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Socket Preservation

January 12th, 2023

Dental implants are a marvel! They look just like your natural teeth, and, even better, they function just like your natural teeth. So, when you’re planning on a dental implant after an extraction, you want to make sure that your implant has the best chance of success—and we do, too. That’s why we might recommend a socket preservation procedure, where socket grafting takes place immediately after your extraction.

What is a socket graft, and what does it “preserve”? Let’s take a closer look.

Socket Preservation—A Logical Choice After Extraction

You’ve decided on a dental implant for some excellent reasons.

  • A missing tooth can change the appearance of your smile.
  • Your remaining teeth might shift to fill the empty space, causing alignment and bite problems.
  • A lost tooth affects the amount, shape, and health of the bone surrounding your teeth.

No one wants to lose a tooth, but sometimes, due to injury or decay, an extraction is the only choice for your oral health. After your tooth is extracted, if the socket bone holding the tooth is perfectly healthy and the extraction is a simple one, we might be able to place an implant post in the socket right away.

But often, bone needs time to heal before placing an implant post, and you risk losing the bone size and density you need to make a future implant possible. How can you lose bone? That’s an unfortunate consequence of losing teeth. Teeth are important not just because they let us eat comfortably—they also help maintain bone health.

Without the stimulation of biting and chewing, the bone beneath the teeth begins a process called resorption. As older cells are absorbed back into the body, new bone cells aren’t produced as quickly to replace them. The alveolar bone, the thick ridge of the jaw which holds our sockets, shrinks in size. As the bone gets smaller, gum tissue shrinks around it, causing a sunken spot where your tooth used to be.

For a dental implant to anchor successfully in the jawbone, you need healthy bone that is high enough, wide enough, and dense enough to hold the implant post securely as it fuses with the bone.

A socket graft at the time of extraction provides two important benefits: grafting material fills the empty socket immediately, preserving the bone and gum area around it, and the graft material acts as scaffolding for new bone growth, creating a firm, dense foundation for your implant.

Grafting materials are gradually and safely absorbed as your new, healthy bone tissue replaces them. The result, after several months of healing, is an alveolar ridge with normal height and width and with the density needed to anchor an implant successfully.

The Grafting Procedure

Grafting material comes in different forms, including allografts (made from donor bone), synthetic grafts (made from synthetic materials which function like bone tissue), and autografts (bone taken from your own body). Growth factors may also be included in the grafting material to encourage new cell growth. Dr. Michelle Slezewski and Dr. Paul Engibous will recommend the type of graft which will work best for you.

A socket preservation procedure will frequently involve the following steps:

  • Local anesthesia to numb the area before your extraction. You might choose sedation options as well, which we’re happy to discuss with you in advance.
  • Careful cleaning of the site after the tooth is extracted.
  • Filling the empty socket with bone grafting material.
  • Placing a barrier or membrane over the graft to protect it as it heals.
  • Suturing the surrounding gum tissue.

Aftercare Treatment

Aftercare treatment for a socket graft is a lot like the treatment for a tooth extraction. You’ll need to be careful around the graft area for several days as it heals, and we’ll give you specific instructions for your recovery. Normally, these may include:

  • Don’t disturb or touch the area. Even pulling on lips or mouth to look at the site can put stress on your sutures.
  • Immediately after the procedure, we can give you suggestions for reducing swelling and managing any pain you might be feeling.
  • We’ll let you know when and how to rinse your mouth clean and when you can return to brushing. And no spitting!
  • Eat carefully. We might recommend a liquid diet for a few days before transitioning to bland and cool soft foods. We’ll let you know the best diet for the period after your surgery. Don’t use a straw for your liquid diet, because suction can interfere with the wound.
  • Treat yourself carefully for a few days by avoiding strenuous activities, including workouts.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking interferes with the healing process, and the suction involved does your graft no favors either.
  • Visit our Anchorage, AK office for follow up appointments as recommended. We’ll monitor your healing, and give you a timeline for your future implant.

