Radiographic (x-ray) images are an indispensible diagnostic tool in dentistry. One of the most routine and useful types of x-rays dentists take is the so-called bitewing. Here are some things you may want to know about this common diagnostic procedure.
What are bitewing x-rays?
Bitewings reveal the presence and extent of decay in the back teeth, specifically in areas where adjacent teeth touch each other. Unlike other areas of the teeth, these contacting surfaces between adjacent teeth can’t be examined visually. Bitewings can also show areas of bone loss around teeth — a sign of periodontal disease; however, they are not taken for that purpose because bitewings will not show the complete root surface that is surrounded by bone.
Why are they called that?
The name “bitewing” refers to how the film — or sensor, in the case of a digital x-ray — is positioned in the mouth: The patient bites down on a little tab or wing that holds the apparatus in place.
How often do I need them?
This is determined on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of not exposing you to any more radiation than necessary — even the minimal amount found in a series of bitewing x-rays. Your individual susceptibility to caries (tooth decay) and personal dental history will play a major role in determining how frequently you need radiographic examination — and, for that matter, how often you need to come in for routine cleanings and exams.
Are they safe?
The safety of bitewing x-rays is best illustrated with a comparison to the regular daily radiation exposure we get every day from environmental sources, which is about 0.01 millisieverts — the unit of measure we use for radiation. A series of 4 bitewing x-rays exposes you to 0.004 millisieverts of radiation — less than half of the daily exposure. Undetected tooth decay, which can spread quickly through the softer inner layers of teeth, is considered much more dangerous!
If a bitewing x-ray shows that there is tooth decay, what happens next?
If the cavity is very small, we may be able to treat it during the same appointment. If not, we will make a separate appointment to make sure it is taken care of promptly. The sooner tooth decay is treated, the better!
With a 95-plus percent survival rate after ten years, dental implants are one of the most durable replacement restorations available. Implants can potentially last much longer than less expensive options, which could make them a less costly choice in the long run.
But although a rare occurrence, implants can and do fail—often in the first few months. And tobacco smokers in particular make up a sizeable portion of these failures.
The reasons stem from smoking’s effect on oral health. Inhaled smoke can actually burn the outer skin layers in the mouth and eventually damage the salivary glands, which can decrease saliva production. Among its functions, saliva provides enzymes to fight disease; it also protects tooth enamel from damaging acid attacks. A chronic “dry mouth,” on the other hand, increases the risk of disease.
The chemical nicotine in tobacco also causes problems because it constricts blood vessels in the mouth and skin. The resulting reduced blood flow inhibits the delivery of antibodies to diseased or wounded areas, and so dramatically slows the healing process. As a result, smokers can take longer than non-smokers to recover from diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, or heal after surgery.
Both the higher disease risk and slower healing can impact an implant’s ultimate success. Implant durability depends on the gradual integration between bone and the implant’s titanium metal post that naturally occurs after placement. But this crucial process can be stymied if an infection resistant to healing arises—a primary reason why smokers experience twice the number of implant failures as non-smokers.
So, what should you do if you’re a smoker and wish to consider implants?
First, for both your general and oral health, try to quit smoking before you undergo implant surgery. At the very least, stop smoking a week before implant surgery and for two weeks after to lower your infection risk. And you can further reduce your chances for failure by practicing diligent daily brushing and flossing and seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
It’s possible to have a successful experience with implants even if you do smoke. But kicking the habit will definitely improve your odds.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 & Smoking.”
Accidents can happen to your mouth, especially if you have an active lifestyle. For example, a sudden blow to the jaw while playing sports or exercising could result in a chipped tooth. And, while the internal tooth structure may be fine, the effect on your appearance can be disheartening.
Fortunately, we have techniques and materials to restore your smile after an injury. Bonding with composite resin is one such procedure: it’s ideal for mild to moderate chipping, especially in highly visible front teeth.
Composite resin is a dental material made of various substances mixed to match the color and texture of natural teeth. The composite is usually made of inorganic glass filler blended with a plastic-based matrix and joined together with a chemical “coupling” agent. The ratio of filler to matrix will depend on the type of tooth and damage — for example, back teeth, which encounter higher biting forces, require a composite with more filler for added strength.
To begin the procedure, we first prepare the damaged tooth by applying microscopic etchings (often with a chemical solution) that create tiny depressions or “undercuts”: these help create a seamless bond between the composite and the natural tooth. We then apply the composite in layers with a bonding agent, building up layer upon layer until we’ve achieved the desired shape for the tooth involved.
