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Posts for category: Dental Procedures

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
April 02, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: oral cancer  
3ThingsYouShouldDotoOvercomeOralCancer

Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen died last fall after a long battle with oral cancer, another in a long line of performers, athletes, politicians and other well-known personalities with this serious form of cancer. But household names like Van Halen are just the tip of the iceberg: Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.

Although not as common as other malignancies (around 2.5% of total cancers), oral cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at a dismal 57%. Part of the reason for this has been the longstanding difficulty detecting it in its earlier stages: Early signs are easy to miss or mistake for a benign sore. As a result, it's often diagnosed after advancing significantly, complicating treatment efforts.

To improve survivability, the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to better educate people on this deadly disease. Here are 3 things you can do to prevent oral cancer or improve your survival odds if you encounter it.

Know your individual risk factors. Some risk factors for oral cancer are out of your control—for example, your risk may be higher if you're a male over 40, or if you're African-American. But there are also factors you can control like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption or a poor diet, all of which can elevate your cancer risk. You can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes for factors you can control and prioritizing cancer screening if you have factors that you can't.

Pay attention to oral “oddities.” A small mouth sore or patch of odd-looking skin may be nothing—or it may be the beginning of oral cancer. If you do notice something unusual, especially if it seems to linger beyond a couple of weeks, have us examine it as soon as possible. If it does appear suspicious, you may need to undergo a biopsy, a cancer analysis of the suspected tissue. If it is cancerous, an early diagnosis could improve your outcome.

Visit your dentist regularly. There's more to semi-annual dental visits than teeth cleaning. Regular dental visits are an important component in your “early warning system” for oral cancer—we may notice something suspicious during your regular visit, often before you do. If you're older or have other risk factors for oral cancer, we can expand your regular exam to include a comprehensive cancer screening.

Oral cancer is a serious matter. But taking steps to prevent it and staying alert to its warning signs can help you overcome it.

If you would like more information about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”

ThisOrthodonticDeviceCouldStopaPoorBiteFromDeveloping

“Orthodontic treatment” and “braces” almost seem like synonymous terms. But while braces certainly are orthodontic, it isn't the only tool in an orthodontist's toolkit.

A good example is a device is known as a Herbst appliance. It's used in situations where the upper jaw is outpacing the growth and development of the lower jaw during childhood. If not corrected, this could cause the top teeth to protrude abnormally beyond the lower teeth.

The Herbst appliance gently and gradually coaxes the lower jaw to grow in a more forward direction, thus “catching up” with the upper jaw. The top part of the device consists of two metal tubes hinged to small elastic bands, which are cemented to the cheek side of the upper back teeth (molars), one on either side of the jaw.

Two smaller tubes are attached in like fashion to the lower teeth, and then inserted into the larger tubes. As the lower jaw moves, the smaller tubes move within the larger to create pressure that gently pushes the jaw forward. Over time, this can sync the growth progress of both the upper and lower jaws, and reduce the chances of a poor bite.

For best results, a Herbst appliance is usually placed to coincide with a child's most rapid period of jaw growth, usually between 11 and 14. They could be placed as early as 8 or 9, however, in situations where the front teeth are already protruding well beyond the lips. In any event, the goal is to positively influence the growth of the lower jaw to alleviate or at least minimize the need for future orthodontic treatment.

As a fixed device, there's no need for a child or parent to tend to it as with other methods, like orthodontic headwear worn in conjunction with braces. A Herbst appliance can, however, alter the normal sensations associated with eating, swallowing and speaking, which may take a little adjustment time for the child. Wearers will also need to be extra vigilant with daily brushing and flossing because of a higher risk of tooth decay.

These, though, are minor inconveniences compared with the benefit of improved bite development. As such, a Herbst appliance could be a positive investment in your child's dental future.

If you would like more information on interceptive orthodontics, 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 “The Herbst Appliance.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
January 26, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: bridgework   dental implant  
CouldaDentalBridgeBeaBetterChoiceThanImplants

What a difference forty years can make: Dental bridges once occupied the top spot for choices to replace missing teeth until the arrival of dental implants in the 1980s. Today, dental implants are the gold standard for dental restoration.

But although bridgework may have lost “first chair” in the orchestra of restorations, it's still a viable option. In fact, it can be the best option in certain situations.

Bridges consist of a series of porcelain crowns fused together like fence pickets. The center crowns, known as the pontics, “bridge” the gap left by a missing tooth or teeth. The crowns on each end, the abutment teeth, crown the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge.

Bridges are effective and durable, but with a major downside: To accommodate the abutment crowns, we must reduce the size of the natural teeth to which they'll be attached. This alteration can weaken those teeth's structure and require them from then on to have some form of restoration. They're also at higher risk for tooth decay.

