Millions of people have obstructive sleep apnea—and some don’t even realize it. That’s because even though these airway-blocking episodes can occur several times a night, they may only last a few seconds. The brain rouses the body just long enough to open the airway but not long enough to awaken the person to consciousness.
Even though a person with sleep apnea might not remember what happened to them, they can still experience the effects of sleep disturbance: drowsiness, irritability or an inability to focus. Over time, the accumulation of “bad sleep” could increase their risk for heart disease or other life-threatening conditions.
But there are effective ways to alleviate or lessen obstructive sleep apnea. The main “go-to” treatment is a method called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP utilizes an electric pump that supplies a constant flow of pressurized air through a mask worn by the patient while sleeping. The increased air pressure around the throat helps keep the airway open.
But although it’s effective, CPAP is unpopular with many people who have tried it. Many find the hose and other equipment cumbersome, or the mask too uncomfortable or restrictive to wear. As a result, quite a number simply avoid using it.
If you’ve had a similar experience with CPAP or would rather explore other options, we may have an alternative: an oral appliance you wear while you sleep. It can help prevent or lessen symptoms in cases of mild to moderate airway obstruction caused by the tongue or other forms of tissue.
Sleep apnea appliances come in two basic forms. One uses metal hinges to help move the lower jaw and tongue forward. The other form has a compartment that fits around the tongue and applies suction to help keep the tongue moved forward.
These appliances may not be suitable for patients with severe sleep apnea or whose cause is something other than a physical obstruction like abnormal neurological signaling patterns. But where they are appropriate, they can be an effective alternative to CPAP and the key to a better night’s sleep.
If you would like more information on this dental solution for sleep apnea, 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 “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”
You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that someone playing hockey, racing motocross or duking it out in an ultimate fighter match had a tooth knocked out. But acting in a movie? That's exactly what happened to Howie Mandel, well-known comedian and host of TV's America's Got Talent and Deal or No Deal. And not just any tooth, but one of his upper front teeth—with the other one heavily damaged in the process.
The accident occurred during the 1987 filming of Walk Like a Man in which Mandel played a young man raised by wolves. In one scene, a co-star was supposed to yank a bone from Howie's mouth. The actor, however, pulled the bone a second too early while Howie still had it clamped between his teeth. Mandel says you can see the tooth fly out of his mouth in the movie.
But trooper that he is, Mandel immediately had two crowns placed to restore the damaged teeth and went back to filming. The restoration was a good one, and all was well with his smile for the next few decades.
Until, that is, he began to notice a peculiar discoloration pattern. Years of coffee drinking had stained his other natural teeth, but not the two prosthetic (“false”) crowns in the middle of his smile. The two crowns, bright as ever, stuck out prominently from the rest of his teeth, giving him a distinctive look: “I looked like Bugs Bunny,” Mandel told Dear Doctor—Dentistry & Oral Health magazine.
His dentist, though, had a solution: dental veneers. These thin wafers of porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask slight imperfections like chipping, gaps or discoloration. Veneers are popular way to get an updated and more attractive smile. Each veneer is custom-shaped and color-matched to the individual tooth so that it blends seamlessly with the rest of the teeth.
One caveat, though: most veneers can look bulky if placed directly on the teeth. To accommodate this, traditional veneers require that some of the enamel be removed from your tooth so that the veneer does not add bulk when it is placed over the front-facing side of your tooth. This permanently alters the tooth and requires it have a restoration from then on.
In many instances, however, a “minimal prep” or “no-prep” veneer may be possible, where, as the names suggest, very little or even none of the tooth's surface needs to be reduced before the veneer is placed. The type of veneer that is recommended for you will depend on the condition of your enamel and the particular flaw you wish to correct.
Many dental patients opt for veneers because they can be used in a variety of cosmetic situations, including upgrades to previous dental work as Howie Mandel experienced. So if slight imperfections are putting a damper on your smile, veneers could be the answer.
If you would like more information about veneers and other cosmetic dental enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
What makes a beautiful smile? Beautiful teeth, for sure. But there's also another component that can make or break your smile, regardless of your teeth's condition: your gums. Although their primary function is to protect and stabilize the teeth, your gums also enhance them aesthetically by providing an attractive frame.
But just as a painting displayed in an oversized frame can lose some of its appeal, so can your smile if the size of your gums appears out of proportion with your teeth. Normally, a smile that displays more than four millimeters of gum tissue is considered “gummy.”
There are some things we can do to improve your gum to teeth ratios. What we do will depend on which of the following is the actual cause for your gummy smile.
Excess gum tissue. We'll start with the obvious: you have excess gum tissue that obscures some of the visible tooth crown. We can often correct this with a surgical procedure called “crown lengthening,” which removes some of the excess tissue and then reshapes the gums and bone to expose more teeth length.