Bonding with composite resins doesn’t require much tooth preparation, can be placed quickly and is relatively inexpensive. Because of the wide spectrum of color possibilities, composite resins are superior to traditional amalgam (metal) restorations in creating a more life-like appearance. Its application, however, can be limited by the amount of tooth structure needing to be replaced: because it isn’t as strong as the tooth structure it replaces, the more tooth structure the bonded composite resin attempts to replace the less likely it can stand up over time to normal bite forces.
Still, composite resins are ideal for mild to moderate damage or disfigurement. If you’ve suffered such an injury, be sure to visit us to see if bonding with life-like composites is the right solution for restoring your smile.
If you would like more information on bonding with composite resins, 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 “Repairing Chipped Teeth.”
When they’re introducing a new movie, actors often take a moment to pay tribute to the people who helped make it happen — like, you know, their dentists. At least that’s what Charlize Theron did at the premiere of her new spy thriller, Atomic Blonde.
"I just want to take a quick moment to thank my dentists," she told a Los Angeles audience as they waited for the film to roll. "I don’t even know if they’re here, but I just want to say thank you."
Why did the starring actress/producer give a shout-out to her dental team? It seems she trained and fought so hard in the action sequences that she actually cracked two teeth!
“I had severe tooth pain, which I never had in my entire life,” Theron told an interviewer from Variety. At first, she thought it was a cavity — but later, she found out it was more serious: One tooth needed a root canal, and the other had to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant — but first, a bone grafting procedure was needed. “I had to put a donor bone in [the jaw] to heal,” she noted, “and then I had another surgery to put a metal screw in there.”
Although it might sound like the kind of treatment only an action hero would need, bone grafting is now a routine part of many dental implant procedures. The reason is that without a sufficient volume of good-quality bone, implant placement is difficult or impossible. That’s because the screw-like implant must be firmly joined with the jawbone, so it can support the replacement tooth.
Fortunately, dentists have a way to help your body build new bone: A relatively small amount of bone material can be placed in the missing tooth’s socket in a procedure called bone grafting. This may come from your own body or, more likely, it may be processed bone material from a laboratory. The donor material can be from a human, animal or synthetic source, but because of stringent processing techniques, the material is safe for human use. Once it is put in place your body takes over, using the grafted material as a scaffold on which to build new bone cells. If jawbone volume is insufficient for implants, it can often be restored to a viable point in a few months.
Better yet, when grafting material is placed in the tooth socket immediately after extraction, it can keep most of the bone loss from occurring in the first place, enabling an implant to be placed as soon as possible — even before the end of a movie’s shooting schedule.
Will Atomic Blonde prove to be an action-movie classic? Only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: When Charlize Theron walks down the red carpet, she won’t have to worry about a gap in her smile.
If you have questions about bone grafting or dental implants, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Immediate Dental Implant.”
Could your gums be trying to tell you that something is wrong?
Gum disease affects about half of American adults, says the CDC. This condition is also the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. Providing your smile with the proper oral hygiene it requires day in and day out is paramount to keeping gums healthy. Of course, gum disease is known as the silent disease because symptoms don’t usually manifest right away. So, how can you tell that you have gum disease? You might not! This is why visiting our La Grange, IL, dentists Dr. Carolyn Bronke and Dr. Josephine Puleo every six months for cleanings and checkups is so important for your oral health.
What are the symptoms of gum disease?
Again, symptoms don’t usually appear in the very beginning stages of gum disease so if you are noticing any of the symptoms below then it’s more likely that the gum disease is in a more advanced stage and will require an immediate assessment from our La Grange, IL, general dentists:
- Red or swollen gums
- Bleeding gums, particularly when brushing or flossing
- Gums that are tender to the touch
- Receding gums (will make teeth appear longer than usual)
- Chronic bad breath
- Feeling as if your teeth don’t fit together when you bite
Unfortunately, many people don’t even realize that they have gum disease until it’s too late. This is why visiting your dentist every six months is often the only way to detect it during its earliest stages. If gum disease is discovered when it’s still only gingivitis it can be reversed.
Of course, even if the problem isn’t found until it’s already become full-blown periodontal disease, a simple non-surgical treatment known as scaling and root planing can often treat the problem and reduce your risk for tooth loss and other complications.
How do I prevent gum disease?
Your at-home oral care routine is paramount to protecting the health of your teeth and gums. There are simple things you should do every day to protect your gums from gum disease such as:
- Brush twice a day
- Floss daily
- Use a mouthwash
- Quit smoking
- Limit sugar
- Drink enough water
If you are noticing receding gums or other warning signs of gum disease, or if it’s just time to schedule your routine dental checkup, then it’s the perfect time to call our La Grange, IL, dental office to schedule an appointment.
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