130 Thompson Poynter Road
London, KY 40741
Austin, Michael S D.D.S.
725 Kenton St
Bowling Green, KY, 42101-4917
Walker, Earl D D.D.S.
3036 Breckenridge Ln # 103
Louisville, KY, 40220-2196
MORTON FAMILY DENTISTRY PSC
822 N ELM STREET
HENDERSON, KY, 42419
Borden, Deborah R D.D.S.
1102 Woodland Dr
Elizabethtown, KY, 42701-2750
During a dental examination, the dentist examines the soft tissues of the mouth for any abnormalities or pathology (including oral cancer), the teeth for tooth decay or defects, the gum tissues for periodontal (gum) disease, the neck for swollen lymph nodes, the amount of plaque, tartar, and debris on teeth, as well as the need to replace any missing teeth or dental prostheses. Regular examinations by a dentistry professional are crucial to maintaining your dental health and are a necessity in any dental care plan.
Dentists begin the dental examination with a complete dental and medical history, including medications the patient is currently taking. The skin of the face and neck is examined for any abnormalities, especially pigment changes. The lymph nodes in front and behind the ears, under the floor of the mouth and chin, and the midline of the neck, sides, and back of the neck are palpated to determine if any swelling or tenderness is present.
Inside of the mouth, the lips, cheeks, gums, and roof of the mouth are inspected and palpated. During this process, the tip of the tongue is placed on the roof of the mouth just behind the upper teeth for inspection of the front floor of the mouth and sides of the tongue.
The back floor of the mouth, the area behind the lower wisdom teeth, and the back sides of the tongue are inspected by grasping the tip of the tongue with a small gauze sponge and pulling the tongue forward and toward the opposite side of the mouth.
To inspect the back of the throat, soft palate, and tonsil area (sides of the throat), the tongue is depressed with a dental mirror or tongue blade and then a deep breath is taken by the patient.
To detect swelling on the floor of the mouth, the area inside the mouth is felt with the finger of one hand while a finger of the other hand feels below the chin. Salivary gland enlargement, saliva flow, or xerostomia (dry mouth) are determined by milking the major salivary glands to assess the quantity and consistency of saliva.
Today's dentist has many analytic tools available to pinpoint dental and oral diseases. The basic tools are the dental instruments, lights, and radiographs (X-rays). Depending upon the dentist and the individual's dentistry needs, additional diagnostic tests are available. Testing for essential proteins and buffering capacity can evaluate the protective ability of saliva.
To determine tooth decay risks, microbiological testing of saliva can measure the level of decay-producing organisms. Periodontal susceptibility tests, which test for the DNA of gum disease-producing organisms, can be performed to assess an individual's risk for gum disease.
If removable dentures are present, dentists check them for bite, retention, stability, and overall fit. Dental impressions or models also may be taken to study the mouth and tooth structures to initiate fabrication of prostheses. Photographs may be exposed for a variety of reasons, including before and after treatment comparisons.
The level of oral hygiene and home dental care practices are assessed and reviewed. Recommendations for home care devices and products may be made. Instruction and methods for maintaining a good oral hygiene regimen can also take place.
Once basic information about dental health status is gathered, the dentist will be better able to discuss dental care plans that are available.
By Denise J. Fedele, DMD, MS
The term malocclusion literally means "bad bite." It is a generalized dental care term that refers to many different types of mal-relationships of the lower teeth to the upper teeth. In popular usage, any arrangement of the teeth that is at variance with a prescribed ideal is considered to be a malocclusion in dentistry. But that is an oversimplification because some occlusions that appear to be ideal may be in disharmony with the jaw joints (the TMJs). Such disharmony can be a source of many different problems with the teeth, the TMJs, or the jaw muscles. Even minute disharmonies of the bite can be a major factor in loosening the teeth, wearing away of the enamel, or fracturing off cusps. Other malocclusions can cause headaches or cause the teeth to be sore or sensitive to cold. Some malocclusions may be most noticeable because they result in an unattractive smile. Some severe malocclusions cause no discomfort whatsoever, while some minor bite problems can be a major source of pain.
Perhaps the best way to understand malocclusion is to understand what an ideal occlusion is. This understanding starts with a basic appreciation for how the jaw joints (the TMJs) function. The TMJs are important because they form the hinge for opening or closing the jaw. During closure in an ideal occlusion, the teeth should all contact simultaneously and with equal pressure when the jaw joints are fully seated up in their sockets. This harmony between the TMJs and the teeth is the most important requirement for a comfortable, stable bite. Any disharmony between the TMJs and the teeth requires the jaw muscles to hold the jaw joint out of its socket in order to completely close the teeth together. This type of malocclusion can cause many different problems but unfortunately the disharmony is easily missed unless the dentist is very careful in examining for it. It is commonly missed because the occlusion is examined visually without first verifying that the jaw joints are completely seated when the bite relationship is examined.
Depending on the type of malocclusion, correction of a bite disharmony requires careful selection from a variety of different treatment procedures. Even though principles of bite correction have been established with enough clarity to permit highly predictable results of comfort and stability, some dental educators claim that occlusal harmony is unimportant because the body can adapt. This viewpoint has resulted from a profuse amount of misinformation that has found its way into the literature. Patients with bite problems should feel free to ask the dentist to show them the problems that are resulting from the bad bite such as loose teeth, excessive tooth wear, or other visible signs, in addition to an understandable explanation of why the recommended treatment was selected.
The most common, and also the most practical methods for correcting most minor occlusal disharmonies is called occlusal equilibration. It involves direct reshaping of the biting surfaces by grinding and polishing selected tooth surfaces that interfere with comfortable jaw movements. When correctly done on properly selected patients, it is a conservative and effective treatment.
Some malocclusions may require more extensive treatment such as orthodontics. Teeth that are badly worn or that need the biting surfaces re-shaped may need dental crowns or other types of restorations. Surgical correction may be needed in some severe jaw misalignments to achieve the best result and appearance.
Most malocclusions can be corrected in a reversible trial approach by making a plastic appliance that fits over the teeth to change the biting surfaces so the jaw can close with even tooth contacts. These appliances are referred to as occlusal splints. A fancier name for them is "orthosis" but it means the same thing.
The important thing to understand about your bite is that you should be able to close your teeth together and squeeze very hard without causing any sign of tenderness or pain in any tooth or in the jaw joint. If you can't do this you probably have a malocclusion. You should know that the discomfort is almost always correctable with the right selection of treatment. Your dentist must also examine for other possible causes of pain that may exist in combination with your bite disorder. Nothing takes the place of a carefully made examination to determine the specific cause (or causes) for your discomfort.
By Peter E. Dawson, DDS