The dental implant is the closest thing in modern dentistry to a natural tooth. This is because an implant replaces more than the visible crown — it also replaces the root, thanks to a metal post imbedded in the bone.
But what if you have a metal allergy — are you out of luck replacing a tooth with an implant? Before answering this question, let's take a closer look at metal allergies.
An allergy is an overreaction of the body's immune system to a particular foreign substance. This response can be as inconsequential as a minor rash or as life-threatening as a shutdown of the body's organ systems. You can be allergic to anything, including metals.
Usually, these allergies are to specific kinds of metals. For example, about 17% of women and 3% of men are allergic to nickel, while smaller percentages are allergic to cobalt or chromium. Most allergic reactions to metal occur from external contact with jewelry or similar metal items that create rashes or other anomalies on the skin. On a more serious note, an allergy to metal in a body replacement part could result in the body rejecting it.
Metals have also played an important role in dental care, particularly dental amalgam used for tooth fillings. Dental amalgam is a mixture of a precious metal like gold or silver with other metals like copper, tin and, in small amounts, mercury. While dental amalgam has been used safely for decades, there have been rare cases of inflammation or rashes.
This brings us to dental implants and the most common metal used in them, titanium. The commercial version of this metal is highly prized in medical and dental applications because it has a special affinity with bone. Bone cells readily grow and adhere to the metal, which strengthens the bond between the implant and the jawbone.
Even if you have a rare allergy to certain metals, it's even rarer that would include titanium. In one particular study of 1,500 implant patients less than 1% reported any reaction at all.
If you're concerned, you can undergo testing to see if you react to titanium. More than likely, though, you'll be able to join the millions of other patients who have successfully restored their smiles with dental implants.
If you would like more information on dental implants as a tooth replacement option, 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 “Metal Allergies to Dental implants.”
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) jolted our collective consciousness in the 1980s. The deadly disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had no known cure and, at the time, no effective treatment.
HIV is a retrovirus, a virus with a genetic makeup and reproduction system differing from other kinds. After taking up permanent residency in the body, HIV begins “hijacking” the replication process of cells in the body's immune system and replacing it with a copy of its own. This destroys the cells' ability to protect the body from hostile organisms. As the virus affects more and more cells, the patient's condition ultimately develops into AIDS.
An estimated 35 million people worldwide (1.2 million in the U.S.) are currently infected with the virus. Thanks to new antiretroviral drugs, though, HIV can be kept from accelerating into AIDS. While their condition remains serious, many HIV positive patients can now live long and relatively normal lives. Even so, having the virus requires them to pay close attention to their health, including their mouth.
Even while stalled from becoming AIDS, HIV can still cause oral problems for 30 to 80% of patients. The fungal infection candidiasis (also known as thrush) is the most common of these problems, which appears as lesions, cracking skin or creamy white patches on the tongue or palate that easily bleed. Patients also have higher risks for dry mouth, oral cancer and periodontal (gum) disease.
HIV positive patients must practice diligent daily oral care and see their dentist for checkups regularly. Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment can keep gum disease and other damaging conditions under control. Monitoring oral health is also important because certain mouth conditions could be an early sign the infection is entering a new advanced stage in the body that requires additional attention.
Keeping vigilant in all aspects of health is a way of life for someone with HIV. Such vigilance, though, can help them maintain a healthy mouth and even prolong their life.
The “magic” behind a dental implant’s durability is the special affinity its imbedded titanium post has with bone. Over time bone grows and attaches to the titanium surface to produce a strong and secure hold.
But there’s one important prerequisite for ultimate implant success—there must be an adequate amount of bone available initially to properly position the post during implantation. Otherwise, the implant may not have enough support to position it properly or cover the implant surface completely with bone.
Inadequate bone can be a problem for patients who lost teeth some time before and now desire to an implant restoration. This happens because when teeth are missing, so are the forces they generate during chewing. These forces stimulate new bone growth around the tooth root to replace older, dissolved bone at a healthy rate. If that replacement rate is too slow, the volume and density of bone may gradually diminish.
There is a way, though, to build up the bone for future implantation. Known as bone preservation procedure or a ridge augmentation, it’s a surgical procedure in which the dentist adds bone grafting material to the extraction socket or the bony ridge. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow and multiply. If successful, there will be enough new bone volume after several months of healing to support proper implant placement.
Bone grafting can add more time to the implant process. It may also mean you will not be able to undergo immediate crown placement after implantation (a “tooth in one day” procedure). Instead we would probably suture gum tissue over the implant to protect it and allow for full integration with the bone over a few more months. In the meantime, though, we could fit you with a temporary restoration like a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded bridge to improve the appearance of the space while the bone continues to heal.
After several months, your implant will have a better chance of a secure hold and we can then attach a life-like crown. Even if you’ve suffered bone loss, you’ll then have the benefit of not only a durable implant but also a new smile.
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
While it may not be one of your favorite features in the dental office, the dental drill is nevertheless necessary for treating problem teeth. It’s used primarily for removing decayed or damaged structure and preparing a tooth for fillings or other restorations.
Dental drills have been used for decades and are quite effective — but they have their drawbacks. Their rotating burrs often remove portions of healthy tooth structure along with decayed material. Friction from the drill action can cause discomfort, so local anesthesia is usually needed. Drills can also emit a high-pitched machine noise that’s unsettling to many patients.
There’s a growing alternative to the drill, known as air abrasion. Although the technology has been around since the 1950s, the development of new suction pumps that capture the resulting dust from its use has made it more palatable as an option to the traditional drill.
Also known as particle abrasion, the technique uses a pressurized stream of fine particles (usually aluminum oxide, an abrasive powder) directed at teeth to wear away (abrade) the tooth’s structural surface. We can be quite precise in the amount of surface material removed, so it’s useful for diminishing stains or roughing the surface for bonding materials like composite resin. We’re also able to remove decayed material with very little impact on surrounding healthy structure, and you may not need anesthesia during the procedure.
While this quiet alternative to the noisier drill is quite versatile, it does have its limitations. It’s not that efficient for preparing larger cavities for restoration or for removing older amalgam fillings. The teeth to be treated must be carefully isolated to prevent the fine particle dust produced from being swallowed by the patient or spread into the air. High-volume suction equipment is a must or the procedure will create a “sandstorm” of particles in the room.
Still, for situations suited to it and with proper isolation measures, air abrasion can be effective and comfortable. If the technology continues to improve, the dental drill may soon become a relic of the past.
If you would like more information on procedures using air abrasion, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
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