As Spring turns to Summer, millions of students will depart high school in the time-honored rite of passage called graduation. At the same time, quite a few of these graduates will be experiencing another maturity milestone: the eruption (coming in) of their last permanent teeth.
Typically, these are the back third molars, better known as “wisdom teeth,” emerging on either end of both the top and bottom jaws sometime between the ages of 18 and 24. Their arrival heralds the end of a long development process that began in infancy.
But this auspicious event can give rise to dental problems. Because they’re the last to come in, wisdom teeth often erupt in an environment crowded by earlier teeth. Depending on jaw size and other factors, there may not be enough room for a normal eruption.
Wisdom teeth can thus erupt out of position, creating a poor bite (malocclusion). Or they might not erupt at all—becoming stuck fully or partially within the gums and bone, a condition known as impaction. Impacted teeth can also cause problems for the adjacent teeth, damaging the roots of the second molars or disrupting the surrounding gum tissue, making them more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease.
Because of these and other issues, impacted wisdom teeth are among the most common type of teeth removed: an estimated 10 million each year. And many of these are removed before they show signs of disease or complications as a preemptive strike against developing dental problems.
Although unnecessary surgery should always be avoided, according to some research, there’s a one in three chance that erupting wisdom teeth that are not showing signs of trouble will eventually become problematic. And the earlier they’re removed, the lower the risk of post-extraction complications.
Wisdom teeth should always be evaluated on a case by case basis. Those with obvious signs of disease or complications do require prompt treatment, including possible extraction. Others that are asymptomatic can be monitored over time: If they’re tending to become problematic, we can adjust the treatment plan accordingly. Our goal is to ensure these particular teeth signaling the end of childhood won’t detract from dental health in adulthood, so a measured approach seems to be the best and safest one.
If you would like more information on treatment options for wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma” and “Wisdom Teeth: To Be or Not to Be?”
Ask any kid and they'll tell you just how valuable "baby" teeth really are—out of the mouth, of course, and under their pillow awaiting a transaction with the Tooth Fairy. But there's more to them than their value on the Fairy Exchange Market—they play a critical role in future dental health.
Primary teeth provide the same kind of dental function as their future replacements. Children weaned from nursing can now eat solid food. They provide contact points for the tongue as a child learns to speak. And they play a role socially, as children with a "toothsome" smile begin to look more like what they will become when they're fully mature.
But primary teeth also serve as guides for the permanent teeth that will follow. As a future tooth develops below the gum line, the primary tooth preserves the space in which it will erupt. Otherwise, the space can be taken over by other teeth. This crowds out the intended tooth, which may erupt out of position or remain impacted below the gum line.
In either case, the situation could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that can be quite costly to correct. But if we can preserve a primary tooth on the verge of premature loss, we may be able to reduce the impact of a developing malocclusion or even prevent it.
We can help primary teeth last for their intended lifespan by preventing tooth decay with daily oral hygiene or clinically-applied sealants and topical fluoride. If they do become infected, it may be worth the effort to preserve them using procedures similar to a root canal treatment.
If a tooth can't be preserved, then we can try to reserve the empty space for the future tooth. One way is a space maintainer, which is a stiff wire loop attached to metal band bonded around an adjacent tooth. This keeps other teeth from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, at which time we can remove the appliance.
Your child may be anxious to get another tooth to put under their pillow. But helping that primary tooth go the distance will be more than worth it for their future dental health.
If you would like more information on the care and treatment of baby 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
There is a primary principle dentists follow regarding tooth decay—treat it as soon as you find it. Something as simple and routine as filling a cavity could prevent future tooth loss.
But treating a cavity at or below the gum line could be anything but simple and routine. Older adults who may also be dealing with gum recession are more likely to have these kinds of cavities where the gums block clear access to it.
But there is a way to access gum-covered cavities with a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening. Crown lengthening is commonly used in cosmetic dentistry to expose more of the visible teeth when there's an overabundance of gum tissue or if the teeth are disproportionately small. We can use it in this instance to surgically relocate the blocking gum tissue out of the way of the cavity.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, tiny incisions will be made in the gums to create a tissue flap. After reshaping the underlying bone to recreate normal anatomy but at a different level, this flap is then moved and sutured to a new position. This exposes enough tooth structure so that the cavity can be repaired after gum healing.
As with any minor surgery, there's a very slight risk of bleeding and/or infection with crown lengthening. If you undergo this procedure, you'll receive post-care instructions for the first few days afterward including avoiding strenuous activities, eating only soft foods and using an ice pack the day of surgery to help control swelling.
This versatile procedure can help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost due to decay. And, it might even improve your appearance.
If you would like more information on treatment options for tooth decay, 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
The sooner you get treated for tooth decay, the less likely you'll lose your tooth. That could mean a simple filling—or you might need a root canal treatment if decay has reached the inner pulp.
There's also another procedure for advanced decay called pulp capping. It's a bit more involved than filling a cavity but less so than a root canal. We can use it if decay has exposed or nearly exposed the pulp, but not yet infected it—otherwise, you may still need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue.
There are two types of pulp capping methods, direct and indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the pulp has been exposed by decay. After isolating the tooth to protect other teeth from contamination, we remove all of the decayed dentin up to the pulp. This may cause some bleeding, which we'll stop, and then clean and dry the tooth area.
We'll then apply a protective biocompatible material directly over the pulp to promote healing and protect it from further infection. We then restore the tooth's appearance and function with a life-like filling.
We use the indirect method, a two-part process separated by six to eight months, when the pulp tissue is close to the surface but not yet exposed. We initially remove the majority of decayed tooth structure, but leave some of it in place next to the pulp chamber. Although this remaining dentin is softened and decayed, we'll treat it with antibacterial chemicals, then cover it with a biocompatible material and a temporary filling.
Over the next several months the treated structure has a chance to re-mineralize as it heals. We then remove the temporary filling and assess the level of healing progress. If the regenerated dentin appears healthy, we can then remove any remaining decay and restore the teeth as we would after a direct pulp capping.
At the very least, pulp capping could buy your affected tooth time before a root canal will finally be needed. Under the right circumstances, it's an effective way to save an otherwise lost tooth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatments, 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that may Save a Decayed Tooth.”
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