Lansing's Dental Discussion
By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
March 13, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: dental implants   Dentures  

Some patients who wear dentures face a kind of Catch-22: their denture fit may have loosened and become uncomfortable over time due to continued bone loss, yet the same bone loss prevents them from obtaining dental implants, a superior tooth replacement system to dentures.

But there may be a solution to this dilemma that combines the stability of implants with a removable denture. A set of smaller diameter implants — “mini-implants” — can support a removable denture with less bone than required by a conventional implant.

Like all living tissue, bone has a life cycle: after a period of growth, the older bone dissolves and is absorbed by the body, a process known as resorption. The forces generated when we bite or chew are transmitted by the teeth to the jawbones, which stimulates new bone formation to replace the resorbed bone. When the teeth are lost, however, the stimulation is lost too; without it, resorption will eventually outpace bone growth and repair, causing the bone mass to shrink.

Removable dentures also can’t supply the missing stimulation — bone loss continues as if the dentures weren’t there; and due to the compressive forces of a denture, bone loss accelerates. As the jawbone structure used to originally form the denture’s fit eventually shrinks, the denture becomes loose and difficult to wear. It’s possible to adjust to the new jaw contours by relining the dentures with new material or creating a new set of dentures that match the current bone mass. Without adequate bone, fixed crowns or bridges anchored by conventional implants may also be out of the picture.

On the other hand, mini-implants with their smaller diameter need less bone than the traditional implant. A few strategically placed within the jaw are strong and stable enough to support a removable denture. One other advantage: these mini-implants can be installed in one visit with local anesthesia and usually without the need for incisions or stitches.

If you would like more information on dentures supported by mini-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 “The ‘Great’ Mini-Implant.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
February 26, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures

It might seem that supermodels have a fairly easy life — except for the fact that they are expected to look perfect whenever they’re in front of a camera. Sometimes that’s easy — but other times, it can be pretty difficult. Just ask Chrissy Teigen: Recently, she was in Bangkok, Thailand, filming a restaurant scene for the TV travel series The Getaway, when some temporary restorations (bonding) on her teeth ended up in her food.

As she recounted in an interview, “I was… like, ‘Oh my god, is my tooth going to fall out on camera?’ This is going to be horrible.” Yet despite the mishap, Teigen managed to finish the scene — and to keep looking flawless. What caused her dental dilemma? “I had chipped my front tooth so I had temporaries in,” she explained. “I’m a grinder. I grind like crazy at night time. I had temporary teeth in that I actually ground off on the flight to Thailand.”

Like stress, teeth grinding is a problem that can affect anyone, supermodel or not. In fact, the two conditions are often related. Sometimes, the habit of bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding) occurs during the day, when you’re trying to cope with a stressful situation. Other times, it can occur at night — even while you’re asleep, so you retain no memory of it in the morning. Either way, it’s a behavior that can seriously damage your teeth.

When teeth are constantly subjected to the extreme forces produced by clenching and grinding, their hard outer covering (enamel) can quickly start to wear away. In time, teeth can become chipped, worn down — even loose! Any dental work on those teeth, such as fillings, bonded areas and crowns, may also be damaged, start to crumble or fall out. Your teeth may become extremely sensitive to hot and cold because of the lack of sufficient enamel. Bruxism can also result in headaches and jaw pain, due in part to the stress placed on muscles of the jaw and face.

You may not be aware of your own teeth-grinding behavior — but if you notice these symptoms, you might have a grinding problem. Likewise, after your routine dental exam, we may alert you to the possibility that you’re a “bruxer.” So what can you do about teeth clenching and grinding?

We can suggest a number of treatments, ranging from lifestyle changes to dental appliances or procedures. Becoming aware of the behavior is a good first step; in some cases, that may be all that’s needed to start controlling the habit. Finding healthy ways to relieve stress — meditation, relaxation, a warm bath and a soothing environment — may also help. If nighttime grinding keeps occurring, an “occlusal guard” (nightguard) may be recommended. This comfortable device is worn in the mouth at night, to protect teeth from damage. If a minor bite problem exists, it can sometimes be remedied with a simple procedure; in more complex situations, orthodontic work might be recommended.

Teeth grinding at night can damage your smile — but you don’t have to take it lying down! If you have questions about bruxism, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
February 18, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: dental implants  

An estimated 35 million people in the United States are missing all of their teeth on at least one jaw. Your situation may not be as serious — perhaps you've only lost one tooth. But even one missing tooth could eventually impact the health of underlying bone or other teeth — and it can certainly mar an otherwise attractive smile.