Implants, on the other hand, don't require this alteration, and may also be more durable than bridges. Why then consider a bridge?

Price can be a factor: Implants may be more expensive, especially involving multiple teeth. Keep in mind, though, that this only compares the initial cost: Because implants have a 95% or more ten-year success rate, with further evidence they could potentially last for decades, they may actually cost less in the long-run than bridge restorations that have a higher chance of being replaced sooner.

But the prime reason is that some dental situations aren't suitable for dental implants. For instance, implants require a certain amount of bone for proper placement, so people with extensive bone loss may not be able to acquire them. Health conditions like uncontrolled diabetes or a compromised immune system can also complicate implant installation. A bridge in these cases may represent a better alternative.

With the help of your dentist, you'll need to consider your individual situation, dental and financial, in deciding between an implant or a bridge. And, if a dental bridge is your best option, it will be a solid choice for restoring your missing teeth and your smile.

If you would like more information on various dental restoration methods, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
January 20, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: root resorption  
AlthoughRareThisConditionCouldDestroyaTooth

Most dental problems are caused by tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, easily preventable with dedicated daily hygiene and regular dental care.  But there are a few other rare conditions to be on alert for that could pose just as serious a threat to your dental health.

One of these is a phenomenon called root resorption. Put simply, certain cells arise within a tooth root that eat away and dissolve (resorb) tooth structure. Left unchecked, it could eventually lead to the tooth's demise.

Although its exact cause remains elusive, we suspect root resorption is associated with trauma to the gum ligaments earlier in life, perhaps from an injury or too much force applied during orthodontics. Other possible contributing factors include teeth-grinding habits or internal tooth bleaching procedures.

Root resorption in adults isn't that common, so your chances of experiencing it are low. But it is still possible, so you should be on the lookout for potential signs: Early on, it may appear as faint pink spots on teeth where the enamel has filled with the destructive cells eating away at the tooth. In time, these spots can increase to form cavities.

More than likely, though, your dentist may detect the problem during a dental exam. That's why regular dental cleanings and checkups are essential—a routine exam is a prime opportunity to uncover conditions like root resorption that silently undermine your teeth.

If found early, we can often treat root resorption effectively. We can often expose a small affected area with minor gum surgery, remove the harmful cells and fill any cavities with a tooth-colored filling. In some cases, we may recommend orthodontics beforehand to encourage a buildup of bone around the root by moving the affected tooth outward from the jawbone. If the resorption has affected the tooth pulp, you may also need a root canal treatment.

There is also the possibility with advanced resorption that the best course of action is to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant. So, keep up your regular dental visits—early detection and intervention can stop this destructive dental condition from destroying your tooth.

If you would like more information on root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
January 15, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: dental implants  
HowLongIstheImplantProcessItDependsonYourBoneHealth

If you're thinking about getting dental implants, you may be curious about how long it might take. The answer depends on the health of your supporting bone.

Bone is an integral part of implant functionality as bone cells gradually grow and adhere to the newly placed implant to give it its characteristic strength. The implant also requires an adequate amount of bone to accurately position it for the best appearance outcome.

If the bone is sufficient and healthy, we can proceed with the surgical placement of the implant. The most common practice following surgery is to allow a few weeks for the bone integration described previously to take place before finally attaching the crown. With an alternative known as a “tooth in one day” procedure, we install a crown right after surgery, which gives you a full smile when you leave.

There's one caveat to this latter method, though—because the implant still requires bone integration, this immediate crown is temporary. It's designed to receive no pressure from biting or chewing, which could damage the still integrating implant. We'll install the permanent crown after the implant and bone have had time to fully mesh.

So, if your supporting bone is sound, the complete implant process may only take a few weeks. But what if it's not—what if you've lost bone and don't have enough to support an implant? In that case, the length of process time depends on the severity of the bone loss and if we're able to overcome it. In some cases, we can't, which means we'll need to consider a different restoration.

But it's often possible to regenerate lost bone by grafting bone material at the implant site. If the bone loss is moderate, it may take 2 to 4 months of regrowth after grafting before we can perform implant surgery. If it's more significant or there's disease damage to the socket, it may take longer, usually 4 to 6 months. It largely depends on the rate of bone regeneration.

In a nutshell, then, the health of your jaw's supporting bone has a lot to do with whether the implant process will take a few weeks or a few months. Regardless of the time, though, you'll gain the same result—new, functional teeth and a more attractive smile.

If you would like more information on dental implant restorations, 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 “Implant Timelines for Replacing Missing Teeth.”