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?”
Root canal therapy is the unsung "hero" of dentistry. Although often falsely maligned as an unpleasant experience, millions of decayed teeth have been saved thanks to this routine treatment.
But although root canal therapy can save your tooth, we can't guarantee it won't be affected by another infection. There are other factors to consider how long a treated tooth will remain healthy.
Root canal therapy stops and limits the damage from tooth decay that has infected the inner pulp and root canals. A dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist) drills into the tooth to gain access to the pulp. They remove the diseased pulp tissue and then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a specialized filling called gutta percha. The tooth is then sealed and later crowned to protect it against future fracture or infection.
The probability of that occurring may depend on when a dentist performs the root canal in the disease progression—and the earlier the better. If decay has already infected the underlying bone, the tooth's long-term prognosis even with root canal therapy could be dim. That's why you should see a dentist as soon as possible for any tooth pain, even if it goes away.
The type of tooth could impact long-term health. Teeth with single roots are usually easier to treat. But those with multiple roots and an intricate root canal network can be more difficult to treat, and require specialized equipment and techniques.
Age can also impact root canal therapy longevity. The older a root canal-treated tooth is, the more brittle and susceptible to fracture it can become, which can pose complications. That's why we typically place crowns on treated teeth to protect them from both future infection and undue stress created while biting and chewing.
To help mitigate these possible factors, you should see your dentist regularly for checkups and at the first sign of pain or other abnormalities for the earliest treatment possible. And for more complex tooth issues, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist to perform your root canal. With early intervention and attentive care, your root canaled tooth could enjoy many years of life.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Fluoride is a critical weapon in the war against tooth decay. But this natural chemical proven to strengthen tooth enamel has also aroused suspicion over the years that it might cause health problems.
These suspicions have led to rigorous testing of fluoride's safety. And the verdict from decades of research? We've found only one verifiable side effect, a condition called enamel fluorosis. Caused by too much fluoride present in the body, enamel fluorosis produces white streaks and patches on teeth, and can develop into darker staining and pitting in extreme cases. But other than having an unattractive appearance, the teeth remain sound and healthy.
Fortunately, you can reduce the risk of fluorosis by limiting fluoride exposure to within recommended limits. Fluoride can show up in processed foods and other substances, but the two sources you should focus on most are oral hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water.
Dentists highly recommend using toothpaste with fluoride to fight tooth decay. But be careful how much your family uses, especially younger members. An infant only needs a slight smear of toothpaste on their brush for effective hygiene. At around age 2, you can increase the amount to about the size of a vegetable pea.
As to drinking water, most utilities add fluoride to their supply. If yours does, you can find out how much they add by calling them or visiting cdc.gov ("My Water's Fluoride"), where you can also learn more about recommended levels of fluoridation. If you think it's excessive, you can switch to water labeled "de-ionized," "purified," "demineralized," or "distilled," which contain little to no added fluoride.
Even if your fluoridated water is within recommended levels, you may wish to take extra precautions for infants nursing with formula. If possible, use "ready-to-feed" formula, which usually contains very low amounts of fluoride if any. If you're using the powdered form, use only water with the aforementioned labeling for mixing.
Before making any drastic changes that might affect your family's fluoride intake, consult with your dentist first. And be sure you're keeping up regular dental visits—your dentist may be able to detect any early signs of fluorosis before it becomes a bigger problem.
If you would like more information on maintaining the proper fluoride balance with your family, 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
Unlike our primitive ancestors, our teeth have it relatively easy. Human diets today are much more refined than their counterparts from thousands of years ago. Ancient teeth recovered from those bygone eras bear that out, showing much more wear on average than modern teeth.
Even so, our modern teeth still wear as we age—sometimes at an accelerated rate. But while you can't eliminate wearing entirely, you can take steps to minimize it and preserve your teeth in your later years. Here are 3 things you can do to slow your teeth's wearing process.
Prevent dental disease. Healthy teeth endure quite well even while being subjected to daily biting forces produced when we eat. But teeth weakened by tooth decay are more susceptible to wear. To avoid this, you should practice daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque. And see your dentist at least twice a year for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
Straighten your bite. A poor bite, where the top and bottom teeth don't fit together properly, isn't just an appearance problem—it could also cause accelerated tooth wear. Having your bite orthodontically corrected not only gives you a new smile, it can also reduce abnormal biting forces that are contributing to wear. And don't let age stop you: except in cases of bone deterioration or other severe dental problems, older adults whose gums are healthy can undergo orthodontics and achieve healthy results.
Seek help for bruxism. The term bruxism refers to any involuntary habit of grinding teeth, which can produce abnormally high biting forces. Over time this can increase tooth wear or weaken teeth to the point of fracture or other severe damage. While bruxism is uncommon in adults, it's still a habit that needs to be addressed if it occurs. The usual culprit is high stress, which can be better managed through therapy or biofeedback. Your dentist can also fashion you a custom guard to wear that will prevent upper and lower teeth from wearing against each other.
If you would like more information on minimizing teeth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
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