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March 16, 2015

What are dentures? What are my options?

151545340Dentures are what used to be called “false teeth” – they are prosthetic replacements for teeth that have been lost due to tooth decay, infection or other causes. Most people think of dentures as being a full set of false teeth – like the ones George Washington used. While it’s true that “full dentures” still exist and are used by some dental patients, this type of denture is a rather extreme type of dental care – most people in modern-day America are not going to lose all of their natural teeth during the course of their lives.

However, if you or one of your family members find yourselves in a situation where most of your teeth need to be removed, or if your teeth have decayed to the point that you are considering replacing them with dentures, here are some tips and pointers to keep in mind.

There are several options for dentures, ranging in cost and in the degree of the impact on your lifestyle.

Full dentures: This is the most extreme kind of denture treatment – this is for people who have lost all of their natural teeth. Some patients who have experienced severe tooth decay might decide to remove their remaining teeth in order to replace all their teeth with dentures. This is a major decision and should be carefully considered – discuss your options with your dentist and with your loved ones.

Removable partial dentures: Partial dentures can be affixed with the support of existing natural teeth. Even if there are only one or two teeth remaining on the top or bottom jaw, this can still be helpful in creating a better fit for the denture. There are many types of partial dentures depending on the number of teeth that are missing and the location of teeth that need to be replaced.

If you need to get full dentures:

  • Consider the decision carefully. Some people who have only a few natural teeth remaining decide to get their natural teeth removed in order to replace them with a full denture – often, these patients regret the decision. Don’t make any decisions too hastily – talk it over with a dentist who you can trust. The general recommendation is that patients should try to keep as many of their natural teeth as possible, for as long as possible – the decision to remove your remaining teeth should not be made lightly.
  • Top dentures are easier. If you do need a full denture, most patients have better success with the top teeth than with the bottom. Bottom dentures tend to be more complex to fit and tend not to perform as well.

What about partial dentures? What are my options?

In general, partial dentures have two main options – fixed and removable.

  • Fixed dentures: These dentures are fixed into your mouth by your dentist – they include bridgework (replacement teeth built around your other existing teeth).
  • Removable dentures: This type of denture can be safely removed by yourself – one common example is an “overdenture” or a piece that you place into your mouth that fits over your existing teeth.

Will dentures make me look “different?”

Modern dentures are meant to look as much as possible like natural teeth. Most people will not notice that you are wearing dentures.

What are some other benefits of dentures?

Many patients who get dentures for the first time report that they are able to speak, eat, and converse more easily with other people. Dentures can also be a big boost for a person’s self-esteem, as they make it easier to smile openly, talk with people out in public, and generally present yourself confidently to the world.

What are some of the challenges involved with dentures?

Dentures can take some time to get used to. You might have some pain or discomfort at first – talk to your dentist if the pain continues; you might need to have your dentures adjusted or re-fitted. It can take some time to learn how to speak and eat normally after being fitted with dentures. Dentures also need to be cleaned properly and need to be well taken care of to prevent them getting damaged, lost or broken.

Dentures can be a difference-maker in your life – or in the life of one of your loved ones. Talk to your dentist to get some more information on the options that might be best for you.

January 16, 2015

I keep getting painful ulcers in my mouth – why?

465464685Mouth ulcers are a common problem for many people, and there are a number of possible types of mouth ulcers and many possible causes.

One of the most common types of mouth ulcer is a canker sore. These are painful and annoying, but usually not harmful. Canker sores can appear almost anywhere inside your mouth. They usually are caused by minor health issues or changes in your body – for example, emotional stress, minor deficiencies in your diet, hormonal changes, or a viral infection. Canker sores can also result from excessive tooth brushing, or biting your tongue or cheek.

Canker sores and other mouth ulcers are usually nothing to worry about, and they usually go away on their own. Some people get canker sores more often than others; they often run in families.

How can I treat mouth ulcers?

Most mouth ulcers can be treated by improved oral hygiene. Try using a mouthwash or gargle – even a simple homemade mixture of salt and warm water. Flush the sore spot a few times a day and see if it gets better.

