As Spring turns to Summer, millions of students will depart high school in the time-honored rite of passage called graduation. At the same time, quite a few of these graduates will be experiencing another maturity milestone: the eruption (coming in) of their last permanent teeth.
Typically, these are the back third molars, better known as “wisdom teeth,” emerging on either end of both the top and bottom jaws sometime between the ages of 18 and 24. Their arrival heralds the end of a long development process that began in infancy.
But this auspicious event can give rise to dental problems. Because they’re the last to come in, wisdom teeth often erupt in an environment crowded by earlier teeth. Depending on jaw size and other factors, there may not be enough room for a normal eruption.
Wisdom teeth can thus erupt out of position, creating a poor bite (malocclusion). Or they might not erupt at all—becoming stuck fully or partially within the gums and bone, a condition known as impaction. Impacted teeth can also cause problems for the adjacent teeth, damaging the roots of the second molars or disrupting the surrounding gum tissue, making them more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease.
Because of these and other issues, impacted wisdom teeth are among the most common type of teeth removed: an estimated 10 million each year. And many of these are removed before they show signs of disease or complications as a preemptive strike against developing dental problems.
Although unnecessary surgery should always be avoided, according to some research, there’s a one in three chance that erupting wisdom teeth that are not showing signs of trouble will eventually become problematic. And the earlier they’re removed, the lower the risk of post-extraction complications.
Wisdom teeth should always be evaluated on a case by case basis. Those with obvious signs of disease or complications do require prompt treatment, including possible extraction. Others that are asymptomatic can be monitored over time: If they’re tending to become problematic, we can adjust the treatment plan accordingly. Our goal is to ensure these particular teeth signaling the end of childhood won’t detract from dental health in adulthood, so a measured approach seems to be the best and safest one.
If you would like more information on treatment options for wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma” and “Wisdom Teeth: To Be or Not to Be?”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
There is a primary principle dentists follow regarding tooth decay—treat it as soon as you find it. Something as simple and routine as filling a cavity could prevent future tooth loss.
But treating a cavity at or below the gum line could be anything but simple and routine. Older adults who may also be dealing with gum recession are more likely to have these kinds of cavities where the gums block clear access to it.
But there is a way to access gum-covered cavities with a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening. Crown lengthening is commonly used in cosmetic dentistry to expose more of the visible teeth when there's an overabundance of gum tissue or if the teeth are disproportionately small. We can use it in this instance to surgically relocate the blocking gum tissue out of the way of the cavity.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, tiny incisions will be made in the gums to create a tissue flap. After reshaping the underlying bone to recreate normal anatomy but at a different level, this flap is then moved and sutured to a new position. This exposes enough tooth structure so that the cavity can be repaired after gum healing.
As with any minor surgery, there's a very slight risk of bleeding and/or infection with crown lengthening. If you undergo this procedure, you'll receive post-care instructions for the first few days afterward including avoiding strenuous activities, eating only soft foods and using an ice pack the day of surgery to help control swelling.
This versatile procedure can help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost due to decay. And, it might even improve your appearance.
If you would like more information on treatment options for tooth decay, 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
Losing a tooth can be traumatic, but a dental implant can dramatically turn that experience around. Providing functionality, life-like appearance and durability, implants stand out as the premier restoration for lost teeth.
For adults, that is. An older child or teenager with a missing tooth may need to wait a few more years for an implant. The reason: jaw development. A person's jaws, particular the upper jaw, continue to grow with most growth completed by early adulthood. Natural teeth with their periodontal attachments develop right alongside the jaw.
But because an implant attaches directly to the jawbone, its position is fixed: it won't change as the jaw grows and may gradually appear to sink below the gum line. That's why we wait to place an implant until most of jaw maturity has occurred after full jaw maturity. For females, we try to wait until 20 years of age and for males, usually 21 years of age. These are guidelines as some people mature faster and some slower, so a discussion with your dentist or surgeon is necessary to make an educated decision.
While we wait, we can install a temporary replacement for a child's or teenager's lost tooth, usually a partial denture or fixed modified ("Maryland") bridge. The latter affixes a prosthetic (false) tooth in the missing tooth space by attaching it to the back of natural teeth on either side with bonded dental material. It differs from a traditional bridge in that these supporting teeth aren't permanently altered and crowned to support the bridge.
During the time before implants we should understand that the area where the implant will be placed will undergo some bone deterioration, a common consequence of missing teeth. Forces generated as we chew travel through the teeth to stimulate renewing bone growth all along the jawbone. But with a lost tooth the chewing stimulation ceases at that part of the bone, slowing the growth rate and leading to gradual bone loss.
Fortunately, the titanium posts of dental implants stimulate bone growth as bone cells naturally grow and adhere to their surfaces. Before then, though, if the bone volume is diminished, we may need to graft bone material to stimulate bone growth that will enlarge the jaw bone enough for an implant to be placed.
It usually isn't a question of "if" but "when" we can provide your child with an implant for their missing tooth. In the meantime, we can prepare for that day with a temporary restoration.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teenagers, 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 for Teenagers.”
Even with modern prevention and treatment advances, losing teeth in later life is still a sad but common part of human experience. Just as generations have before, many today rely on dentures to regain their lost dental function and smile.
But although effective, dentures have their weaknesses. The most serious: they can't prevent jawbone deterioration, a common problem associated with tooth loss.
Bone health depends on chewing forces applied to the teeth to stimulate replacement growth for older bone cells. When teeth are gone, so is this stimulation. Dentures can't replicate the stimulus and may even accelerate bone loss because they can irritate the bone under the gums as they rest upon them for support.
But there's a recent advance in denture technology that may help slow or even stop potential bone loss. The advance incorporates implants with dentures to create two hybrid alternatives that may be more secure and healthier for the supporting bone.
The first is known as an overdenture, a removable appliance similar to a traditional denture. But instead of deriving its support from the gums alone, the overdenture attaches to three to four implants (or only two, if on the lower jaw) that have been permanently set into the jawbone. This not only increases stability, but the implants made of bone-friendly titanium attract and foster increased bone growth around them. This can help slow or even stop the cycle of bone loss with missing teeth.
The second type is a fixed denture. In this version, four to six implants are implanted around the jaw arch. The denture is then secured in place to these implants with screws. It's a little more secure than the overdenture, but it's also more expensive and requires good quality bone at the implant sites.
If you've already experienced significant bone loss you may first need bone grafting to build up the implant sites for these options, or choose traditional dentures instead. But if you're a good candidate for an implant-supported denture, you may find it provides better support and less risk of continuing bone loss than traditional dentures.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dental restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
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