Are We Outliving Our Teeth?
There have been so many important advancements in dentistry in recent history, from fluoride toothpaste to minimally invasive bonded fillings, from braces to digital x-rays. As a profession, we have expanded awareness of best oral hygiene practices and the power of prevention when it comes to tooth decay and gum disease.
But one persistent problem dentists and patients are facing is that our teeth were not designed to last as long as we are living. The life expectancy of someone born in the United States today is over 79 years old. In 1960, the average life expectancy was a full 10 years younger than it is today. And if you were born in 1700 in the U.K., you could expect to live just shy of your 40th birthday.
All these extra years of living take a toll on our teeth. Even modern dental techniques and restorations will not last forever. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to increase the odds that your teeth will last as long as you do.
First, go to the dentist on a regular basis. Make sure they are taking x-rays periodically to check for the presence of cavities and periodontal disease. Follow the hygienist’s instructions on how to properly care for your teeth at home. Yes, this means brushing AND flossing. Complete recommended treatment, especially minor issues before they get worse.
Wear a “night guard” if your teeth show signs of wear. Your dentist or hygienist will notice this during your routine appointments. It’s much easier to prevent tooth wear than to treat it. A night guard can be custom-made by your dentist. In our office, we can avoid the messy impression “goop” and digitally scan images of your teeth, which our lab will use to make the night guard. This is especially helpful for people with gagging issues.
Replace teeth as they are lost, if possible. There are 3 main ways to replace a missing tooth: a fixed bridge, a removable partial denture, or a dental implant. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option and cost can vary considerably. But if all else is equal, dental implants are the treatment of choice to replace missing teeth.
Dental implants look and feel the most like natural teeth. When a tooth is lost, a titanium artificial “root” is placed beneath the gums. After healing, a crown is attached to the implant via a connector called an abutment. At Center for Progressive Dentistry, we both place and restore dental implants. We utilize 3-D x-rays called Cone Beam CT to virtually plan the implant before ever starting the procedure on the patient. This greatly increases patient safety, as we are able to identify and avoid nerves and sinuses, which otherwise would not be seen clearly. The implant can be placed in the optimum position using a surgical guide. This reduces treatment time and increases patient comfort and predictability of long-term results.
There are some consequences of not replacing your teeth if you lose them prematurely. Adjacent and opposing teeth will often drift, creating areas which trap food. The missing tooth space may no longer be the ideal size for a replacement. Also, the bone that held your tooth in place shrinks over time, eliminating the possibility of a dental implant or requiring the more extensive bone grafting to be done prior. Lastly, increased forces on your remaining teeth may lead to their destruction earlier than desired.
Center for Progressive Dentistry in Duxbury, MA is a comprehensive dentistry practice focusing on aesthetic, implant, and general dentistry procedures. If you want to learn more about how your can keep your teeth for a lifetime (or how to replace already missing teeth), call to schedule a consultation with Dr. David Scardella. 781-934-9444.