If you have severe discomfort from the mouth ulcer, talk to your dentist. Your dentist can recommend an over-the-counter topical ointment that you can rub directly onto the ulcer – for example, an antihistamine or antacid. If these don’t do the trick, your dentist can prescribe other more advanced treatment  like corticosteroid medication.

Another way to relieve mouth ulcers is to avoid hot and spicy foods, as these tend to exacerbate the discomfort.

Mouth ulcers and oral cancer

It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on in your mouth. If you have an ulcer or sore spot in your mouth that won’t heal, you should call your dentist to get it looked at as soon as possible. Some mouth ulcers can be a sign of oral cancer – and oral cancer needs to be detected early so it can be treated.

If you have a sore or ulcer in your mouth that doesn’t go away on its own after 3 weeks, go see your dentist. Make sure to ask your dentist specifically about oral cancer – and if you’re not confident in your dentist’s ability to diagnose oral cancer, get a second opinion. If your dentist is concerned that the mouth ulcer may be a sign of oral cancer, you will need to get a biopsy of the affected area of your mouth.

I don’t mean to alarm anyone by writing this, but I can’t emphasize it enough: it is crucial to diagnose oral cancer in the early stages of the disease. If oral cancer is not caught early, it can lead to death. Oral cancer is one of the few types of cancer that have not had a decline in death rates during the past 20 years – it can be treated and cured, but if left undiagnosed it can be deadly.

Smokers, heavy drinkers and tobacco chewers are at the highest risk of getting oral cancer, but this type of cancer can occur in anyone. So be sure to pay attention to mouth ulcers when they happen – usually they’re nothing to worry about and will go away quickly, but if you have a bad mouth ulcer that has been around for awhile, it might be a sign of something much more serious.

October 16, 2014

What is dry socket?

462039415It’s not most people’s idea of a good time, but sometimes it has to happen – sometimes a tooth needs to be pulled. This is what we in the dental profession call an “extraction” – a tooth is removed from a patient in order to treat decay, reduce crowding in the mouth, or to prevent infection and other problems (for example: Wisdom teeth).

Whenever a tooth is removed, the patient need to take certain precautions and follow guidelines to help care for their mouth as it heals. The site of the tooth extraction is going to be sore. There will be some bleeding. In the hours after the tooth is pulled, you will need to use ice, gauze and follow instructions closely to help ensure that your mouth heals properly.

But sometimes, in spite of all of our best efforts, something goes wrong, and the patient gets a “dry socket.”

What is “dry socket?”

Dry socket occurs when the blood clot in the site of the tooth extraction gets dislodged or washed away – exposing the nerves and jawbone below. This is not fun, to say the least; in fact, it hurts – a lot. Dry socket is not a great experience, but it can be prevented – and if you do get a dry socket, it can be treated.

Dry socket occurs in only about 3 to 5 percent of all tooth extractions – so most people will never experience dry socket. It’s much more common after removing Wisdom teeth – especially impacted Wisdom teeth that are embedded in the jawbone and are more complicated to remove.

How does dry socket happen?

When a tooth is removed, the gum line where the tooth used to be needs to heal. There is some bleeding whenever a tooth is pulled, but in time, the “socket” where the tooth used to be will fill in with a blood clot – the beginning of the new tissue that will form to fill in the gap.

The trouble is, sometimes this blood clot gets washed away or dislodged.  Or sometimes the blood clot never forms properly in the first place. There might be a bacterial infection in the socket, or roots and bone fragments that prevent the socket from healing properly. If a tooth was impacted (which tends to be more likely for Wisdom teeth in particular), it is often more difficult for the socket to heal.

How do I know if I have dry socket?

Usually whenever a tooth is pulled, the person’s mouth will quickly heal and start to feel better with each passing day. When a person has a dry socket, instead of gradually feeling better, there is a persistent and growing pain that tends to get worse. Here are some other signs of dry socket:

  • If you are feeling severe pain within a few days of getting a tooth removed…
  • If you look into your mouth and notice that the blood clot where the tooth used to be is missing (totally or partially), resulting in an empty-looking (“dry”) socket…
  • If you can see through to the jaw bone at the tooth socket…
  • If you feel pain that travels to your ear or eye on the same side of your face where your tooth was removed…
  • If you notice that you have bad breath or an unpleasant odor coming from your mouth…
  • If you have an extremely unpleasant taste in your mouth…
  • If the lymph nodes around your jaw or neck are swollen…

…then you might have dry socket. Call your dentist immediately to make an appointment.

