Posts for: July, 2016
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.”
Over a lifetime, teeth can endure temperatures ranging from freezing to near boiling, biting forces of as much as 150 pounds per square inch and a hostile environment teeming with bacteria. Yet they can still remain healthy for decades.
But while they’re rugged, they’re not indestructible — they can incur serious damage from tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, two of the most prevalent oral infections. If that happens, you could be faced with the choice of removing the tooth or trying to save it.
Because today’s restorations like dental implants are quite durable and amazingly life-like, it might seem the decision is a no-brainer — just rid your mouth of the troubled tooth and replace it. But from a long-term health perspective, it’s usually better for your gums, other teeth and mouth structures to try to save it.
How we do that depends on the disease and degree of damage. Tooth decay, for example, starts when high levels of acid soften the minerals in the outer enamel. This creates a hole, or cavity, that we typically treat first by filling with metal amalgam or, increasingly, composite resins color-matched to the tooth.
If decay has invaded the pulp (the innermost layer of the tooth), you’ll need a root canal treatment. This procedure removes infected material from the pulp and replaces the empty chamber and the root canals with a special filling to guard against another infection. We then cap the tooth with a life-like crown for added protection.
Gum disease, on the other hand, is caused by dental plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces), and requires a different approach. Here, the strategy is to remove all of the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) we can find with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment, and often over several sessions. If the infection extends deeper or has created deep pockets of disease between the teeth and gums, surgery or more advanced techniques may be necessary.
Though effective, some of these treatments can be costly and time-consuming; the tooth itself may be beyond repair. Your best move is to first undergo a complete dental examination. From there, we can give you your best options for dealing with a problem tooth.
If you would like more information on the best treatment approach for your 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”