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.”
Dental implants are popular with both patients and dentists for their durability and likeness to natural teeth. That natural look, though, can be difficult to attain, especially in what’s known as the “smile zone” — the area of the mouth where teeth are most visible when you smile.
Our biggest concern is the upper front teeth, where the gums are most visible, especially if you smile widely. It takes considerable skill, experience and artistry to position implants in this area so that they appear to naturally emerge from the gums and blend well with other teeth.
To obtain that natural look, we must first assess whether or not there’s enough bone present, which tends to dissolve (resorb) when a tooth is missing, to sufficiently anchor the implant in the right position. There also needs to be sufficient bone around adjacent teeth to support the tiny triangles of gum tissue between teeth called papillae. Without the papillae an unattractive black hole may result between the implant and an adjacent tooth or implant.
Another factor we must consider is the type of gum tissue you have. Everyone generally inherits one of two types of tissue from their parents: thin or thick. The type you have can influence the way the implant appears to emerge from the gums. If you have thick gums, they’re easier to work with and can cover more of the implant. Thinner tissues aren’t quite as easy and are less forgiving if an implant isn’t placed as precisely as possible.
In recent years, improvements in implant design have sought to provide greater stability around bone and gum tissues to offset some of the issues we’ve mentioned. A variation on the design of the top of the implant (where the crown is attached) changes the direction of growth for gum tissues from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one, which can help with the final appearance.
The first step, if you’re considering dental implants for a tooth in the smile zone, is to visit us for a complete examination to see if any of these factors may have an impact on your situation. We can then advise you on the best course of action to achieve the most attractive smile possible.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Implant Aesthetics.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
While the term “plastic surgery” might bring to mind face lifts or tummy tucks, not all procedures in this particular surgical field are strictly cosmetic. Some can make a big difference in a person’s health.
One example is periodontal plastic surgery, which corrects gum tissue loss around the teeth. Although these procedures can indeed improve appearance, they more importantly help save teeth.
Gum loss is most often a consequence of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from a thin film of food particles on the teeth called dental plaque. As the disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth, they shrink back or recede, exposing the area around the roots. Without the protective cover the gums provide the roots, they become more susceptible to decay.
In milder cases of gum recession, treating the infection often results in the gums regaining their normal attachment to teeth. But with more advanced recession, natural gum healing may not be enough to reverse it. For such situations grafting donor tissue to the recessed area can help stimulate new tissue growth.
While gum tissue grafts can come from an animal or other human, the most likely source is from the person themselves. In one type of procedure, free gingival grafting, the surgeon locates and completely removes (or “frees”) a thin layer of skin resembling gum tissue, typically from the roof of the mouth, shapes it and then transplants it by suturing it to the recession site. Both donor and recipient sites heal at about the same rate in two to three weeks.
Another technique is known as connective tissue grafting. In this procedure the surgeon partially removes the donor tissue from its site while leaving a portion containing blood vessels intact. The palatal tissue is still used and transported to fit beneath the tissue that’s still attached to the blood supply. This connective tissue graft is then positioned and sutured to the recipient site while still maintaining its blood supply connection at the donor site. Maintaining this connection facilitates healing and increases the chances the graft will “take” and become firmly attached to the new site.
Grafting procedures require advanced techniques and skills. But with them we may be able to restore gum attachment to teeth with an impact on appearance and dental health that’s well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
From birth to young adulthood, your child's teeth gums and other mouth structures steadily grow and mature. Sometimes, though, problems arise and get in the way of their oral health. It's important we detect when that happens and take action.
We can sort these potential problems into three broad categories: developmental, disease and injury. The first category includes such problems during their childhood years as teeth erupting out of position or the jaws growing improperly and becoming abnormally long, short, wide or narrow.
The possibility of developmental problems is a primary reason for regular dental visits, beginning around your child's first birthday. If we can detect a growing problem early, we may be able to minimize or even reverse its impact to your child's oral health.
Regular dental care also helps control disease, particularly tooth decay and cavity formation. Our primary aim is to treat decay, even in primary (baby) teeth: losing a primary tooth to decay could adversely affect the incoming permanent tooth's jaw position. Besides treatment, we can also help prevent decay with topical fluoride treatments (to strengthen enamel) and sealants.
Although not as common as disease, dental problems due to injury still occur all too frequently. Blows to the mouth can chip teeth, loosen them or even knock them out. For any type of visible tooth injury you should visit us or an emergency room immediately — time is of the essence especially to save a knocked out tooth. Be sure you recover and bring any knocked out teeth or chip fragments.
We can also help you on the injury prevention front as well. For example, if your child participates in contact sports or similar activities, we can fashion a custom-fitted mouth guard to protect their teeth and soft tissues.
Keeping a vigilant eye for these potential problems will help ensure your child's future oral health is the best it can be. The sooner these problems are detected, the better and less costly their outcome.
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