Depending on other health factors, you could be an ideal candidate for a dental implant to replace that missing tooth. Since their introduction in the 1980s, implants have rapidly become the popular choice for tooth replacement. They've gained this popularity for several reasons: they're a life-like replacement that also functions like a tooth; they're adaptable to a variety of situations; and they enjoy a 95%-plus success rate.

The key to their success lies in their unique construction: they replace the tooth root, not just the crown. They accomplish this through a metal titanium post imbedded directly into the bone. The titanium attracts bone cells, which eventually grow and adhere to the post to anchor the implant securely in the jaw. This growth also deters bone loss that occurs after tooth loss and continues after acquiring other forms of removable restorations like full or partial dentures.

If implants have one drawback, though, it's their cost, especially if you have multiple lost teeth. The good news if you're missing several teeth is that each tooth does not need an implant due to their inherent strength. As few as two implants could replace three to four missing teeth or play a role as supports for other restorations like removable dentures. Some of the implants' other benefits will also carry over, including enhanced bone health.

To determine if dental implants are a good choice for your missing teeth, you'll need to undergo an evaluation of your individual dental condition (including bone health). From there we can advise you on whether implants could change your dental health and your smile.

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 101.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
February 03, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  

As dentists, we often see other mouth problems besides those with teeth and gums. One of the most common is cracking around the corners of the mouth. Although usually not serious, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.

Medically known as angular cheilitis (literally “an inflammation of the angles of the lip”), it’s also called perleche, derived from the French lecher, “to lick.” The latter moniker aptly describes the tendency of sufferers to compulsively lick the sores to relieve irritation, which actually can make things worse.

Perleche has a number of possible causes, mostly from in or around the mouth (although systemic diseases or medications can cause it on rare occasions). It’s often found among younger people who drool during sleep or older people with deep wrinkles along the sides of the mouth that increase the chances of dryness and cracking. Long-term wind or cold exposure, ill-fitting dentures or a lack of back teeth (which help support facial structure) may also contribute to the condition.

Patients with perleche can also develop yeast infections from a strain called candida albicans. The infection can spread through the whole mouth, significantly increasing the chances of physical discomfort.

Treating perleche often involves topical ointments with inflammation-reducing steroids and zinc oxide, which has antifungal properties, to provide an environmental barrier during the healing process. If a yeast infection occurs, we may treat it with oral or topical antifungal medication like Nystatin for the whole mouth and chlorhexidine rinses, which has antibacterial properties.

It also helps to adopt a few preventive measures that can minimize the occurrence of perleche. If you wear dentures, for example, cleaning them often (including, if necessary, with chlorhexidine) and leaving them out at night reduces bacterial and fungal growth. We can also see if your dentures are fitting properly. Replacing missing teeth provides better facial support and could minimize wrinkling around the mouth. And, of course, keeping up daily brushing and flossing helps ensure a healthy and disease-free mouth.

If you’re experiencing cracked mouth corners, let us know at your next appointment. With our help and of other medical professionals we may be able to give you relief from this irritating condition.

If you would like more information on gaining relief from angular cheilitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
January 19, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  

As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.

We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.

But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum.  Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.

But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.

That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.

There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.

The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.

If you would like more information on preventing and treating tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
January 04, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures

Let’s say you’re traveling to Italy to surprise your girlfriend, who is competing in an alpine ski race… and when you lower the scarf that’s covering your face, you reveal to the assembled paparazzi that one of your front teeth is missing. What will you do about this dental dilemma?

Sound far-fetched? It recently happened to one of the most recognized figures in sports — Tiger Woods. There’s still some uncertainty about exactly how this tooth was taken out: Was it a collision with a cameraman, as Woods’ agent reported… or did Woods already have some problems with the tooth, as others have speculated? We still don’t know for sure, but the big question is: What happens next?

Fortunately, contemporary dentistry offers several good solutions for the problem of missing teeth. Which one is best? It depends on each individual’s particular situation.

Let’s say that the visible part of the tooth (the crown) has been damaged by a dental trauma (such as a collision or a blow to the face), but the tooth still has healthy roots. In this case, it’s often possible to keep the roots and replace the tooth above the gum line with a crown restoration (also called a cap). Crowns are generally made to order in a dental lab, and are placed on a prepared tooth in a procedure that requires two office visits: one to prepare the tooth for restoration and to make a model of the mouth and the second to place the custom-manufactured crown and complete the restoration. However, in some cases, crowns can be made on special machinery right in the dental office, and placed during the same visit.