Teeth that appear too short. The problem may not be your gums — it could be your teeth appear too short. This can happen if the teeth didn't erupt fully, or if they've worn down due to aging or a grinding habit. One option here is to “lengthen” the tooth cosmetically with veneers, crowns or other bonding techniques.
Higher lip movement. Rather than your teeth and gums being out of size proportion, your upper lip may be rising too high when you smile, a condition known as hypermobility. One temporary fix is through Botox injections that paralyze the lip muscles and prevent their movement from overextending. We could also use periodontal surgery to perform a lip stabilization procedure that permanently corrects the upper lip movement.
Overextended jaw. Your gums may seem more prominent if your upper jaw extends too far down and forward. In this case, orthognathic (jaw straightening) surgery might be used to reposition the jaw relative to its connection with the skull. Setting the jaw up and back in this way would reduce the prominence of the gums when you smile.
As you can see, treatments range from cosmetic techniques to moderate surgical procedures. A full dental exam will help determine which if any of these measures could reduce gumminess and improve your smile.
If you would like more information on correcting gummy smiles, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
If all goes normally, we have most of our permanent teeth as we enter puberty. Except, though, when it doesn't—sometimes incoming permanent teeth don't fully erupt, often because there's not enough room for them on the jaw. This can leave all or part of a tooth still up inside the gum and bones.
This condition is known as impaction, and it can cause problems with a person's bite and their smile. This is especially true of the upper canines, those pointed teeth located just under the eyes. Without them present, a person's smile can look oddly different. Moreover, it can worsen their bite and increase the risk of trauma and disease for nearby teeth.
Fortunately, there may be a way to coax impacted canines into erupting into their proper position on the jaw. It will involve, though, some minor surgery and orthodontic intervention to accomplish that feat.
First, though, a patient with missing canines should undergo a thorough orthodontic evaluation. This exam will reveal not only what may be going on with the missing teeth, but how the whole bite has been affected. Knowing the big picture will help direct the next treatment steps.
After pinpointing the impacted teeth's exact position (usually through x-rays or cone beam CT scanning), we then decide whether it's feasible to attempt to expose the teeth. Sometimes, a tooth's position is so out of place that it may be best to remove it and consider a dental implant or other restorative measures.
If it is in a workable position, then the impacted teeth would be exposed surgically (usually by an oral surgeon or periodontist). The surgeon would then bond a small bracket to the exposed tooth and then attach a small chain.
After suturing the incised gum tissues back in place, the chain extending outward from the gums would then be looped over orthodontic hardware attached to other teeth. This will place downward pressure on the upper canine tooth, and over several months prod it to fully erupt.
This may sound like an elaborate procedure, but it's fairly routine and predictable. As a result, a patient can finally get the full benefit of all their teeth, enhance their dental health and transform their smile.
If you would like more information on dealing with impacted teeth, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
Straightening your smile doesn't happen overnight—it can involve months or even years of orthodontic treatment. And although the end result is well worth it, the long process can make it difficult to keep your gums healthy, especially while wearing braces.
Gum swelling in particular is a common problem for braces wearers with two potential sources. First, orthodontic hardware makes it difficult to keep teeth clean of dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that can cause gum disease. Plaque and its hardened counterpart tartar can trigger a gum infection, which in turn triggers inflammation. As a result, affected gums appear swollen and red, and can easily bleed.
Gum tissues may also react to braces pressing against them and develop hypertrophy (or hyperplasia), an increase in individual tissue cell growth. If this overgrowth occurs, it may not get resolved until after your braces have been removed.
As long as the hypertrophy doesn't appear to have weakened gum attachment with the teeth, it's usually not a big concern. But what is a concern is that hypertrophy could increase a braces wearer's difficulties with oral hygiene and give rise to a true gum infection that could endanger dental attachment. Advanced cases could require surgical correction or removal of the braces altogether to adequately treat the infection.
The best way to avoid a worst case scenario is to be as diligent as possible with daily brushing and flossing. Fortunately, there are several tools that can make it easier with braces. Interproximal brushes, tiny brushes that can fit into the narrow spaces between the teeth and the braces, can be used in conjunction with your regular toothbrush.
Flossing is also easier if you use a floss threader or a water flosser. The latter utilizes a pump to emit a pulsating jet of water to break loose plaque between teeth and flush it away. Clinical studies have shown the effectiveness of water flossers for removing plaque in braces wearers as opposed to not flossing at all.
A faithful daily hygiene practice and twice-a-year cleanings and checkups with your regular dentist can help minimize your chances of gum swelling. Doing so will help ensure you'll complete your orthodontic treatment on the way to healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on teeth and gum care while wearing 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
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