Orthodontics and Implants

January 25th, 2023

Maybe you’ve wanted braces since childhood. Maybe you had them, but your teeth have shifted over time. Maybe you’re tired of living with an uncomfortable bite. Good news! If you’re not happy with your adult smile, that doesn’t mean you’ve missed the opportunity to have the healthy, attractive smile you’ve always dreamed of.

While there are many benefits to having orthodontic work done as a child, there’s a lot to be said for orthodontic treatment as an adult. After all, you know exactly what you want. You’re dedicated to following your treatment plan. You have plenty of discreet orthodontic options available now, from clear aligners to lingual braces, to make your treatment as inconspicuous as possible.

But, on occasion, adult treatment does come with some adult baggage. Worried about your crowns, fillings, or veneers? If these restorations are part of your dental history, we can generally work with them. Dental implants? Those might fall into a slightly different category.

Implants are a great way to restore your smile because they function like your natural teeth. They are designed to look just like natural teeth, and they allow you to speak, chew, and bite with confidence. Implants even stimulate the jawbone when we chew just as natural teeth do, helping to prevent bone loss in the jaw as we age.

But there is one important difference between implants and natural teeth: implants are firmly anchored in the jaw, while your natural teeth can change position.

Why is this a concern? Because tooth movement is one of the basics of orthodontic treatment. Unlike implants, our teeth aren’t firmly anchored in our jaws. They are held in their sockets by a ligament which cushions them and connects the tooth to the bone.

When braces or aligners gently apply consistent pressure to the teeth, the ligaments and eventually the bones holding the teeth reshape themselves in response to this pressure, and then become stable again during the retainer phase of treatment.

Implants, on the other hand, are crowns attached to a metal cylinder or screw that is surgically implanted into the jawbone. After several months, osseointegration takes place—which is a technical way of saying that the metal base fuses with the bone. This means that there won’t be any movement taking place—good when you’re chewing, but not helpful for realignment!

If you haven’t yet replaced a missing tooth with an implant, it’s often best to wait before starting orthodontic work. We can design treatment around a missing tooth, leaving room to accommodate an implant in just the right spot when your orthodontic treatment is finished.

If you have an implant already, the placement of your implant will help determine your treatment:

  • If your implant is already perfectly placed for your future alignment, braces or aligners can be designed to work with and around your implant.
  • If the placement is almost ideal, you might find a very small degree of misalignment acceptable, and we can plan your treatment around your existing implant.
  • If it’s not possible to work with your implant where it’s presently located, it is possible to remove an implant. You would then have the implant procedure redone after your orthodontic work is complete.

Talk to Dr. Shepard about your treatment possibilities. By analyzing your orthodontic goals and working with your dental history, we can let you know exactly what can be done for your teeth and bite—even if you have an implant.

True, there are many benefits to having orthodontic work done in your childhood, but there’s a lot to be said for orthodontic treatment as an adult. And the greatest benefit of all? You’ll finally have the healthy, self-confident smile you’ve always dreamed of. Talk to our Harlingen, Brownsville, or Weslaco team about making that smile a reality.

How Long Will I Wear My Braces?

January 18th, 2023

How long? Well, a beautiful smile is both science and art—proper teeth and jaw alignment united with aesthetically pleasing results. Orthodontists achieve both these outcomes with a careful analysis of any dental and facial problems, a treatment plan designed specifically for each patient’s needs, and adjustments through each phase of treatment to carefully bring about that beautiful smile.

And that’s a long way of saying, there’s no one, standard answer as to how long a patient will wear braces because there is no one, standard patient. Often, treatment takes from 18 to 24 months, but it can be months shorter or months longer depending on a variety of different circumstances.

  • Different Needs

Your orthodontic needs and goals will generally determine your treatment time. Some patients need only a bit of alignment, which can lead to a fairly short orthodontic experience. Some have malocclusions such as crossbites and open bites that require more complex and lengthy treatment.

And, while we used to think of orthodontics as a teenage rite of passage, that’s certainly no longer the case. Some children will need two-phase orthodontic treatment, where early procedures before the adult teeth even come in ease the way for any necessary second stage treatment when the permanent teeth arrive years later. And some adults will want orthodontic work later in life, where denser bone tissue might lead to (somewhat) longer treatment.

