Posts for: August, 2015
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.”
A loose baby tooth is normal and expected; a loose permanent tooth is quite another matter: it’s an advanced sign of disease that could lead to losing the tooth.
The reasons for its looseness may vary. You may have experienced “primary occlusal trauma,” in which the teeth have experienced a prolonged excessive biting force beyond their tolerance. This can be caused by habitual grinding or clenching the teeth.
You may have also experienced “secondary occlusal trauma”: although the biting forces are within normal ranges, the teeth still can’t handle the stress due to degraded bone support and gum tissue detachment. Clenching habits combined with weakened bone and gums will only accelerate and worsen the damage.
The most frequent cause in adults for loose teeth is secondary trauma from periodontal (gum) disease. Bacterial plaque built up on teeth from poor oral hygiene causes a chronic infection that eventually weakens gum attachment to the teeth. A loose tooth is a late sign of this damage.
Treatment for disease-based loose teeth has a twofold approach. First, we thoroughly clean the tooth, root and gum surfaces of all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) to reduce the infection and inflammation and restore tissue health. This is often accompanied by antibiotic treatments to reduce bacteria below the gum tissue.
For the loose teeth themselves, we may need to modify the forces against them while the gums and bone heal. One way to lessen the biting force on a tooth is to reshape its and the opposing tooth’s biting surfaces. For extensive looseness we can also splint the affected tooth or teeth with other teeth. Temporarily, we can apply splinting material to the outside of both the loose and stable teeth or cut a small channel into them and apply bonding material to join them. A permanent option is to crown both the affected teeth and nearby stable teeth and fuse the crowns together.
These and other stabilizing techniques, like occlusal night guards to reduce the effects of teeth grinding or orthodontic treatment, will help secure the teeth. Coupled with disease treatment and renewed dental care and hygiene practices, you may be able to keep that loose tooth from being lost.
If you would like more information on treating loose 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”