What makes a beautiful smile? The teeth, of course: bright, evenly shaped and precisely aligned with each other. But your teeth can be as perfect as can be and your smile will still appear unattractive.
The reason? Your gums show more than they should when you smile.
What's considered a gummy smile is largely a matter of perception that can vary from person to person. As a rule of thumb, though, we consider a smile “gummy” if four millimeters (mm) or more of the gums show.
Fortunately, we can minimize the gums' prominence and make your smile more attractive. But what methods we use will depend on why your gums stand out. And it's not always because of the gums themselves.
It could be your teeth didn't erupt normally during dental development. Mature crown (the visible part of the tooth) length is normally about 10 mm with a width about 75-85% of that. But an abnormal eruption could result in teeth that appear too short, which can make the gums stand out more. We can correct this with a surgical procedure called crown lengthening in which we remove excess gum tissue and, if necessary, reshape the underlying bone to expose more of the tooth crown.
Another potential cause is how far your upper lip rises when you smile. Normally the lip rises only enough to reveal about 4 mm of teeth. In some cases, though, it may rise too high and show more of the gums. We can modify lip movement in a number of ways, including Botox injections to temporarily paralyze the lip. A more permanent solution is a lip stabilization procedure. It sounds bad, but it's a fairly simple procedure to surgically reposition the muscle attachments to restrict movement.
Your gummy smile may also result from an upper jaw too long for your facial structure. We can correct this with orthognathic (“ortho” – straighten, “gnathos” – jaw) surgery. During the procedure the surgeon permanently positions the jaw further up in the skull; this will reduce the amount of teeth and gums displayed when you smile.
Discovering the true cause of your gummy smile will determine how we treat it. After a complete oral examination, we can then discuss your options to transform your smile into a more attractive one.
If you would like more information on treating gummy smiles and other cosmetic problems, 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.”
Not long ago, the most affordable option for total tooth loss was a removable denture. Dentures, prosthetic (false) teeth set in gum-colored acrylic plastic bases, can effectively restore function and appearance. But the appliance continues to have one major drawback: it can accelerate bone loss in the jaw.
Like other living tissues, older bone cells die and become absorbed into the body (resorption). Normally they're replaced by newer cells. The forces generated when we chew our food travel through the teeth to stimulate this new growth. This stimulus ends when we lose our teeth, and so cell replacement can slow to an abnormal rate. Eventually, this causes bone loss.
Removable dentures can't provide this stimulation. In fact, the pressure generated as they compress the gums' bony ridges can even accelerate bone loss. That's why over time a denture's fit can become loose and uncomfortable — the bone has shrunk and no longer matches the contours of the dentures.
In recent years, though, a new development has been able to provide greater support to dentures while at the same time slowing or even stopping bone loss. We can now support dentures with dental implants.
Implants are best known as individual tooth replacements: a titanium metal post replaces the root, while a life-like porcelain crown attaches to the post to replace the visible tooth. In addition to providing a longer-lasting alternative to removable dentures, implants provide a very important health benefit: they improve bone density because they mimic the function of natural teeth. Bone cells are naturally attracted to the titanium; they adhere to the titanium post and are stimulated to grow through the action of chewing, increasing bone density and securing the implant's hold in the jaw.
Using the same technology we can support removable dentures, or even full fixed bridges. Rather than rest directly on the bony ridges, a denture can make a secure connection through a coupling system with just a few strategically placed implants. We can also permanently attach a full bridge by fastening it to a few implants with screws.
Not only do we eliminate the pressure from dentures compressing the gums and bone tissue, we can actually stimulate bone growth with the implants. Although more costly upfront than traditional dentures, unlike traditional dentures which must be replaced every five to seven years, long-lasting implants may be more cost-effective over the long-run.
If you would like more information on implant-supported tooth replacement, 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 “New Teeth in One Day.”
Eating is one of the pleasures — and necessities — of life, but people who suffer from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) may find eating no pleasure at all — and they may not be eating the right nutritional balance of foods.
TMD is a collection of conditions that affect the jaw joints, connecting muscles and other related facial structures. If you've been diagnosed with TMD, you're probably not only acquainted with severe pain, but also difficulty opening your jaw as widely as normal. This can make it difficult to chew certain foods.
There are a number of effective treatments for TMD, including thermal therapy (hot or cold packs), joint exercise, medication or surgery (as a last resort). But these treatments often take time to make a noticeable difference. In the meantime, you may still need to change what and how you eat to ensure you're getting the nutrients your body needs.