  • Different Appliances

Today’s orthodontics offers you many choices in appliances. Lingual braces are an almost invisible option, with brackets and wires on the inside of the teeth. Aligners use clear, custom molded trays to move the teeth into a better position with each new tray. Even traditional braces are smaller and sleeker today, with metal or less visible ceramic brackets. Depending on the orthodontic goals you want to achieve, there might be a small difference in the amount of time each appliance will take to get you to those goals. Talk to us about all your options and what they mean for treatment time.

  • Different Levels of Participation in the Process

This is one area you can make a real difference! If you follow our instructions for using your appliances most effectively, you’ll make progress as quickly as possible. If you have aligner trays, be sure to wear them for as long as directed each day. If you have rubber bands attached to brackets on your upper and lower teeth, wear them for as many hours as required, because these little bands are actually the tools that are moving your teeth into alignment. If you don’t wear your braces or aligners as directed, not much is going to happen, and certainly not on schedule.

Give our Harlingen, Brownsville, or Weslaco office a call, and we can discuss your goals for creating your very best smile. Once we’ve decided on a treatment plan, Dr. Shepard can give you a fairly good estimate as to how long your particular treatment will take. And, when you get to share that beautiful, healthy smile, the time you’ve spent achieving it will be well worth it!

 

Tips for Keeping Your Breath Fresh While You’re in Braces

January 11th, 2023

You’ve got a lot going on in your busy life, and whether it’s school, practice, or simply socializing, you want to put a confident face forward. And part of that confidence comes from knowing your breath is its freshest!

Too often, though, this time of your life makes that goal seem difficult. Let’s look at ways to keep you smiling your brightest and feeling your freshest in any social setting.

  • Watch Your Diet

Sure, garlic, onions, and other pungent food choices are obvious culprits when it comes to bad breath, but did you know that sugars and simple carbs are the food of choice for the bacteria that cause decay, gingivitis, and bad breath? Eating a nutritious, braces-friendly diet will help keep your mouth, your braces, and your breath healthy.

And it’s not just what you eat. Dehydration also causes bad breath. But those caffeinated drinks and sodas that keep you going through the day are the source of acids and sugars that contribute to tooth decay, gum disease, and less-than-fresh breath. Water, milk, and healthy smoothies are a great way to stay hydrated, add vitamins and minerals to your diet, and go easy on your braces.          

  • Keep Up with Oral Hygiene

It’s hard to keep your teeth and gums their cleanest when it seems like you’re always on the go, but good oral habits are just as important now as they were when you were younger.

Brushing after every meal and snack and flossing daily will help get rid of the bacteria and plaque, which lead to cavities. Our tongues also harbor the bacteria that cause bad breath, so finish off your routine with a gentle brush of the tongue, or try a tongue scraper.

Flossing helps keep gums healthy, which, in turns, keeps your breath healthy as well. Dentists generally suggest flossing once a day, but wearing braces could require flossing more often to make sure you’re getting rid of all those food particles that can become trapped in brackets and wires. Studies have suggested that hormonal changes in teenagers can mean your gums are more at risk for periodontal problems, which can also lead to bad breath, so don’t neglect your gum health!

And be sure to make room in your schedule for regular checkups and cleanings. Your dentist and hygienist will let you know if you’re on track for healthy teeth and gums and fresh breath.

  • Wearing Braces?

Part of careful brushing and flossing means getting to all those places in your braces which trap food particles. Besides being a source of unpleasant odors, food particles lead to plaque buildup and tooth decay, another cause of bad breath.

Dr. Shepard can suggest the best methods for keeping your braces their cleanest—even in hard to reach spots—with suggestions for brushing and flossing techniques. We can also suggest the best and easiest-to-use products for your particular braces, and recommend or prescribe antibacterial mouthwashes.

  • Wearing Aligners?

Aligners are removed before you eat, so it’s easy to forget that they also need attention. Follow instructions given at our Harlingen, Brownsville, or Weslaco office for daily cleaning to prevent saliva and plaque from sticking to your aligners and causing odors. And always remember to brush before you replace aligners after eating a meal or even snacking—otherwise, you’re just trapping the food particles that cause cavities or odors next to your teeth.

