and subsequent sealing and crowning, protects the tooth from future decay.
After the procedure you may have some minor soreness for a few days, which is usually manageable with mild pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. This discomfort will diminish with time, and your tooth will have a new lease on life.
If you would like more information on root canal 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 “Root Canal Treatment.”
Losing your teeth can be a traumatic experience with serious consequences for your overall health. Fortunately, you have great options for replacing lost teeth that can restore both appearance and dental function.
One such option is a fixed bridge supported by dental implants. While implants are best known for single tooth replacement, they can also be used with other restorations like bridges. In this case, the bridge is screwed into a few well-placed implants to support it.
Implants can provide bridges with more security and support, and without the need to alter adjacent teeth that are commonly used for traditional tooth replacement. They may also slow or stop bone loss because the titanium in implants naturally attracts bone cells that grow and adhere to its surface and provide stimulation to the bone cells during function.
Because of these benefits an implant-supported bridge could be a life-changer that provides years of satisfaction. But we can’t simply “set them and forget them”: They require dedicated oral hygiene just like natural teeth.
While the bridge materials and implants themselves are in no danger from disease, the same can’t be said for the implant’s supporting gums and bone. Dental plaque, the main driver in gum disease, can place these tissues at risk for infection that could eventually lead to implant failure.
It’s important, then, for you to floss around your new implants to remove any plaque. This differs from regular flossing in which you work the thread between teeth. Instead, you’ll have to maneuver the floss between the bridge and gums with the help of a floss threader, a small slender tool with a loop at one end and a stiffer plastic edge at the other (similar to a sewing needle).
To use it, first run 18” of floss through the loop until you get equal lengths and then work the tail of the floss threader between the bridge and gums while holding one end of the floss. Once through, you pull the floss threader through so that the floss is on either side of the bridge. Then grab each end of the floss and pull it snug to floss up and down one side of the implant. Go to the next side and repeat this procedure for all the implants.
As an alternative, you could use an oral irrigator, which emits a pulsating spray of water to loosen and wash away plaque. Either way, though, it’s important to floss around implants to get the most life out of your bridge.
If you would like more information on proper care for implant-supported restorations, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
If you have a less than attractive smile due to some moderate imperfections, dental veneers may be the answer. This relatively inexpensive dental restoration may be the key to transforming your smile.
If you're thinking of veneers as a “thin covering,” you're on the right track. Just like construction veneers used to cover wall surfaces, dental veneers are thin wafers of material (usually porcelain) that cover the front of tooth surfaces. Made uniquely for the individual patient, veneers provide a life-like covering that can mask a variety of dental imperfections.
Veneers are mildly invasive, meaning some of the enamel layer of the teeth to which they're bonded will need to be removed. If this alteration occurs, it's permanent, so the teeth will require a veneer or other restoration from then on. It's usually necessary, though, so that the veneer doesn't appear too bulky. Even so, veneers are still less invasive than other restorations.
The list of appearance problems veneers can address is quite varied. One of their more common uses is to correct certain structural flaws in teeth: chips, abnormal tooth shape from wear or teeth that are congenitally smaller than normal.
They're also a remedy for heavy staining. While teeth whitening can temporarily brighten a dull, dingy smile, veneers provide a permanent solution for the problem of staining. They're also a practical option for internal tooth staining, which can't be addressed by either home or professional external teeth whitening procedures.
Finally, veneers may be used to close small gaps and other mild forms of dental misalignment. And although they may not be able to correct larger gaps by themselves, they're sometimes used in conjunction with orthodontic treatment.
Veneers can address many dental flaws, but not all. To see if your dental situation could benefit from a veneer application, you'll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If it seems veneers aren't a good fit for you, your dentist will discuss other types of cosmetic treatments to improve your smile.
If, on the other hand, veneers do appear to be a viable option for you, you're just a few visits away from a completely new look. Veneers can change your smile—and your life!
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
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