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Something to smile about

In 2015, Coronado dentists will bring to their practices emerging treatments that promise to improve patients’ overall dental care experience.

Dr. Howard Dixon, of Coronado Pediatric Dentistry, is advancing the field simply by shifting the stigma about a visit to the dentist. He and his partner, Dr. Megan Burns, focus on making visits a more enjoyable and  less scary prospect for kids. And, they use some nifty technology to do so. “We’ve got an outer space theme to our office and kids have a great time here,” Dixon said. Children can play with iPads — inside a model planet of Saturn, no less — while they wait.

Dixon, who has five children and 10 grandchildren, believes that children should be witness to a working relationship between health-care professionals and parents, in which the parents reinforce the dentists’ lessons about oral hygiene — and making dental checkups more fun is an important step in encouraging that.

He emphasized that parents should schedule a child’s first dental check-up when the child is one year old. At this point, the child will only have a few teeth and won’t possess the dexterity to be able to take care of the teeth, making the visit informative to parents. “Parents may not be aware about things like the damage constant access to apple juice and other sugary drinks in a sippy cup can cause to young teeth,” he said. Furthermore, he explained, this is right around the time children should be weaned off the bottle and pacifier, so it’s a good time for parents to check in.

According to Dixon, the best way to ensure a lifetime of smiles is to catch possible problems early. “Early treatment prevents more complicated issues later,” said Dixon, who sees his patients every six months to check for cavities and new teeth.

A woman is smiling while being at the dentist

While early treatment and prevention is key to oral health, many older patients need treatment for a number of issues such as gum disease and gum recession that are the result of aging or subpar dental care. These issues can be combated through a variety of innovative technologies.

Dr. Suzanne Popp, whose practice is on Eighth Street, said, “Our office is already very high-tech. We like to have the latest and greatest technology that works well.”

One such up-and-coming treatment is the I-Plus Waterlase, which is currently used by only 1,400 dentists nationwide. The Waterlase replaces the noisy drills traditionally used when filling cavities. “It squirts water with high power into a cavity, so we can remove it and easily insert a filling,” said Popp. “The Waterlase helps to preserve the tooth structures around the cavity; it doesn’t involve heat and it’s so much quicker and more accurate.”

Furthermore, the Waterlase is gentle enough that it does not require shots of local anesthesia, resulting in a virtually painless treatment. In addition to cavities, it treats gum disease by using a high-powered stream of water to remove plaque buildup on teeth, as opposed to “hand-scaling” (using metal tools to scrape the teeth of plaque).

“Eventually, I think that the Waterlase will entirely replace hand-scaling, which is painful and time consuming,” said Popp.

Popp uses another product called the EPIC Diode Laser, which was created by the same company as the Waterlase. “We use the EPIC Laser on a more day-to-day basis,” she said. It is primarily used to relax muscles and alleviate jaw pain caused by muscle tension. According to Popp, this piece of technology can also be used to accelerate teeth whitening. “The EPIC Diode Laser takes about 20 minutes as opposed to an hour and a half to whiten the teeth 4 to 6 shades,” she said.

The NewTom 3D CT scan is another relatively new addition to Dr. Popp’s practice. “The NewTom will give us a 3D representation of the mouth, sinuses, throat and airway,” she said. This scanner employs SafeBeam technology, which reduces the patient’s radiation exposure by 60 to 70 percent.

“The NewTom shows us where impacted teeth, cracks on teeth and future problems are before they happen,” said Popp. “As soon as I saw this technology, I knew that I needed it in my office. I just don’t feel like I’m doing a great job if I can’t see everything that this scan allows me to.”

Popp’s patients also benefit from the Chao Pinhole Surgical Technique, which was developed by Dr. John Chao in 2006. This non-invasive procedure corrects gum recession, when gums shrink with age and reveal the roots of the teeth. “To fix gum recession in the past, we would do a graft, but that’s very painful and patients need stitches afterward,” said Popp. With the Chao Pinhole Surgical Technique, a dentist creates two small holes in the gum to release the tissue from its attachment to the bone. The dentist then simply pulls the tissue to where it belongs and attaches collagen fibers to the bone to facilitate gum growth. “There are no incisions or sutures and very little post-operative pain with this procedure,” said Popp.

Dr. Andrew R. Chapokas is another local professional offering state-of-the-art care. One of only 10 professionals in America to be board certified as both a periodontist and prosthodontist, his presence at Michael B. Copp’s dentistry practice on the 100 block of C Avenue has given Coronado residents the option to have an entire arch (either the upper or lower row) of teeth restored in one day.

Chapokas explained that dental implants are required when a tooth is missing for any reason. Conventionally, dentists use a drill to place a post into the gum and attach an artificial tooth to achieve the desired cosmetic effect.

But Chapokas offers a whole-arch replacement procedure (often advertised as “teeth in a day”) because it allows full arches of teeth to be restored in just a few hours.

“This is a huge change from the old way of restoring implants, which, for a full arch of teeth, takes between three and six months,” said Copp.

Chapokas said that this procedure has caught the attention of the dental community, which recognizes its benefits. “Before, patients would have to wear something removable like a denture after having their teeth removed,” he said. “Now, we’re able to give patients one shot of anesthesia under the direction of a certified doctor so that they’re sleeping and comfortable, and turn their failing teeth into a brand new set of implants in hours.”

This procedure typically requires two professionals, but because Chapokas is both a surgeon and restorative specialist, he can successfully complete all parts of the procedure. “Having Dr. Chapokas here is a great opportunity for Coronado,” said Copp. “We’ve already had several patients undergo the process and be very pleasantly surprised.”

While Coronado dentists are excited to be able to offer such innovative advancements, said Popp, “The best technology in oral health is still brushing and flossing twice a day and having regular dental checkups. Some things never change!”

Howard Dixon and Meghan Burns
Howard Dixon and Meghan Burns
The outer-space themed exam room at Coronado Pediatric Dentistry
The outer-space themed exam room at Coronado Pediatric Dentistry
Dr. Suzanne Popp of Advanced Cosmetic and General Dentistry
Dr. Suzanne Popp of Advanced Cosmetic and General Dentistry 

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