You’ve got a lot going on in your busy life, and the last thing you need to worry about is fresh breath. Keep up with your solid dental routines, make sure your braces or aligners are clean and plaque-free, and show the world your healthiest, freshest, most confident smile.

Make this the Year You Stop Smoking

January 4th, 2023

It’s a new year, and it couldn’t come fast enough for many of us! Let’s do our part to make this a better year in every way—and you can start by making this the year you quit smoking once and for all.

You know that smoking is very damaging to your body. Smokers are more likely to suffer from lung disease, heart attacks, and strokes. You’re at greater risk for cancer, high blood pressure, blood clots, and blood vessel disorders. With far-reaching consequences like this, it’s no surprise that your oral health suffers when you smoke as well.

How does smoking affect your teeth and mouth?

  • Appearance

While this is possibly the least harmful side effect of smoking, it’s a very visible one. Tar and nicotine start staining teeth right away. After months and years of smoking, your teeth can take on an unappealing dark yellow, orange, or brown color. Tobacco staining might require professional whitening treatments because it penetrates the enamel over time.

  • Plaque and Tartar

Bacterial plaque and tartar cause cavities and gum disease, and smokers suffer from plaque and tartar buildup more than non-smokers. Tartar, hardened plaque which can only be removed by a dental professional, is especially hard on delicate gum tissue.

  • Bad Breath

The chemicals in cigarettes linger on the surfaces of your mouth causing an unpleasant odor, but that’s not the only source of smoker’s breath. Smoking also dries out the mouth, and, without the normal flow of saliva to wash away food particles and bacteria, bad breath results. Another common cause of bad breath? Gum disease—which is also found more frequently among smokers.

  • Gum Disease

Smoking has been linked to greater numbers of harmful oral bacteria in the mouth and a greater risk of gingivitis (early gum disease). Periodontitis, or severe gum disease, is much more common among smokers, and can lead to bone and tooth loss. Unsurprisingly, tooth loss is also more common among smokers.  

  • Implant Failure

Tooth implants look and function like our original teeth, and are one of the best solutions for tooth loss. While implant failure isn’t common, it does occur significantly more often among smokers. Studies suggest that there are multiple factors at work, which may include a smoker’s bone quality and density, gum tissue affected by constricted blood vessels, and compromised healing.

  • Healing Ability

Smoking has been linked to weakened immune systems, so it’s harder to fight off an infection and to heal after injury. Because smoking affects the immune system’s response to inflammation and infection, smokers suffering from gum disease don’t respond as well to treatment. Smokers experience a higher rate of root infections, and smoking also slows the healing process after oral surgeries or trauma.

  • Dry Socket

Smoking following a tooth extraction can cause a painful condition called “dry socket.” After extraction, a clot forms to protect the tooth socket. Just as this clot can be dislodged by sucking through a straw or spitting, it can also be dislodged by the force of inhaling and exhaling while smoking.

  • Oral Cancer

Research has shown again and again that smoking is the single most serious risk factor for oral cancer. Studies have also shown that you reduce your risk of oral cancer significantly when you quit smoking.

  • Consequences for Orthodontic Treatment

Finally, if this is the year that you’re investing the time and effort needed to create an attractive, healthy smile with orthodontic treatment, don’t sabotage yourself by smoking!

Cosmetically, smoking doesn’t just discolor your tooth enamel—tar and nicotine discolor your aligners and braces as well. If one of the reasons you chose clear aligners or ceramic brackets is for their invisible appearance, the last thing you want is yellow aligners and brackets.

More important, smoking, it’s been suggested, can interfere with your orthodontic progress. When blood vessels are constricted, your gums, periodontal ligaments, and bones can’t function at their healthy best, moving your teeth where they need to be steadily and efficiently. This means that your treatment could take longer. And if your smoking has caused gum disease, you might have to put any orthodontic treatment on hold completely until it’s under control.

Quitting smoking is a major accomplishment that will improve your life on every level. It’s always a good idea to talk to Dr. Shepard for strategies to help you achieve your wellness goals for the new year. Make this the year you stop smoking, and the year your health improves in countless ways because you did.