My Blog

By Okabe Dental Arts
October 19, 2016
Category: Oral Health

Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.

In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.

Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.

What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.

A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”

By Okabe Dental Arts
October 11, 2016
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: braces   tooth extraction  

We treat most malocclusions (bad bites) with braces or clear aligners. But not all malocclusions are alike — some can require extra procedures to achieve successful results.

One such example is when incoming teeth crowd other teeth and cause them to erupt abnormally. The crowding also reduces the space needed to move the misaligned teeth to better positions. To make more room we'll often remove some of the teeth before undertaking orthodontics.

The key is to extract the right teeth. The best candidates are those whose absence will have minimal effect on both appearance and dental function. That's commonly the bicuspids, located right on the edge of the “smile zone” (the teeth most visible when we smile) between the cuspid (eye) teeth and the back molars.

Once we choose and remove the teeth our next concern is to protect the bone at the extraction site. The bone in our jaws benefits from the pressure created when we bite or chew. This stimulates new bone cells to form and replace older cells. Without it, as when we have a missing tooth, the amount of bone can diminish over time and affect the success of any future orthodontics.

To prevent this, we take care not to damage the gums and bone removing the tooth. We may also install a graft under the empty socket to encourage bone growth.

If we've removed teeth outside the smile zone, the resulting orthodontics will move teeth into the opened space. In the end, you won't even notice they're gone. Teeth lost or congenitally missing in the smile zone, though, may eventually require a replacement tooth. A dental implant is the best choice, but it should be put on hold for a younger person until their jaw has fully developed.

In the meantime, we can install a spacer or a temporary restoration to hold the empty space and prevent other teeth from drifting into it. This can be incorporated into braces or aligners, or with a removable partial denture or a temporary modified bridge.

Extracting teeth to aid orthodontics first requires a well-laid plan that could encompass several years. The end result, though, can be well worth the time and effort — better function and a new, attractive smile.

If you would like more information on the process of straightening teeth, 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 “Tooth Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”

By Okabe Dental Arts
October 03, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: sensitive teeth  

If you're one of over 30% of Americans who wince in pain when eating and drinking certain foods and beverages, you may have tooth sensitivity. Although there are a number of possible causes, the most common place to look first is tooth dentin.

Lying just under the enamel, dentin consists of tiny tubules that transmit sensations like pressure or temperature variation to the nerves of the inner pulp. The enamel, the gums and a covering on the roots called cementum help dampen these sensations.

But over-aggressive brushing or periodontal (gum) disease can cause the gums to shrink back (recede) and expose the dentin below the gum line; it can also cause cementum to erode from the roots. This exposure amplifies sensations to the nerves. Now when you eat or drink something hot or cold or simply bite down, the nerves inside the dentin receive the full brunt of the sensation and signal pain.

Enamel erosion can also expose dentin, caused by mouth acid in contact with the enamel for prolonged periods. Acid softens the minerals in enamel, which then dissolve (resorb) into the body. Acid is a byproduct of bacteria which live in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth due to poor oral hygiene. Mouth acid may also increase from gastric reflux or consuming acidic foods or beverages.

Once we pinpoint the cause of your tooth sensitivity we can begin proper treatment, first and foremost for any disease that's a factor. If you have gum disease, we focus on removing bacterial plaque (the cause for the infection) from all tooth and gum surfaces. This helps stop gum recession, but advanced cases may require grafting surgery to cover the root surfaces.

You may also benefit from other measures to reduce sensitivity: applying less pressure when you brush; using hygiene products like toothpastes that block sensations to the dentin tubules or slow nerve action; and receiving additional fluoride to strengthen enamel.

There are effective ways to reduce your tooth sensitivity. Determining which to use in your case will depend on the cause.

If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”


If you're in need of a crown to cover a damaged tooth, you have a lot of options. But before you choose, you need to know what you want. Would you be happy with an affordable, well-fitting crown that holds up well and allows you to chew comfortably? Or are you interested in a more expensive one that also provides the most attractive result?

Crowns have been a mainstay in dentistry for generations. The first were made of metals like gold or silver — durable and effective but not very attractive.

In time, a ceramic material known as dental porcelain began to make its appearance in crowns. Dental porcelain could be fashioned to resemble the color and texture of natural teeth, but it had a significant drawback: it could be brittle and subject to shattering under chewing pressure.

This problem was somewhat addressed with the innovation of a crown with a metal substructure fused with an outer layer of porcelain. These porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns combined the best advantages of both materials: strength and life-likeness. Up until around the mid-2000s, PFM made up over 80% of crowns.

But later porcelains continued to improve in strength, beginning in 1993 with the introduction of a Lucite-reinforced material. Newer formulations like lithium disilicate or zirconium oxide (now considered the strongest porcelain) have made all-porcelain crowns a viable option. Today, an estimated 60% of new crowns are all-porcelain.

From an appearance standpoint, all-porcelain crowns achieve the best results. The most realistic crown can be costly — not because of the material but the level of artistry required. A skilled dental technician will spend several hours, including brushing on as many as fifteen coats of liquid porcelain to the crown, to achieve the most life-like outcome. Your insurance plan, if you have one, will most likely not pay as high a percentage for that type of crown.

In the end, it's your decision as to what type of crown you wish to have. We'll help you weigh your options and decide what's best for you and your budget.

If you would like more information on crown options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Okabe Dental Arts
September 24, 2016
Category: Dental Procedures

Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.

“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”

That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.

Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!

The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.

If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”

This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.