Around 20 million people—mostly women after menopause—take medication to slow the progress of osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that weakens bones. But although effective, some osteoporosis drugs could pose dental issues related to the jawbones.
Osteoporosis causes the natural spaces that lie between the mineral content of bone to grow larger over time. This makes the bone weaker and unable to withstand forces it once could, which significantly increases the risk of fracture. A number of drugs have been developed over time that stop or slow this disease process.
Two of the most prominent osteoporosis drugs are alendronate, known also by its trade name Fosamax, and denosumab or Prolia. While originating from different drug families, alendronate and denosumab work in a similar way by destroying specialized bone cells called osteoclasts that break down worn out bone and help dissolve it. By reducing the number of these cells, more of the older bone that would have been phased out lasts longer.
In actuality this only offers a short-term benefit in controlling osteoporosis. The older bone isn’t renewed but only preserved, and will eventually become fragile and more prone to fracture. After several years the tide turns negatively for the bone’s overall health. It’s also possible, although rare, that the bone simply dies in a condition called osteonecrosis.
The jawbones are especially susceptible to osteonecrosis. Forces generated by chewing normally help stimulate jawbone growth, but the medications in question can inhibit that stimulus. As a result the jawbone can diminish and weaken, making eventual tooth loss a real possibility.
Osteonecrosis is most often triggered by trauma or invasive dental procedures like tooth extractions or oral surgery. For this reason if you’re taking either alendronate and denosumab and are about to undergo a dental procedure other than routine cleaning, filling or crown-work, you should speak to your physician about suspending your medication temporarily. Dentists often recommend a suspension of three to nine months before the procedure and three months afterward.
Some research indicates this won’t worsen your osteoporosis symptoms, especially if you substitute another treatment or fortify your skeletal system with calcium and vitamin D supplements. But taking this temporary measure could help protect your teeth in the long run.
If you would like more information on the effect of osteoporosis treatment on dental health, 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
Undergoing regular dental cleanings is an essential part of periodontal (gum) disease prevention. While a daily habit of brushing and flossing cleans bacterial plaque from most tooth surfaces, it’s difficult to remove from places your brush or floss can’t access well. That, as well as hardened plaque deposits known as calculus, must be removed by a hygienist or dentist with a technique known as scaling.
Scaling is traditionally performed manually using specialized hand instruments known as scalers. Although hand scalers are quite effective, they must be used carefully to avoid damage to gum tissue or, during deeper cleaning known as root planing, the tooth roots. A different method for plaque removal known as ultrasonic scaling has grown in popularity as an alternative to manual scaling.
Ultrasonic scaling uses equipment emitting vibrational energy that crushes and loosens plaque and calculus, and disrupts growing bacterial colonies in biofilm. Plaque particles are then washed away using water irrigation. The most recent models of ultrasonic scalers have matched the effectiveness of hand scaling in removing plaque and calculus in shallow gum pockets, and surpassed the manual technique in cleaning out pockets greater than 4 mm. In experienced hands, they’re kinder to tooth structure and other tissues. Water irrigation also improves healing by removing bacteria and scaling by-products, which also makes the area easier to view by the hygienist.
On the other hand, any type of power scaler must be used with caution with patients who have pacemakers, and are not recommended for those with hypersensitive teeth or teeth that are in the early stages of de-mineralization. The technique may also produce an aerosol of finely misted particles (with possible contamination) that requires added measures to contain them.
For most patients, though, ultrasonic scalers are an effective tool for plaque and calculus removal. As ultrasonic devices continue to evolve, patients will ultimately benefit from greater comfort and reduced treatment times.
If you would like more information on plaque removal with ultrasonic scalers, 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 “Dental Cleanings Using Ultrasonic Scalers.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
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.”
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