Preserving your socket now instead of repairing it later has many advantages. Immediate placement of a graft protects bone size and density, eliminates the need for a potential bone grafting procedure in the future, and makes it possible for you to enjoy the natural look and feel of a dental implant as soon as possible. If you have an extraction scheduled, let’s discuss why socket preservation might be your best path to an efficient, timely, and successful dental implant.

Let's Talk About Your Roots!

January 5th, 2023

You’ve learned a lot from your dentist and your family about how to take care of your teeth. You brush and floss, you wear a mouthguard when you’re active, and you have regular checkups and cleanings at our Anchorage, AK office.

And everything you’re doing is wonderful! The smile you see each day in the mirror reflects your hard work.

But what about the part of your smile you can’t see? Let’s take a look beneath the surface, and talk about your roots.

While our teeth look solid from the outside, there’s really a lot going on inside each tooth.

  • The outside of every tooth is covered with a hard protective surface.

Enamel is the hardest material in our bodies, and covers the crown. This is the part of the tooth we can see above our gums.

Our roots are hidden below our gums, and are covered with cementum instead of enamel. Cementum is hard, but it’s not nearly as strong as enamel.

  • Just below a tooth’s enamel and cementum layers, we have dentin.

Dentin is a hard tissue, only a little softer than enamel. Most of our tooth is made of dentin. It surrounds and helps protect the center of the tooth and supports the enamel and cementum on the outside.

  • Inside the center of each tooth, there’s an area called the pulp chamber.

The pulp holds tiny blood vessels and nerves. The blood vessels give the pulp nutrients, and the nerves are the reason that our teeth can feel sensitivity or pain.

Inside the roots, we also find pulp in the root canals. These canals are very small tunnels that run from the pulp chamber down through the root, ending in a tiny hole in the tip of the root. Blood vessels and nerves running through the canals connect the pulp tissue to our bodies’ blood and nervous systems.

Around your roots, there’s a lot going on, too. Smaller teeth like the incisors, our front teeth, usually have only one root. Bigger teeth, like molars, usually have two or three roots. And while you’re busy biting and chewing, what’s holding these roots in place?

  • In your jaws, you have a spot where each tooth fits called a socket. But your tooth roots don’t just sit in the socket. That wouldn’t be very secure!
  • Instead, you have a periodontal ligament surrounding the roots of each tooth. Think of the ligament as groups of tissue fibers that can attach to both the cementum on your root and the bone in your jaw. This double attachment holds your teeth firmly in place. The ligament also helps cushion your teeth from the heavy pressures of chewing.
  • To make things even safer for your roots, your gums help cover them and protect them from bacteria and decay.

As you can see, your body is working hard to protect your roots. What’s the best thing you can do to keep your roots healthy? Do everything you’re already doing!

  • Keep up with your brushing and flossing, and your visits to our office. These good habits protect the teeth and gums you can see, and also the roots that you can’t see.
  • Avoid oral habits that put lots of pressure on your teeth and roots. Biting down on pencils, or ice, or nut shells, or anything not meant for regular eating means you’re risking a cracked tooth.
  • Be safe! Wear your mouthguard when you’re active.
  • Don’t wait to tell your adult if your tooth hurts. Remember, those nerves inside your teeth and roots are there to warn you if your tooth is damaged. Dr. Michelle Slezewski and Dr. Paul Engibous will be able to find out what’s wrong and have you feeling better in no time.

Even though you can’t see them, your roots are one important reason you have your beautiful smile. Taking good care of your teeth now is a way to make sure you have beautiful, healthy smiles for a lifetime!

Is Coffee Damaging Your Smile?

January 5th, 2023

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. Many people have a cup, or two, or even three a day. It’s common to drink it in the morning to wake up and get ready for the day, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or just to catch up with a coworker or friend.

