Typically, If you describe someone as being ‘long in the tooth’, you are saying derisively or humorously that they are old or aging.
However, there may be more at stake than hurt feelings.
Clinically speaking, having an unusually long tooth or teeth can be symptomatic of a much bigger problem. Gum disease.
My Tooth Became Really Big. Can You Help Me?
I saw this new patient last week, and she was correct. When you looked at her, all that you saw was one tooth. I don’t mean that one tooth was all that was present. She has many teeth that show when she smiles and talks. What I am referring to is one tooth that stands out more prominently than all of those around it. She was literally ‘long in the tooth’.
How did it stand out? First of all, it was much longer than the teeth on either side. It was her cuspid, or “eye tooth” as people commonly refer to it. The tooth is a large tooth, to begin with, but this was even larger and more prominent than we usually see.
The tooth was also pushed forward. When a front tooth is pushed forward, two things can result. First of all, the tooth may bite on the lower lip and therefore feel strange. It also causes a protrusion of the upper lip.
To top off these calls to attention by the tooth, the color of this tooth was whiter than the rest.
Gum Disease Spreading to the Bone
I recently wrote about shorter teeth. Shorter teeth come as the result of years and decades of wear of the biting surface as we get older. I also mentioned some teeth could do just the opposite. They appear to get longer as the gum and bone shrink a little away from the tooth.
My new patient was not an example of either scenario. Her tooth got much “longer” because of gum disease.
Gum disease starts in the gums and then spreads to the bone. This condition is a bacterial infection that will destroy the bone in which the tooth rests. If the disease damages all of the bone, then the tooth will become loose. If you are lucky enough, you won’t experience any pain, and one day, the tooth will fall out of your head. More likely than not, you will have swelling and discomfort requiring help from a professional to either save the tooth or remove it, depending on the severity of the situation.
A Good Analogy
Once the bone is attacked and slowly is destroyed, the tooth loses its primary stability. Let me give you an analogy. Think of a post implanted in the ground. If the earth is covering a good portion of the post, then the post remains stable. If the ground erodes away from the post and more post is above the surface than in the earth, instability will appear. The post will become movable, and if pressure is applied, it will no longer stand perfectly straight. It will start to lean to one side or the other.
The same thing happens to a tooth with gum disease, and this is what I saw in the mouth in question. Fortunately for her, the bone destruction did not extend significantly to the adjacent teeth. I recommended removing the tooth and replacing it.
As for the fact that this tooth was also whiter than the rest is because she had an old crown on the tooth. That crown matched her teeth years ago and was thus whiter. No matter how I replace the tooth, I would correct the color and make it match its neighbors.
So how did I plan on replacing the tooth after removal? Our choices were either a single implant or a permanent bridge which can’t come out.
After an evaluation, I recommended a bridge for two main reasons.
1. The first reason centers on the fact that the bone loss was resulting in the bone moving upwards. If I placed an implant, the resultant tooth would be very long.
Remember that was one of her initial concerns. A permanent bridge would deal with this long tooth issue better.
2. Secondly, I would utilize my “Same Day-Immediate Bridge” technique that I developed. It allows me to remove a tooth and provide a replacement in usually less than an hour. We did that, and she left with a stunning and much-improved smile.
Taking Advantage of Our “Better Than Insurance” Program
Best of all, she took advantage of our “Better than Insurance” program that I mentioned in the last couple of columns. Rules do apply, but she met all of the criteria and saved 20% of the fee. She looked terrific, and we saved her money! Another happy customer and a healthy smile!
Call Megan today at 440.951.7856 and find out about our “Better Than Insurance” initiative to save you money and preserve your smile for a lifetime.
Does it ever seem that your tooth size is longer or shorter than it was when you were younger? In this article, we explore the various reasons and causes of the changes in our tooth size.
Do our teeth get longer as we age?
There is an expression that I don’t hear that often anymore. The idiom is “long in the tooth.” This phrase is usually referring to someone getting older. It is based on the thought that teeth grow longer as we age.
Well, this is true when we are children and teens. As teeth start to come in or erupt, as we term it in dentistry, they appear to be growing.
They are not growing. In fact, when teeth are developing in the gums as children, they are adult size. As we get into our teen years, the teeth grow into the mouth. It appears that they are growing bigger, but in reality, they are just uncovering themselves from the gum tissue from which they were buried.
Less gum tissue = longer teeth
Teeth, for the most part, do not grow or move anymore once we reach our late teens. However, with time, gum tissues may shrink away from the tooth. Sometimes, we become very hard brushers and wear away our gum tissue. Gum tissue is fragile right around the tooth and can be easily brushed away. Now we see more enamel than we saw previously.
Other times, due to gum disease, a shrinkage of gum tissue may occur. This reduction happens as bacteria destroy the underlying bone and there is nothing to support the gum tissue.
In any of these cases, we see more tooth enamel. Making it appear that our teeth are longer than before. This condition occurs because more tooth is exposed above the gum line than what we may have observed in previous years.
Okay, I get it. As we get older, and our gums shrink, our teeth “appear” to get longer than they were in our youth. That’s what the idiom, “long in the tooth” means.
Why Are My Teeth So Short?
But wait! As we age, many of us see our teeth shorten. This phenomenon isn’t supposed to happen, is it? Well if the gum does not shrink away from the tooth, then the pseudo-growing phenomenon will not occur. That explains lack of getting bigger, but where does the shortness come from? Are the teeth shorter or do they just appear that way? Does it fool us as the tooth growing act fools us?
Our teeth DO shrink!
