Trends in Dentistry

A generation or two ago, one of the rites of passage into middle age was a full set of dentures. Thankfully, that has changed, and more people are keeping their own teeth beyond middle age and into their golden years.

Nationwide and in Virginia, 16 percent of adults have had all their natural teeth extracted, an improvement from 30 percent in 1998, based on surveys from the Centers for Disease Control.

“When our grandparents had a toothache, they just had the tooth pulled,” says Dr. Timothy Johnston, owner of Norge Dental Center in Williamsburg. “My grandparents had dentures in their 40s. Today’s Baby Boomers have a toothache and get it fixed. My parents have all their teeth. This population is not willing to lose teeth. We have been raised in a society where there is a lot of emphasis on maintaining proper health.”

Caring for the Aging Smile

Taking care of aging teeth takes effort. Baby Boomers were more likely to have cavities in childhood—cavities that may need to be replaced—and also face the problems linked with aging teeth.

“When I was a kid, the cavity-prone years were when kids were able to get their hands on candy,” Johnston says. “With fluoridated water and better health, that doesn’t happen so much anymore.”

But even those who take great care of their teeth face problems when they get older. As you age, your body chemistry changes. Those changes, combined with the medications you may take, can lead to dry mouth, Johnston says. Dry mouth is more than an annoyance—that natural saliva is needed to wash away the bacteria that cause tooth decay, he says. That makes teeth weak, brittle and more prone to fracture, he says.

Better Crowns

But there’s good news for those who need crowns. A new technique to make impressions and better material to make crowns are now available, Johnston says.

“Traditionally, the way to get an impression for a crown was through rubber-based impression material,” he says. The material goes into your mouth creamy and then hardens and comes out rubbery. It’s extremely accurate, Johnston says.

But sitting in the chair with a mouthful of hardening goop can make you gag.

The new technique allows the dentist to take three-dimensional digital impressions with a camera inside the patient’s mouth, he says.

“You can blow up these digital scans and analyze every detail,” Johnston says. “You also know right away if you have the perfect dental impression or not.”

Today’s crown materials are much more durable than in the past. Today’s crowns made of Zirconia (yes related to synthetic diamonds) are very durable and long lasting and yet kind to the opposing teeth, he says.

When your gums begin to recede, these state-of-the-art crowns won’t leave you with a dark line at the gum as traditional porcelain infused metal crowns can do, Johnston says.

Today, Johnston is among the fewer than 20 percent of all dentists using these new crowns. But he predicts that 20 years from now, they will be the standard of care.

Dental Benefit Membership Plans

Finally, an encouraging trend in dentistry can help the approximately 50 percent of Americans who don’t have dental insurance he says. Dental membership plans (which are not insurance) offer discounted fees and priority scheduling, Johnston says.

“It’s our way of helping people who don’t have access to good dental insurance,” he says.

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