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.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
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.
For a predictable outcome, a dental implant should be placed as soon as the bone and gum tissues following a tooth extraction have healed. But what happens if the tooth has been missing for months or years? You might then run the risk of not having enough bone to properly place an implant.
This can happen because of a disruption in the growth cycle of living bone tissue. As older bone cells dissolve (resorption), new bone develops to take its place. This is a dynamic process, as the amount and exact location of the new growth is in response to changes in the mouth, particularly from forces generated by the teeth as we chew. If, however, this stimulation transmitted to the bone no longer occurs because the tooth is missing, the bone will tend to dissolve over time.
In fact, within the first year after a tooth loss the associated bone can lose as much as a quarter of its normal width. This is why we typically place bone grafting material in an empty socket at the same time as we extract the tooth. This encourages bone growth during the healing period in anticipation of installing a dental implant or a fixed bridge. If, however, the bone has diminished to less than required for a dental implant, we must then use techniques to encourage new bone growth to support a future implant.
One such technique for restoring bone in the back of the upper jaw is to surgically access the area through the maxillary sinus (a membrane-lined air space within the bone structure of the face) positioned just over the jawbone to place grafting material. During surgery performed usually with local anesthesia, the surgeon accesses the sinus cavity, lifts the tissue membrane up from the sinus floor and applies the grafting material on top of the bone. Eventually, the new bone growth will replace the grafting material.
If successful, the new bone growth will be sufficient to support an implant. Thanks to this renewed growth, you’ll soon be able to enjoy better function and a transformed smile provided by your new implant.
If you would like more information on forming new bone for implants through sinus surgery, 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 “Sinus Surgery.”
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