Brushing Up With Area Dentists

New dental innovations make a dentist visit less anxiety-ridden

The first time Bob Hoffman, a Verona-area dairy farmer, visited the dentist after years and years of neglect he was absolutely terrified.

“It took me an hour and a half to even get him to sit down in the dental chair because he was so nervous,” says Dr. David Penwell of First Choice Dental, who used Conscious Sedation dentistry to perform an extensive series of repairs—four crowns, two root canals, two extractions and six fillings—all in one sitting. Today, Hoffman visits Penwell every six months for regular check-ups and he no longer needs sedation.

“It took us longer to [gain his trust] than anybody else I remember, but now he just comes in and sits right down,” says Penwell. “That’s the ultimate goal, to get people to become regular patients.”

Though Hoffman’s case was extreme, fear of the dentist is not. According to the American Dental Association, an estimated fifty percent of the U.S. population does not see a dentist regularly and approximately fifteen percent harbors a severe dental phobia—that’s more than forty million Americans. For many, Conscious Sedation is an excellent, safe solution; with a simple Triazolam pill one can remain awake through extensive dental work, feel no pain and remember very little afterward. For less fearful patients, Penwell employs everything from comforts such as music, blankets and lighting to new technology like the so-called “shot-less filling” (a laser “drill” to repair early cavities without anesthesia), and The Wand, a computerized anesthetic delivery system for significantly less painful injections.

“We just want to treat people like we’d like to be treated,” says Penwell.

Ultimately, according to Penwell and other area experts, the combination of brushing, flossing and routine exams every six months will eliminate almost all dental problems, including fear. And it’s not just about having a good looking smile—many serious physical issues affecting the body and mind are connected to a healthy mouth.

The Whole Body Dental Health Connection

Dr. Jana Gyurina offers comprehensive dental services at Oak Park Dental, but she also has specialized training in sleep apnea, TMJ and headaches—things you may or may not commonly associate with your teeth.

“I’m not just cleaning your teeth and looking for cavities,” says Gyurina. “I’m looking at your airway, at your jaw joint, at your posture.”

Gyurina attends several continuing education seminars every year, where she stays on top of the latest developments in traditional, cosmetic and neuromuscular dentistry. She is currently part of a multi-site sleep apnea study with the Wisconsin Sleep Lab, but even before the study Gyurina referred many patients to sleep labs for further evaluation. For sleep apnea patients—many of whom are completely unaware they have this dangerous condition—Gyurina constructs a removable appliance called Somnodent, an oral sleep appliance that keeps the lower jaw from falling backward.

Many people who have sleep apnea also have TMJ/TMD in part because of their restricted airway. The tongue posture creates an imbalance in dental arches which leads to clenching, grinding and wear on the teeth. Most are unaware their migraines, neck and jaw pain, headaches, ringing in the ears, tingling in the fingertips, snoring, clicking, popping, dizziness, difficulty swallowing or poor posture could be treated with dentistry.

“Everything is related,” says Gyurina.

There’s also a strong correlation between oral health and heart disease, as that pesky plaque does far more damage than simple cavities.

“It’s definitely been shown that patients that have periodontal disease are more likely to develop heart disease in life,” says Dr. Jacob Bjork of Dental Health Associates. “It’s a type of infection so you also run the risk of just running your body down. Your immune system is working harder and you can have less energy.”

Periodontal disease is one of the most common risks people run by not visiting the dentist regularly. When plaque isn’t removed with a cleaning, it hardens into calculus and irritates the gums, eventually causing bleeding and loss of bone around the teeth. Once it sets the effects aren’t reversible, but the progression can at least be stopped in its tracks.

“So much of this can be resolved with a simple check up,” says Bjork. “Little problems can become big problems in a hurry.”

Bjork says many factors keep people from the dentist, from anxiety to inconvenience. One common concern is fear of exposure to radiation during the x-ray process, but Bjork says a recent key advance is the conversion to digital radiography, reducing x-ray exposure by as much as ninety percent.

“I often tell my patients you’ll be exposed to more radiation flying to your next vacation destination than you will be visiting your dentist,” says Bjork.

Not Your Childhood Dentist Anymore

Another way digital technology is replacing traditional methods is the increasing use of digital scanning devices to create impressions of the teeth for restorative repairs, a process historically done by placing trays of messy goop in the mouth for lengthy minutes
at a time.
“Not only does it create a more accurate image of your tooth,” says Dr. Nicole Andersen of Door Creek Dental,
“it also allows the possibility for porcelain work such as crowns to be completed in one visit rather than leaving with a temporary on and returning for a second visit.”
Andersen says digital x-rays, digital impressions and the use of lasers are just a few of the advances making regular dental visits less intimidating, as are better anesthetics and more natural looking options for tooth repair and replacement—but what happens between visits is equally important.

“The gold standard of brushing morning and night and flossing at least once each day still holds true,” says Andersen, who personally brushes with a Sonicare toothbrush and flosses once a day. She says there are many helpful products on today’s market including electric toothbrushes, water pics, air flossers, mouthwashes, rinses and pastes. “But like anything, if they are not used routinely or properly you won’t reap the rewards.”

Feeling Better and Looking Better

Cosmetic dentistry is an increasingly popular solution for many people, whether they’ve been keeping up with regular visits or not. In fact for some, cosmetic dentistry is a re-entry to regular dental care. From products like Invisilign (braces meant to appear  almost invisible) to porcelain veneers, teeth whitening and tooth-colored fillings, the idea is to create a natural looking smile while still correcting and maintaining health.

When assessing a patient’s smile Dr. Jay Hazen of Dentistry For Madison, who focuses on cosmetic dentistry, asks himself a key question: Do the existing teeth look nice individually, and therefore simply need to be repositioned, or do the teeth themselves need to be repaired or re-colored?

“Patients that have chipped, broken, worn, dark teeth are not necessarily good candidates for braces,” says Hazen. “You can move them to a better position, but those teeth will still be chipped, broken, worn and dark.”

Hazen says everybody’s needs are different, and the key is getting to know each patient to best assess those unique needs.

“The important thing is to get a cosmetic consultation from somebody with more than one tool in their toolbox,” says Hazen.

He adds that because as a population we are living longer and likely keeping most of our teeth all of our lives, our teeth are showing more wear—and therefore making us appear even older.

“The difference between a worn down and a newly restored smile really is life changing,” says Hazen. “A smile can change a life, not only yours but the people you’re smiling at.” 

— Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz

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