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.”
We’re all familiar with tried and true traditional braces and perhaps with newer clear aligners for realigning teeth. But there’s an even more novel way that’s quickly becoming popular: lingual braces.
This type of braces performs the same function as the traditional but in an opposite way. Rather than bonded to the front of the teeth like labial (“lip-side”) braces, these are bonded to the back of the teeth on the tongue (or “lingual”) side. While labial braces move teeth by applying pressure through “pushing,” lingual braces “pull” the teeth to where they need to be.
Although lingual braces are no better or worse than other orthodontic methods, they do have some advantages if you’re involved in sports or similar physical activities where mouth contact with traditional braces could cause lip or gum damage, or if your work or lifestyle includes frequent snacking or eating, which requires continually removing clear aligners. And like aligners, lingual braces aren’t noticeable to the outside world.
But lingual braces typically cost more: as much as 15-35% more than traditional braces. They can initially be uncomfortable for patients as the tongue makes contact with the hardware. While most patients acclimate to this, some don’t. And like traditional braces, it’s hard to effectively brush and floss your teeth while wearing them. This can be overcome, though, by using a water flosser and scheduling more frequent dental cleanings while you’re wearing them.
For the most part, lingual braces can correct any poor bite (malocclusion) correctable with labial braces. The treatment time is also comparable, ranging from several weeks to a couple of years depending on the malocclusion. And, as with any other orthodontic method, you’ll need to wear a retainer once they’re removed.
Lingual braces have only been available in a limited fashion for a few years, but their availability is growing as more orthodontists train in the new method. If you’re interested in the lingual braces approach, talk to your orthodontist or visit www.lingualbraces.org to learn more.
If you would like more information on lingual braces, 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 “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
’Tis the season for holiday joy with sweet treats at every turn. Don’t let it be the season for dental woes as well. You've heard that sugar causes cavities. That’s because bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid as a by-product. The acid eats away at tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay if not checked. To protect your smile during the December onslaught of cookies, candies and other goodies, follow these tips:
Seek balance. Foods that stick to your teeth like candy canes, chewy candies or potato chips provide more opportunity for cavities to develop. To help keep your smile sparkling for the New Year, mix it up with healthy options. Chances are you will come across tooth-healthy offerings like raw vegetables, a cheese plate or mixed nuts. Vegetables scrub your teeth while you chew and stimulate the production of saliva, which helps neutralize acid and rebuild tooth enamel. Cheese also neutralizes acid in the mouth and has minerals that strengthen teeth, while nuts stimulate saliva production and provide vitamins and minerals that keep teeth strong and healthy.
Consider your timing. There’s a higher risk of developing tooth decay when sweets are consumed as standalone snacks, so when you do eat sugary treats, try to have them at mealtime. Repeated snacking between meals exposes teeth to food particles throughout the day, and the acids produced can continue to act on your teeth for 20 minutes after a treat is consumed. During meals, however, other foods present help balance out the sugar and stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid and wash away food particles, sugar and acid from your teeth.
Watch what you drink. Sipping sweet drinks over time can have ill effects on your teeth because of prolonged contact with sugar. If you consume sugary beverages, try to do so in moderation and preferably along with a meal. Sipping your drink through a straw can help keep the beverage away from direct contact with your teeth. Consider opting for water—there are plenty of other opportunities for extra sugar and calories! Besides, water washes away food bits and dilutes acidity. After eating the sweet stuff, it’s a good idea to drink water or at the very least swish a little water around in your mouth.
Keep up good oral hygiene. With all the holiday busyness—shopping, gatherings with friends and family, school functions—you may find yourself exhausted at the end of the day. Still, this is an especially important time to keep up your oral hygiene routine. Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste morning and night and flossing every day are key to keeping your teeth for the long haul.
Finally, if you are due for a dental checkup or cleaning, give us a call to make sure you start the New Year with a healthy smile. If you have a flexible spending account that will expire with the calendar year, make it a priority to fit in an end-of-year dental appointment. Please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation if you would like more information about keeping in the best oral health. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
In a normal bite, the upper and lower teeth line up and fit together when you close your jaws. When they don’t, you have a poor bite or “malocclusion.” The most common cause is teeth out of position, which can be corrected by moving them with braces.
Sometimes, though, the size and position of the jaws is the primary cause for the malocclusion and not the teeth. If the discrepancy is minor, tooth movement alone might be sufficient; but if there’s a wide discrepancy in the symmetry of the face or the size of one jaw over the other then a surgical solution may be necessary. One common procedure is orthognathic surgery, which literally means to “straighten the jaw.”
A wide range of irregularities — both minor and major — can be corrected by adjusting and realigning the bone in the jaw. While orthognathic surgery can certainly improve your facial profile and smile, its main purpose is to restore function that’s been lost due to poor jaw alignment. Candidates for the surgery have difficulty chewing, biting or swallowing food, chronic pain or headaches related to the jaw joints, chronic mouth breathing and dry mouth, or sleep apnea.
In many cases, treatment involving orthognathic surgery requires a team approach between orthodontist, oral surgeon and general dentist. While the surgeon surgically alters and repairs the jaw or facial structure, the services of an orthodontist may still be needed to move teeth misaligned due to the underlying problem with the jaw structure. The general dentist ensures teeth and gums remain healthy during all the other treatment phases.
Orthognathic surgery can benefit both oral and general health, as well as improve the appearance of the entire face. The process, however, can be complicated: you or your family member will need to undergo a thorough examination to determine if you or they are a good candidate for the surgery. If so, the end result can be life-changing.
If you would like more information on the treatment of jaw development disorders, 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 “Jaw Surgery & Orthodontics.”
Like other healthcare providers, dentists have relied for decades on the strong pain relief of opioid (narcotic) drugs for patients after dental work. As late as 2012, doctors and dentists wrote over 250 million prescriptions for these drugs. Since then, though, those numbers have shrunk drastically.
That’s because while effective, drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl are highly addictive. While those trapped in a narcotic addiction can obtain drugs like heroine illicitly, a high number come from prescriptions that have been issued too liberally. This and other factors have helped contribute to a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction involving an estimated 2 million Americans and thousands of deaths each year.
Because three-quarters of opioid abusers began their addiction with prescription pain medication, there’s been a great deal of re-thinking about how we manage post-procedural pain, especially in dentistry. As a result, we’re seeing a shift to a different strategy: using a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), particularly ibuprofen and acetaminophen, instead of a prescribed narcotic.
These over-the-counter drugs are safer and less costly; more importantly, though, they don’t have the high addictive quality of an opioid drug. A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) showed that when two NSAIDs were used together, the pain relief was greater than either drug used individually, and better than some opioid medications.
That’s not to say dentists no longer prescribe opioids for pain management following dental work. But the growing consensus among dental providers is to rely on the double NSAID approach as their first-line therapy. If a patient has other medical conditions or the NSAIDs prove ineffective, then the dentist can prescribe an opioid instead.
There’s often hesitancy among dental patients on going this new route rather than the tried and true opioid prescription. That’s why it’s important to discuss the matter with your dentist before any procedure to see which way is best for you. Just like you, your dentist wants your treatment experience to be as pain-free as possible, in the safest manner possible.
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