Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on oral surgery, 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 “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”
Every year many parents learn their “tweenager” or teenager needs their bite corrected, often with specialized orthodontics. Imagine, though, if these families could go back in time to when their child’s poor bite was just developing to stop or slow it from forming.
Time travel may still be science fiction, but the approach suggested isn’t. It’s called interceptive orthodontics, a group of techniques and procedures performed during the early stages of jaw development. The focus is usually on getting abnormal jaw growth back on track, enough so that a poor bite won’t form.
The upper jaw, for example, may be growing too narrow, reducing the amount of available space for tooth eruption. If it isn’t corrected, teeth can erupt out of position. To correct it, an orthodontist places a palatal expander in the roof of the child’s mouth (palate). The appliance applies gentle pressure against the inside of the teeth, which stimulates the jaws to develop wider.
The expander works because of a separation in the bones at the center of the palate, which later fuse around puberty. The pressure applied from the expander keeps this gap slightly open; the body then continues to fill the widening expansion with bone, enough over time to widen the jaw. If you wait until puberty, the gap has already fused, and it would have to be reopened surgically to use this technique. Ideally, then, a palatal expander should be employed at a young age.
Not all interceptive techniques are this extensive—some, like a space maintainer, are quite simple. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost prematurely, teeth next to the empty space tend to drift into it and cause the intended permanent tooth to erupt out of place due to a lack of space. To prevent this an orthodontist places a small wire loop within the space to prevent other teeth from moving into it.
These are but two examples of the many methods for stopping or slowing a developing bite problem. To achieve the best outcome, they need to be well-timed. Be sure, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If an interceptive orthodontic approach is needed, it could eliminate the need for more extensive—and expensive—treatment later.
Today’s technologically advanced dentures aren’t your grandparents’ “false teeth.” Now made with superior materials and processes, you could almost forget you’re wearing them. But don’t let that cause you to leave them in for the night: While it may seem like a harmless thing to do, wearing dentures 24/7 may not be good for them or your health.
For one thing, around the clock denture wearing could worsen bone loss, already a concern with dentures and missing teeth. The forces generated when we chew on natural teeth stimulate new bone growth to replace older bone cells. When teeth go missing, though, so does this stimulus. Even the best dentures can’t restore this stimulation, so bone loss remains a risk.
And, dentures can accelerate bone loss because of the added pressure they bring to the bony gum ridges that support them. Wearing them all the time deprives the gums of any rest, further speeding up the pace of bone loss. Losing bone volume not only affects your overall oral health, it will gradually loosen your dentures’ fit and make them uncomfortable to wear.
Another problem: You may clean your dentures less frequently if you don’t take them out at night. Lack of cleaning can encourage bacterial growth and lead to disease. Studies show that people who don’t take their dentures out at night have more dental plaque accumulation, gum inflammation and higher blood counts of the protein interleukin 6, indicating the body is fighting infection.
And that’s not just a problem for your mouth. Continuous denture wearing could make you twice as likely to develop life-threatening pneumonia as someone who routinely takes their dentures out.
These and other concerns make nightly denture removal a good practice for your health’s sake. While they’re out, it’s also a good time to clean them: Manually brush them for best results (be sure you’re only using regular soap or denture cleanser—toothpaste is too abrasive for them). You can then store them in clean water or a solution designed for dentures.
Having said all that, though, there may be one reason why wearing dentures at night might be beneficial—it may help prevent obstructive sleep apnea. If you have this condition, talk to your dentist about whether wearing your dentures at night has more advantages than disadvantages. And, if bone loss created by wearing dentures is a concern, it could be resolved by having implants support your dentures. Again, discuss this with your dentist.
Taking care of your dentures will help increase their life and fit, and protect your health. And part of that may be taking them out to give your gums a rest while you’re resting.
If you would like more information on denture 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 “Sleeping in Dentures.”
Orthodontic braces are a familiar sight, especially among tweens and teens: metal brackets and wires attached to the front of the teeth for all to see. Now imagine the opposite: much the same hardware, but now positioned out of sight on the back of the teeth.
It's not your imagination: It's the latest development in orthodontic technology called lingual braces. Developed simultaneously by two orthodontists in Japan and Beverly Hills, these appliances are placed on the tongue or “lingual” side of the teeth rather than the traditional labial or “lip-side.”
Generally, lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial braces can. The difference lies in how each method does its job: Traditional braces exert pressure or “push” against the teeth, while lingual braces “pull” the teeth into better alignment.
So, why choose lingual over labial? For one, they're “invisible” to others: all the hardware is on the backside of the teeth, out of sight. They're also not as readily exposed to blunt force facial trauma, which can damage traditional braces (a driving impetus for the Japanese doctor to develop them for his martial arts patients, and his American counterpart for a law enforcement patient working in a rough area).
Patients may also prefer lingual braces over removable clear aligners, another popular tooth-movement option. Fixed lingual braces achieve the same quality of “invisibility” as removable aligners, but without the inconvenience of removing them as patients must with aligners for eating, snacking or cleaning.
They can, however, be costly, running 15-35% more than labial braces. Patients may also have difficulty adjusting to them because they can affect speech and tongue comfort. However, any discomfort and initial regret with choosing lingual braces tends to fade as most patients grow more accustomed to them after a week or so.
There's one other “perk” to lingual braces—unlike patients with traditional braces who have to wait for their removal to see the finished bite correction, patients with lingual braces get an unobstructed view of their progress all during wear. That can definitely boost morale during the long treatment period!
Lingual braces haven't been around long, so not every orthodontist offers them. But the list is growing, and there soon may be a provider near you for this new teeth-straightening alternative.
If you would like more information on lingual 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 “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
One in 700 babies are born each year with a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both. Besides its devastating emotional and social impact, this common birth defect can also jeopardize a child's long-term health. Fortunately, incredible progress has occurred in the last half century repairing cleft defects. Today's children with these birth defects often enter adulthood with a normal appearance and better overall health.
A cleft is a gap in the mouth or face that typically forms during early pregnancy. It often affects the upper lip, the soft and hard palates, the nose or (rarely) the cheek and eye areas. Clefts can form in one or more structures, on one side of the face or on both. Why they form isn't fully understood, but they seem connected to a mother's vitamin deficiencies or to mother-fetus exposure to toxic substances or infections.
Before the 1950s there was little that could be done to repair clefts. That changed with a monumental discovery by Dr. Ralph Millard, a U.S. Navy surgeon stationed in Korea: Reviewing cleft photos, Dr. Millard realized the “missing” tissue wasn't missing—only misplaced. He developed the first technique to utilize this misplaced tissue to repair the cleft.
Today, skilled surgical teams have improved on Dr. Millard's efforts to not only repair the clefts but also restore balance and symmetry to the face. These teams are composed of various oral and dental specialties, including general dentists who care for the patient's teeth and prevent disease during the long repair process.
Cleft repairs are usually done in stages, beginning with initial lip repair around 3-6 months of age and, if necessary, palate repair around 6-12 months. Depending on the nature and degree of the cleft, subsequent surgeries might be needed throughout childhood to “polish” the original repairs, as well as cosmetic dental work like implants, crowns or bridgework.
In addition to the surgical team's skill and artistry, cleft repair also requires courage, strength and perseverance from patients and their parents, and support from extended family and friends. The end result, though, can be truly amazing and well worth the challenging road to get there.
If you would like more information on repairing cleft birth defects, 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 “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”