In reality, the teeth get shorter. It is not an optical illusion. The more we chew, the more our teeth wear.
Teeth are the hardest tissue in the body. They are denser than bone. It needs to be this hard as it is the first tissue encountered during the eating process. It needs to be very dense as it tears and grinds at food.
Ah, there is the answer to your question. We use our teeth to grind.
With modern dental care and a better understanding of what causes disease, we can keep our teeth for many years longer than previous generations. Because of this, we grind more food for more years. Over time, our teeth slowly wear away. If we are missing teeth, then the remaining ones work harder, grind more and end up wearing away more. This is how we get short teeth.
This condition is even more noticeable in the front of our mouths. Let me explain why this is so. The patient who asked me that question had their upper front teeth meet their lower front teeth. The teeth touched each other tip to tip. In dentistry, we call it “edge to edge.” Every time they chewed their food, not only did their back teeth grind, but their front teeth were grinding too.
Sounds great. After all, more teeth grinding is more efficient -right? Wrong!
The problem stems from the fact that the front teeth are narrow-edged. They are designed to tear, not to crush. When we use them to grind, they wear away very quickly. Grinding with our incisors creates short teeth and a loss of healthy cosmetics.
We identified the problems. Any solutions?
How do we fix this issue? I will give you some answers in our next column. Until then, if things are starting to change in your mouth and just don’t look right, please give me a call and ask me a question. I will do my best to help you. You can reach me at 440.951.7856
Do you find that you are always having issues maintaining your teeth properly? Have you resigned yourself to always having tooth decay? Do you dread visiting the dentist because of it? “I can’t help it! Soft teeth run in my family” While some factors in keeping your mouth healthy are not entirely left to your discretion, the fact remains, good oral health IS up to you.
“Your teeth look fantastic!”
That’s what I said to a patient last Friday morning as I finished her 6-month checkup and cleaning. This patient was seen all too often for decay, root canals, and crowns. It felt like every few months, she was calling with broken teeth and pain. What was her response to my comment? She showed me a great smile and said: “I started to floss”.
Nutrition isn’t the only consideration for a healthy snack
There’s actually a lot more to the story than that. She is actually a raisin lover. Every morning, it was Raisin Bran. Snacks all day long were raisins. Now don’t get me wrong. Raisins, or dried fruit in general, are great snacks to eat. Raisins are a snack rich in B vitamins, iron and potassium. Low in sodium, and high fiber is some of its other positive attributes. Besides nutrients, raisins are also a good source of carbohydrates for energy. Plus they are not loaded with all types of chemicals that we find in processed foods.
However, it is a sticky food. So all day long it sits and sticks in and around the teeth. This is a formula for disaster. This is especially true if we have a lot of fillings or as we age and expose more root surface. Therefore, removal of the sticky, sugary residue is paramount to reaping all of the health benefits of this great snack while minimizing its downside.
Good oral health is like a three legged stool
Health and particularly oral health is like a “three-legged stool”. You need all three legs for the stool to stand upright. If one of the legs is faulty the stool can not stand. It will topple over. Having a healthy oral environment is dependent on three factors as well. These factors of good oral health are not in any particular order as we talk about them.
Leg 1: Your diet
First of all, we need to watch what we eat. The texture and makeup of foods can promote or deter oral disease. Certain foods are more conducive to creating an environment where bad bacteria can survive and grow. These bacteria are the prime culprits in cavities and gum disease.
These bacteria love the sticky and gooey foods that we all enjoy. As long as the food is stuck in our mouths, these bacteria have a Thanksgiving Day feast. Unfortunately, we are stuck with the bad effects of this feast.
Leg 2: Oral hygiene
Related to the first one, the second leg of our good oral health stool involves oral hygiene. In fact, it helps control the first one if sticky foods are a large part of our diet. It is comprised of those activities and tools that we use to reducing the effect of foods on our teeth. It is our actions that we employ to keep our mouth clean.
Brushing, flossing, using an oral irrigating device are some of those activities that we utilize to attain a clean mouth. Even rinsing one’s mouth with water after eating can be beneficial in certain circumstances. Yes, anything is better than nothing, which means the more you clean, the cleaner and better your oral health can be. So frequency is also an important factor.
Leg 3: Our DNA and predispositions
While the first two legs, we can control entirely. The last supporting leg of our good oral health stool is our own genetic makeup. Our personal DNA composition and how prone we are to decay or gum disease. The reality is you may have a genetic predisposition to ‘soft teeth’ or ‘ bad gums’ which is detrimental to good oral health.
Well, that’s a bum rap! We can not control that at all. I believed that until I recently learned some new facts. I read and listen to a number of physicians. One of the latest trends in medicine is how lifestyle interacts with the cards that we are dealt with, in other words, our genetic makeup. I recently had a conversation with a cardiologist who told me that even though someone may have genes for heart issues, one’s habits and lifestyle may prevent those “bad” genes from ever turning on. In other words, create an environment where your genetic makeup has a minimal influence on bad things happening to you.
Regarding your oral health, this translates to proper diet, brushing well and often, and seeing a professional at the recommended intervals so you can control the age old “soft teeth” or “bad gums run in my family” issues. Staying away from junk and practicing cleanliness will do wonders for our oral health. In fact, that is a prescription for good overall health in general.
Control your dental destiny
So if you are searching for a way to change your dental future and control your dental destiny, please feel free to call me and let’s talk about it. Good oral health is achievable! My wonderful staff and I will do everything that we can to move you along the way to this goal. I can be reached at 440.951.7856 and look forward to speaking to you.