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:
- brushing the surgical area (if advised by your surgeon);
- rinsing too aggressively;
- drinking through a straw or consuming hot liquid;
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.”
Moving teeth to better positions through orthodontics not only improves dental function and health, it can vastly improve your appearance. But to achieve a result that continues to be attractive as you age requires thorough planning and forethought.
That’s because your body continues to change all during life. While the most accelerated growth happens in childhood and adolescence, even older adults continue to change, especially in their facial features. A good deal of research has helped identify and catalog these changes, which orthodontists now incorporate into their corrective treatments for poor bites (malocclusions).
For example, the lips grow until they reach their maximum thickness in girls usually around age 14 and boys age 16. But researchers have also found lip thickness gradually diminishes for most people beginning in their late teens until about age 80. In other words, the appearance of your lips in your elderly years will be vastly different than in your teens. The same holds true for other facial features: our facial profile flattens as the nose becomes longer and more pronounced while the lower part of the face shortens.
Using this knowledge of the effects of aging on the face, orthodontists now attempt to anticipate “where” the facial features will be decades down the road. This projection can help them design a treatment plan that takes advantage of these projected changes.
For example, orthodontists may begin treatment before a patient’s teenage years with techniques that serve to guide jaw growth. Keeping that development on track will help if or when braces may be needed a few years later. Guiding jaw growth will help shorten the distance of where a patient is in their orofacial development and where they should be later in life with normal development.
Orthodontists aren’t predictors of the future. But armed with an understanding of the aging process, they can help patients head in the right direction to produce a smile and facial appearance that will endure well into later life.
If you would like more information on moving teeth to achieve a more attractive appearance, 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 “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
Periodontal (gum) disease causes more than simple gum swelling—this bacterial infection can harm and destroy your teeth’s supporting structures, including the bone. Its aggressiveness sometimes requires equally aggressive treatment.
Gum disease usually begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces. Without proper oral hygiene plaque builds up with large populations of bacteria that can trigger an infection.
The growth of this disease is often “silent,” meaning it may initially show no symptoms. If it does, it will normally be reddened, swollen and/or bleeding gums, and sometimes pain. A loose tooth is often a late sign the disease has severely damaged the gum ligaments and supporting bone, making tooth loss a distinct possibility.
If you’re diagnosed with gum disease, there is one primary treatment strategy—remove all detected plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. This can take several sessions because as the gums begin responding to treatment and are less inflamed, more plaque and calculus may be discovered.
Plaque removal can involve various techniques depending on the depth of the infection within the gums. For surfaces above or just below the gum line, we often use a technique called scaling: manually removing plaque and calculus with specialized instruments called scalers. If the infection has progressed well below the gum line we may also use root planing, a technique for “shaving” plaque from root surfaces.
Once infection reaches these deeper levels it’s often difficult to access. Getting to it may require a surgical procedure known as flap surgery. We make incisions in the gums to form what looks like the flap of an envelope. By retracting this “flap” we can then access the root area of the tooth. After thoroughly cleansing the area of infection, we can do regenerative procedures to regain lost attachment. Then we suture the flap of gum tissue back into place.
Whatever its stage of development, it’s important to begin treatment of gum disease as soon as it’s detected. The earlier we can arrest its spread, the less likely we’ll need to employ these more invasive procedures. If you see any signs of gum disease as mentioned before, contact us as soon as possible for a full examination.
If you would like more information on preventing and 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
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.
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