These days there are many different kinds of coffee flavors to enjoy, so it’s almost impossible for a person not to like it. But as delicious as coffee is, it’s worthwhile to be aware of the effects it has on our dental health.

Coffee contains a lot of tannic acid, which is what causes its dark color. Tannic acid ingrains itself into the grooves of tooth enamel, and that leads to serious stains. In addition to containing tannic acid, the fact that coffee is generally served very hot makes your teeth expand and contract, which allows the stains to penetrate even farther into the enamel.

Dr. Michelle Slezewski and Dr. Paul Engibous and our team know it’s not easy to kick the caffeine habit. If you find yourself needing a cup of joe every day, here are some helpful tips to consider:

  • Switch to decaf coffee.
  • Make it a habit to drink a glass of water with your coffee to rinse away the acid.
  • Try enjoying your coffee with a straw so the tannic acid makes less contact with your front and lower teeth.
  • Pop in a piece of gum after your coffee to help prevent a dry mouth.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you might find that setting a limit on the number of cups of coffee you have per week or even per day can be helpful. You are always welcome to contact our Anchorage, AK office to discuss potential whitening options as well. We’re here to help!

What is an Impacted Tooth?

December 29th, 2022

You may have heard this term the first time you or a friend got your wisdom teeth. That makes sense, as wisdom teeth are the teeth most often impacted in teenagers and young adults. But other permanent teeth can be impacted as well. What exactly do we mean by “impacted teeth,” and what can we do to treat them?

The term “impacted” means that somehow a tooth has been blocked from erupting properly. A tooth may be completely blocked by another tooth, erupt in the wrong space, or even come in from the wrong direction. Depending on the teeth involved, there are several different options for treatment.

From Baby Teeth to Permanent Teeth

Normally, when children lose a baby tooth, a permanent tooth is right there, ready to take its place. But teeth don’t always behave according to plan. Occasionally, that baby tooth just won’t budge, and the permanent tooth starts to erupt behind it. When this happens, a simple baby tooth extraction will often let the permanent tooth move into its proper position on schedule.

A more complicated situation develops when upper teeth are impacted because there isn’t enough space in the mouth for them. In this case, a device called a palatal expander might be used to gradually widen the upper jaw to allow the permanent teeth to erupt without crowding.

In other rare cases, a tooth (often the canine) fails to erupt and may require oral surgery to uncover it, followed by orthodontic treatment to guide it into position.

Impacted teeth can result from other causes as well, and every impacted tooth should be treated as quickly as possible. Left untreated, the teeth can fail to erupt at all or erupt in the wrong place, crowd other permanent teeth, damage the roots of the teeth near them, and lead to difficulties eating and dental pain.

Wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth are often a problem because there is simply not enough room in the jaw for them.

Wisdom teeth that are completely impacted (still in the jawbone) can sometimes be left alone if they aren’t causing other problems. But if impacted wisdom teeth develop cysts, affect the teeth around them, or lead to other dental complications, they should be extracted.

Partially erupted teeth, those that have begun to emerge through the gums but don’t erupt fully, can be the source of different gum and tooth problems. Because the gum tissue overlaps the tooth, food particles and bacteria can become trapped, leading to rapid tooth decay and even infection. In this case, extraction is probably the best option.

Be Proactive

The term “impacted” actually comes from the Latin root meaning “pushed against.” But teeth that don’t erupt at the right time, in the right place, can have a different kind of impact on dental health and appearance. And the earlier we can catch these problems, the easier it is to treat them.

Regular exams and X-rays with Dr. Michelle Slezewski and Dr. Paul Engibous at our Anchorage, AK office will show the progress of the teeth even before they erupt, and if there will be the space for them to fit in the mouth properly. We may recommend a visit to the orthodontist by the age of seven to see if there are any signs of potential orthodontic problems.

Intervention at an early stage can prevent potential problems from becoming major ones. That is why it’s so important to be proactive when teeth are erupting in children and young adults. After all, a healthy, confident smile makes a real impact!