How can dry socket be treated?

Dry socket is not pleasant, but it can easily be treated. It’s just a slightly longer and more complicated healing process than a “non-dry” socket. Here are some things to expect from dry socket treatment:

  • Medicated dressings: Your dentist will apply specially medicated dressings to the inside of your mouth to cover up the socket and protect your exposed nerve endings. This will help relieve pain and stimulate your gums and jawbone to heal.
  • Pain medication: Of course, you’re going to need pain relief. Your dentist can prescribe you some – or you might be able to treat the pain just with over-the-counter pills like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Flushing out the socket: Your dentist will give you self-care instructions on how to keep your dry socket clean and free of debris – this is a critical part of recovering from a dry socket.
  • Time: It takes awhile to recover from a dry socket – usually around 10-14 days. But most patients are able to return to school, work and normal activities within the first few days.

Having a dry socket can be painful and a bit discouraging, but if you quickly recognize the problem and can get treated, you’ll be on the road to recovery before you know it.

September 16, 2014

How often should I visit my dentist?

178067655People are busy. Life is getting more hectic all the time. It seems like we all have too many demands on us and too few hours in the day – so how can we find time to fit in a dental appointment along with everything else? Why do we have to go to the dentist, and how often should we go?

The short answer is: every six months.

The long answer is, well, longer…

Modern dentistry evolved in the past 50-60 years starting after World War II. One of the challenges faced by the U.S. during World War II was that the American military leaders discovered that many of their new Army recruits did not have very good teeth – in the “olden days,” the practice of dentistry was more focused on fixing problems (mainly: pulling teeth) than it was on preventing dental problems and maintaining overall dental health. Most Americans, especially those in small towns and rural areas, never saw a dentist unless they had a painful toothache, which usually led to having a tooth (or multiple teeth) pulled.

In the years since World War II, American dentistry has shifted its focus from “pulling teeth” to “preventing problems” – before they develop into more harmful, painful and costly oral health issues.

So this is the reason why you need to see your dentist every six months: even if you have good teeth and rarely have any problems with your oral health, your dentist needs to check up on your teeth just to make sure everything is OK. Your dentist is there to help maintain your overall oral health and prevent problems before they come up.

Even if you’ve never had a cavity in your life and you brush and floss every day, your dentist can detect problems with your teeth that you are unable to see. Your dentist can look for the signs of tooth decay and other warning signs so that if a problem with your teeth does start to develop, it can be fixed before it reaches a stage where it is more costly and difficult to correct.

Another benefit of going to the dentist every six months is to receive a thorough teeth cleaning from a dental hygienist. Most of us cannot come even close to getting our teeth as clean as they feel after a good scrubbing by the hygienist – and your dental hygienist can also help check for signs of trouble – whether it’s receding gums, bleeding gums or other potential warning signs.

In fact, for some patients, every six months might not be often enough. If you have a history of oral health problems, or if you are going through a particularly stressful time in your life, your dentist might want to see you more frequently. For example, pregnant women are often at higher risk for gingivitis – and severe gingivitis can be a risk factor for pre-term delivery and low-birthweight babies. If you are one of these “high-risk” dental patients, you might need to see your dentist even more often than every six months.

So that’s “the long answer!”

Even though we’re all busy and it’s hard to get excited about “yet another” appointment on the calendar, keeping your six-month appointment with your dentist is a good investment of your time – and money.

555 N. New Ballas Rd., Suite 355, St. Louis, MO 63141 USA
Dr. Jeffrey Dalin Dalin Dental Associates is the dental office of Dr. Jeffrey Dalin and is located in St. Louis, MO offering cosmetic dentistry, general and restorative dentistry to families. (314) 567-3555 (314) 567-9047