A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
They seemingly pop up out of the blue inside your mouth: tiny sores that are sometimes painful — and always annoying. Then, in about a week to ten days these small, irritating lesions are gone.
They're known as canker sores: the most common break out in the linings of the mouth, including the cheeks, lips, under the tongue or even the back of the throat. Medically known as aphthous ulcers, you'll recognize these round lesions by their yellow-gray center surrounded by a red “halo.”
You might feel a tingling sensation a couple of days before an outbreak. Once they appear they usually last a week to ten days; during that time they can cause discomfort especially while eating or drinking.
We don't know fully what causes canker sores, but it's believed they're related to abnormalities in the immune system, the processes in the body that fight infection and disease. High stress or anxiety and certain acidic or spicy foods like citrus fruit or tomato sauce also seem to trigger them.
Most people experience canker sores that range in intensity from slight discomfort to sometimes severe pain. But about 20-25% of people, mostly women, have an acute form known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS). Thought to be hereditary, RAS produces clusters of ulcers that are almost always painful, and which come and go on a regular basis.
Our main treatment goal with canker sores is to decrease discomfort while the outbreak runs its course and promote rapid healing. There are over-the-counter ointments that often prove effective. For more resistant symptoms we can also prescribe topical or injectable steroids or other medications.
Canker sores are rarely concerning as a significant health issue. You should, however, take an outbreak seriously if it hasn't healed within two weeks, if the outbreaks seem to be increasing in frequency or severity, or you're never without a sore in your mouth. In these cases, we may need to take a tissue sample of the lesion to biopsy for signs of cancer, pre-cancer or some other skin disease.
More than likely, though, the canker sore will be benign albeit annoying. With effective treatment, though, you can get through the outbreak with only a minimal amount of discomfort.
If you would like more information on treating canker sores, 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 “Mouth Sores.”
Unlike our primitive ancestors, our teeth have it relatively easy. Human diets today are much more refined than their counterparts from thousands of years ago. Ancient teeth recovered from those bygone eras bear that out, showing much more wear on average than modern teeth.
Even so, our modern teeth still wear as we age—sometimes at an accelerated rate. But while you can't eliminate wearing entirely, you can take steps to minimize it and preserve your teeth in your later years. Here are 3 things you can do to slow your teeth's wearing process.
Prevent dental disease. Healthy teeth endure quite well even while being subjected to daily biting forces produced when we eat. But teeth weakened by tooth decay are more susceptible to wear. To avoid this, you should practice daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque. And see your dentist at least twice a year for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
Straighten your bite. A poor bite, where the top and bottom teeth don't fit together properly, isn't just an appearance problem—it could also cause accelerated tooth wear. Having your bite orthodontically corrected not only gives you a new smile, it can also reduce abnormal biting forces that are contributing to wear. And don't let age stop you: except in cases of bone deterioration or other severe dental problems, older adults whose gums are healthy can undergo orthodontics and achieve healthy results.
Seek help for bruxism. The term bruxism refers to any involuntary habit of grinding teeth, which can produce abnormally high biting forces. Over time this can increase tooth wear or weaken teeth to the point of fracture or other severe damage. While bruxism is uncommon in adults, it's still a habit that needs to be addressed if it occurs. The usual culprit is high stress, which can be better managed through therapy or biofeedback. Your dentist can also fashion you a custom guard to wear that will prevent upper and lower teeth from wearing against each other.
If you would like more information on minimizing teeth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
You’ve suddenly noticed one of your teeth looks and feels uneven, and it may even appear chipped. To make matters worse it’s right in front in the “smile zone” — when you smile, everyone else will notice it too. You want to have it repaired.
So, what will it be — a porcelain veneer or crown? Maybe neither: after examining it, your dentist may recommend another option you might even be able to undergo that very day — and walk out with a restored tooth.
This technique uses dental materials called composite resins. These are blends of materials that can mimic the color and texture of tooth structure while also possessing the necessary strength to endure forces generated by biting and chewing. A good part of that strength comes from the way we’re able to bond the material to both the tooth’s outer enamel and underlying dentin, which together make up the main body of tooth structure. In skilled, artistic hands composite resins can be used effectively in a number of situations to restore a tooth to normal appearance.
While veneers or crowns also produce excellent results in this regard, they require a fair amount of tooth alteration to accommodate them. Your dentist will also need an outside dental laboratory to fabricate them, a procedure that could take several weeks. In contrast, a composite resin restoration usually requires much less tooth preparation and can be performed in the dental office in just one visit.
Composite resins won’t work in every situation — the better approach could in fact be a veneer or crown. But for slight chips or other minor defects, composite resin could transform your tooth’s appearance dramatically.
To see if composite resin is a viable restoration option for your tooth, visit your dentist for a complete dental examination. It’s quite possible you’ll leave with a more attractive tooth and a more confident smile.
If you would like more information on restorations using composite resins, 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth with Composite Resin.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
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