But what happens if the root isn’t viable — for example, if the tooth is deeply fractured, or completely knocked out and unable to be successfully re-implanted?

In that case, a dental implant is probably the best option for tooth replacement. An implant consists of a screw-like post of titanium metal that is inserted into the jawbone during a minor surgical procedure. Titanium has a unique property: It can fuse with living bone tissue, allowing it to act as a secure anchor for the replacement tooth system. The crown of the implant is similar to the one mentioned above, except that it’s made to attach to the titanium implant instead of the natural tooth.

Dental implants look, function and “feel” just like natural teeth — and with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Although they may be initially expensive, their quality and longevity makes them a good value over the long term. A less-costly alternative is traditional bridgework — but this method requires some dental work on the adjacent, healthy teeth; plus, it isn’t expected to last as long as an implant, and it may make the teeth more prone to problems down the road.

What will the acclaimed golfer do? No doubt Tiger’s dentist will help him make the right tooth-replacement decision.

If you have a gap in your grin — whatever the cause — contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation, and find out which tooth-replacement system is right for you. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Crowns & Bridgework.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
December 20, 2017
Category: Oral Health

With a 95%-plus success rate, dental implants are an effective and durable replacement for lost teeth. But we can't place them and forget them: if you don't clean and maintain them they could fail as a result of disease.

The inorganic materials that make up the implant aren't in danger of infection. But the living gums and bone that surround and support the implant are at risk. In fact, there's a particular periodontal (gum) disease involving implants called peri-implantitis (“peri” – around; implant “itis” – inflammation).

Peri-implantitis begins when the gum tissues around the implant become infected and inflamed. This happens most commonly because plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, builds up on implant surfaces. Another less frequent cause is a buildup of excess cement used to bond the crown to the implant. We need to remove the built-up plaque or the excess cement during your dental visit.

If the infection isn't treated or you don't keep up effective, daily hygiene practices, the infection can grow and extend deeper into the tissues and finally the bone. This can destroy the all-important integration of bone and metal titanium post that has created the implant's strong hold. When that support becomes compromised the implant can lose its attachment and, if untreated, eventually fail.

It's important to keep an eye out for any indications you may have a gum infection around an implant. Look for redness, swelling, bleeding or pus formation. If the implant feels loose, this may mean that extensive bone loss has already occurred. If you encounter any of these signs, see us immediately for an examination.

The best approach, though, is to prevent peri-implantitis in the first place. So, brush and floss daily around your implant as you do your natural teeth. And be sure you keep up regular dental cleanings and checkups.

With proper care and maintenance you can avoid problems with disease that could affect your implant. Healthy gums and bone will ensure your implant will last for many decades to come.

If you would like more information on preventing disease involving your dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
December 05, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  

More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.

You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.

This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.

There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.

In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.

If you would like more information on preventing and treating tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
November 20, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  

“Less is more” is a truism for much of life. It’s also an important feature of an emerging approach to treating tooth decay known as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).

MID updates another revolution in dental care that occurred in the early 1900s. Treating decay took a quantum leap thanks to techniques developed by Dr. G. V. Black, considered the father of modern dentistry. Dr. Black’s approach (known as “extension for prevention”) involved not only removing decayed tooth structure, but also adjacent areas deemed vulnerable to decay, which made them easier to clean. On the downside, though, it also created larger than normal fillings.

As the practice prevailed through much of the Twentieth Century another weakness became apparent—the approach could not guarantee a treated tooth would not experience decay again. This became the real impetus toward MID—to find more comprehensive ways to treat decay with as little impact on the tooth structure as possible.

These efforts received a real boost from emerging technology. This was especially true in diagnostics with the rise of new devices like intraoral cameras and techniques like laser fluorescence that can enable dentists to detect decay much earlier. It’s now possible to catch the disease at an earlier stage before substantial damage to the tooth occurs.

MID has also led to new treatments that preserve more of the tooth structure. Traditional drilling is increasingly giving way to air abrasion, the use of a fine particle stream of aluminum oxide, glass beads or baking soda directed precisely at decayed structure and minimizing damage to healthy structure. We’re also using new filling materials like composite resin for restorations after treatment that are strong yet still life-like and attractive.

We also can’t forget the role of the twin daily hygiene practices brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the main source of dental disease. And regular dental cleanings and checkups round out the MID approach, helping to ensure that decay doesn’t get too far. The end result of this revolutionary approach: your teeth can experience less impact from treatment and remain healthier and more attractive in the long-run.

If you would like more information on minimally invasive dental care, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is more.”

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