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.”
Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
If you’ve suffered from problems with your jaw joints, known collectively as temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), then you know how uncomfortable and painful they can be. You may also have heard about the use of Botox injections to ease TMD discomfort.
Before you seek out Botox treatment for TMD, though, you should consider the current research on the matter. Far from a “miracle” treatment, the dental profession is still undecided on the effects of Botox to relieve TMD pain symptoms — and there are other risks to weigh as well.
Botox is an injectable drug with a poisonous substance called botulinum toxin type A derived from clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that causes muscle paralysis. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved small dose use for some medical and cosmetic procedures, like wrinkle augmentation. The idea behind its use for TMD is to relax the muscles connected to the joint by paralyzing them and thus relieve pain.
The FDA hasn’t yet approved Botox for TMD treatment, although there’s been some use for this purpose. There remain concerns about its effectiveness and possible complications. In the first place, Botox only relieves symptoms — it doesn’t address the underlying cause of the discomfort. Even in this regard, a number of research studies seem to indicate Botox has no appreciable effect on pain relief.
As to side effects or other complications, Botox injections have been known to cause pain in some cases rather than relieve it, as with some patients developing chronic headaches after treatment. A few may build up resistance to the toxin, so that increasingly higher dosages are needed to achieve the same effect from lower dosages. And, yes, Botox is a temporary measure that must be repeated to continue its effect, which could lead to permanent paralyzing effects on the facial muscles and cause muscle atrophy (wasting away) and even deformity.
It may be more prudent to stick with conventional approaches that have well-documented benefits: a diet of easier to chew foods; cold and heat applications; physical therapy and exercises; pain-relief medications and muscle relaxers; and appliances to help control grinding habits. Although these can take time to produce significant relief, the relief may be longer lasting without undesirable side effects.
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.”
Along with daily brushing and flossing, limiting your child’s sugar consumption is an important way to prevent tooth decay. We all know the usual suspects: candy, sugar-added snacks and sodas. But there’s one category you may not at first think fits the profile—juices. But even natural juices with no added sugar can raise your child’s risk of tooth decay if they’re drinking too much.
Tooth decay is caused by certain strains of bacteria in the mouth, which produce acid. Sugar in any form (sucrose, fructose, maltose, etc.) is a primary food source for these bacteria. When there’s a ready food source, bacteria consume it and produce abnormally high levels of acid. This can cause the mineral content of tooth enamel to dissolve faster than saliva, which neutralizes acid, can reverse the tide.
Juices without added sugar still contain the natural sugar of the fruit from which they originate. The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study of the effect of these natural juice sugars on dental health. Their conclusion: it can have an effect, so the amount of juice consumed daily by a child should be restricted according to age.
They’ve since published guidelines to that effect:
- Under age 1 (or any child with abnormal weight gain): no juice at all;
- Ages 1-3: no more than 4 ounces a day;
- Ages 4-6: no more than 6 ounces a day;
- Ages 7-18: no more than 8 ounces (1 cup) a day.
Again, these are guidelines—you should also discuss the right limits for your individual child with your dentist or pediatrician. And if you’re wondering what kind of beverages pose less risk of tooth decay, you can look to low or non-fat milk. And, of course, don’t forget water—besides containing no sugar, nature’s hydrator has a neutral pH, so it won’t increase acidity in the mouth.
Tooth decay is one of the biggest health problems many kids face. But with good teeth-friendly habits, including restricting sugar intake in any of its many forms (including juices) you can go a long way in reducing their risk of this destructive disease.
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