As permanent teeth gradually replace primary (“baby”) teeth, most will come in by early adolescence. But the back third molars—the wisdom teeth—are often the last to the party, usually erupting between ages 18 and 24, and the source of possible problems.
This is because the wisdom teeth often erupt on an already crowded jaw populated by other teeth. As a result, they can be impacted, meaning they may erupt partially or not at all and remain largely below the gum surface.
An impacted tooth can impinge on its neighboring teeth and damage their roots or disrupt their protective gum attachment, all of which makes them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Impacted teeth can also foster the formation of infected cysts that create areas of bone loss or painful infections in the gums of other teeth.
Even when symptoms like these aren’t present, many dentists recommend removing the wisdom teeth as a preemptive measure against future problems or disease. This often requires a surgical extraction: in fact, wisdom teeth removal is the most common oral surgical procedure.
But now there’s a growing consensus among dentists that removing or not removing wisdom teeth should depend on an individual’s unique circumstances. Patients who are having adverse oral health effects from impacted wisdom teeth should consider removing them, especially if they’ve already encountered dental disease. But the extraction decision isn’t as easy for patients with no current signs of either impaction or disease. That doesn’t mean their situation won’t change in the future.
One way to manage all these potentialities is a strategy called active surveillance. With this approach, patient and dentist keep a close eye on wisdom teeth development and possible signs of impaction or disease. Most dentists recommend carefully examining the wisdom teeth (including diagnostic x-rays and other imaging) every 24 months.
Following this strategy doesn’t mean the patient won’t eventually have their wisdom teeth removed, but not until there are clearer signs of trouble. But whatever the outcome might be, dealing properly with wisdom teeth is a high priority for preventing future oral health problems.
If you would like more information on wisdom teeth and their potential impact on dental health, 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come with a Dilemma.”
Your teeth and gums are filled with nerves that make the mouth one of the most sensitive areas in the body. But thanks to local anesthesia, you won't feel a thing during your next dental procedure.
The word anesthesia means “without feeling or pain.” General anesthesia accomplishes this with drugs that place the patient in an unconscious state. It's reserved for major surgery where the patient will be closely monitored for vital signs while in that state.
The other alternative is local anesthesia, which numbs the area that needs treatment, while allowing the patient to remain conscious. The anesthetics used in this way are applied either topically (with a swab, adhesive patch or spray) or injected with a needle.
In dentistry, we use both applications. Topical anesthesia is occasionally used for sensitive patients before superficial teeth cleaning, but most often as an “opening act” to injected anesthesia: the topical application numbs the gums so you can't feel the prick of the needle used for the injectable anesthetic. By using both types, you won't feel any pain at all during your visit.
Because of possible side effects, we're careful about what procedures will involve the use of local anesthesia. Placing a sealant on the exterior of a tooth or reshaping enamel doesn't require it because we're not making contact with the more sensitive dentin layer beneath. We've also seen advances in anesthetic drugs in which we can now better control the length of time numbness will persist after the procedure.
All in all, though, local anesthesia will make your dental care more comfortable — both for you and for us. Knowing you're relaxed and comfortable allows us to work with ease so we can be unhurried and thorough. By keeping pain out of the equation, your dental care has a better chance for a successful outcome.
If you would like more information on managing discomfort during dental care, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
November is National Diabetes Month—a time to focus on a disease that affects more than 400 million people around the world. What does diabetes have to do with oral health? Plenty! Here's a true-or-false quiz to test your knowledge on this important topic.
TRUE OR FALSE:
1. Diabetes and gum disease are connected.
TRUE. Studies have found a clear association between diabetes and gum (periodontal) disease, especially when diabetes is not well controlled. People with poorly controlled diabetes have a more severe inflammatory response to the bacteria that cause gum disease. While inflammation is normally a protective reaction of the body's immune system, too much inflammation can actually make the condition worse. In the case of gum disease, the reverse is also true: Untreated gum disease can worsen blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. The good news is that treatment of periodontal disease has been shown to improve blood sugar control.
2. People with diabetes can't have dental implants.
FALSE. Research has shown that dental implants can be a very successful tooth-replacement treatment for people with diabetes. But again, blood sugar control can be a factor. Dental implants are titanium posts that serve as artificial tooth roots. Minor surgery is required to insert an implant into the bone beneath the gums; a realistic-looking dental crown is later attached to it so it can look and function like a natural tooth. Studies have shown that it takes longer for the bone to heal around implants in people with poorly controlled diabetes. That doesn't make implant treatment impossible, but it does mean that it may be managed differently. For example, an implant may be allowed to heal for a longer period of time before a crown is attached to it.
3. People with diabetes can't do anything to improve their oral health.
FALSE. People with diabetes can have a very positive impact on their oral heath, by doing their best to control blood sugar levels with a healthy diet and exercise, and by sticking to an effective daily oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing at least once each day to remove bacterial plaque between teeth. Regular dental checkups and cleanings are also essential—not just for people with diabetes, but for everyone!
If you have additional questions about diabetes and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about diabetes and oral health by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
An estimated 35 million people in the United States are missing all of their teeth on at least one jaw. Your situation may not be as serious — perhaps you've only lost one tooth. But even one missing tooth could eventually impact the health of underlying bone or other teeth — and it can certainly mar an otherwise attractive smile.
Depending on other health factors, you could be an ideal candidate for a dental implant to replace that missing tooth. Since their introduction in the 1980s, implants have rapidly become the popular choice for tooth replacement. They've gained this popularity for several reasons: they're a life-like replacement that also functions like a tooth; they're adaptable to a variety of situations; and they enjoy a 95%-plus success rate.
The key to their success lies in their unique construction: they replace the tooth root, not just the crown. They accomplish this through a metal titanium post imbedded directly into the bone. The titanium attracts bone cells, which eventually grow and adhere to the post to anchor the implant securely in the jaw. This growth also deters bone loss that occurs after tooth loss and continues after acquiring other forms of removable restorations like full or partial dentures.
If implants have one drawback, though, it's their cost, especially if you have multiple lost teeth. The good news if you're missing several teeth is that each tooth does not need an implant due to their inherent strength. As few as two implants could replace three to four missing teeth or play a role as supports for other restorations like removable dentures. Some of the implants' other benefits will also carry over, including enhanced bone health.
To determine if dental implants are a good choice for your missing teeth, you'll need to undergo an evaluation of your individual dental condition (including bone health). From there we can advise you on whether implants could change your dental health and your smile.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants 101.”
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