The overall strategy should be to soften and reduce the chewing size of your food. With fruits and vegetables, you'll want to peel and discard any hard or chewy skins, and then chop the fruit flesh into smaller pieces. Steam or cook vegetables like greens, broccoli or cauliflower until they're soft and then chop them into smaller portions. You might also consider pureeing your fruit (and some vegetables) to make smoothies with ice, milk or yogurt, or vegetable-based soups.
Treat meat, poultry or seafood in much the same way, especially biting sizes. Besides cooking meats to tenderness, include moisteners like broths, gravies or brazing liquids to further make them easier to chew.
Dairy foods are an important source of nutrition: eat milk-based products like yogurt or cheese as much as you can handle. If you have problems with these or also nut butters, then consider meal replacement beverages like instant breakfast or whey protein beverages.
And don't forget whole grains. Although some can be hard to chew, you can prepare them in hot cereal form (like oatmeal) to tenderize them. You can also prepare thin bread toast and cut into smaller pieces.
Hopefully, your treatment will bring your TMD symptoms under manageable control. Until then (and after, if need be) adjust your diet to eat the foods that keep you healthy.
Dental implants are all the rage. And why not — not only are these tooth replacements life-like and highly functional, they have an amazing 95% ten-year success rate.
Some of that success is due to their unique design. Technically a root replacement, an implant's metal titanium post is surgically placed in the jawbone, where bone grows and adheres to it over time. This creates a strong connection that stands up well to the forces created by biting and chewing.
But there's more to their longevity than design. Success also depends on a careful, planned process that begins long before surgery.
It starts with a detailed oral examination to determine the best placement for the implant. Besides regular x-rays, we may also perform CT scans to create a three-dimensional view of your jaw. With this we can locate and avoid nerves, sinus cavities or other structures near the implant site.
The examination also helps us determine if you've experienced any bone loss, a normal occurrence after tooth loss. Implants require an adequate amount of bone to achieve the best position. A good position ensures future bone integration and the best appearance result.
The same attention to detail extends to the actual surgery to place the implant. We fashion the site to receive the implant by sequentially drilling larger tapered channels until we achieve the right size fit for the implant. During drilling we avoid overheating the bone, which could ultimately weaken and damage the implant's stability.
We'll also need to provide protection for the implant while it integrates with the bone. In most implantations, we do this by suturing the gum tissue over the implant. We take a different approach with a “Tooth in a Day” procedure where we attach a crown (the visible portion of the tooth) right after implant surgery. In this case we'll install a crown (which is actually temporary) that's a little shorter than the adjacent teeth. The natural teeth around it will absorb the forces produced while chewing and not the implant crown.
Focusing on these and other factors will greatly reduce the risk of implant failure. Paying careful attention to them helps ensure your new smile is a lasting one.
If you would like more information on dental implants to restore your smile, 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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth Replacement Method That Rarely Fails.”
If you're suffering from jaw pain or impaired function, it may not be the only source of chronic pain in your body. Of the millions of adults with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), many have also been diagnosed — among other conditions — with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis or sleep problems.
TMD is actually a group of painful disorders that affect the jaw joints, muscles and surrounding tissues. Besides pain, other symptoms include popping, clicking or grating sounds during jaw movement and a restricted range of motion for the lower jaw. Although we can't yet pinpoint a definite cause, TMD is closely associated with stress, grinding and clenching habits or injury.
It's not yet clear about the possible connections between TMD and other systemic conditions. But roughly two-thirds of those diagnosed with TMD also report three or more related health conditions. Debilitating pain and joint impairment seem to be the common thread among them all. The similarities warrant further research in hopes of new treatment options for each of them.
As for TMD, current treatment options break down into two basic categories: a traditional, conservative approach and a more interventional one. Of the first category, at least 90% of individuals find relief from treatments like thermal therapy (like alternating hot and cold compresses to the jaw), physical therapy, medication or mouth guards to reduce teeth clenching.
The alternative approach, surgery, seeks to correct problems with the jaw joints and supporting muscles. The results, however, have been mixed: in one recent survey a little more than a third of TMD patients who underwent surgery saw any improvement; what's more alarming, just under half believed their condition worsened after surgery.
With that in mind, most dentists recommend the first approach initially for TMD. Only if those therapies don't provide satisfactory relief or the case is extreme, would we then consider surgery. It's also advisable for you to seek a second opinion if you're presented with a surgical option.
Hopefully, further research into the connections between TMD and other inflammatory diseases may yield future therapies. The results could help you enjoy a more pain-free life as well as a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on TMD, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.