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.”
We often associate orthodontics with moving several teeth on the upper or lower arches (or both) with braces or clear aligners. But not all patients require a major endeavor — sometimes only one or a few teeth need to be moved, and not very far.
A slight gap between the two upper front teeth is one type of situation that only requires minor tooth movement: just a few teeth need to be moved and usually just a millimeter or two. The appliances needed to achieve this are also relatively simple in design: removable retainers or small scale fixed braces with small springs or elastics that place pressure against the teeth. The process may also only take a few months rather than two years as with major tooth movement.
Preparing for the procedure, though, must be undertaken with great care. We need to first determine if moving the teeth even slightly could affect the bite with the opposite teeth. We must also ensure the roots of the teeth intended for movement are in good position for allowing the space to be closed.
We must then consider the other supporting structures for the teeth. It’s important for gums and bone to be healthy — if not, treating any found disease may be necessary first before beginning orthodontics. And, if the gap between the two upper teeth was created by an abnormally large frenum, the small strip of tissue connecting the lip to the upper gum, it may be necessary to remove it before tooth movement can begin to ensure the closed gap stays closed.
Like any other orthodontic treatment, minor tooth movement first requires a thorough examination with x-ray imaging to determine the exact tooth position, bite issues and the surrounding gum and bone health. We can then be reasonably certain if this straightforward procedure is right for you, and could help you obtain a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on different orthodontic treatment choices, 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 “Minor Tooth Movement.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Edentulism, the loss of all of a person’s teeth, is more than an appearance problem. As one in four Americans over 65 can attest, total tooth loss can lead to emotional suffering, social embarrassment and a lack of nutrition caused by limited food choices.
But there are solutions like the removable denture, an effective dental restoration for more than a century. In its current advanced form, the removable denture is truly a functional, affordable and attractive way to restore lost teeth.
Creating an effective denture begins first by taking detailed impressions of a patient’s gum ridges. We use the measurements obtained from this process to create a plastic resin base colored to resemble the natural gums. Using old photos and other resources documenting how the patient looked with teeth, we choose the best size and shape of porcelain teeth and then position them onto the base.
Finally, we fine-tune the dentures the first time they’re in the patient’s mouth to make sure they have a secure fit and a balanced bite when the jaws come together. We also want to be sure the dentures are attractive and blend well with other facial features. The result: a new set of teeth that can do the job of the old ones and look nearly as real and attractive.
Dentures, though, do have one major drawback: they can’t stop bone loss, a common consequence of missing teeth. In fact, they may even accelerate bone loss due to the pressure they bring to bear on the gum ridges. Continuing bone loss could eventually cause their once secure fit to slacken, making them less functional and much more uncomfortable to wear.
But a recent innovation could put the brakes on bone loss for a denture wearer. By incorporating small implants imbedded at various places along the gums, a denture with compatible fittings connects securely with the implants to support the denture rather than the gum ridges. This not only relieves pressure on the gums, but the titanium within the implants attracts bone cells and stimulates their growth.
Thanks to this and other modern advances, dentures continue to be a solid choice for tooth replacement. Not only can they restore a lost smile, they can improve overall health and well-being too.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for missing 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 “Removable Full Dentures.”
Tooth decay is a highly destructive dental disease, responsible along with periodontal (gum) disease for most adult tooth loss. And we become even more susceptible to it as we get older.
One form of decay that’s especially prominent among senior adults is a root cavity. Similar to a cavity in the crown (visible tooth), this form instead occurs at or below the gum line in the roots. They happen mainly because the roots have become exposed due to gum recession, a common consequence of periodontal (gum) disease and/or brushing too hard.
Exposed roots are extremely vulnerable to disease because they don’t have the benefit of protective enamel like the tooth crown, covered instead with a thin and less protective mineral-like material called cementum. Normally, that’s not a problem because the gums that would normally cover them offer the bulk of the protection. But with the gums receded, the roots must depend on the less-effective cementum for protection against disease.
Although we treat root cavities in a similar way to those in the crown by removing decayed structure and then filling them, there’s often an added difficulty in accessing them below the gum line. Because of its location we may need to surgically enter through the gums to reach the cavity. This can increase the effort and expense to treat them.
It’s best then to prevent them if at all possible. This means practicing daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the thin, built-up biofilm on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and advanced prevention methods like topical fluoride to strengthen any at-risk teeth.
You should also seek immediate treatment at the first sign of gum disease to help prevent gum recession. Even if it has occurred, treating the overall disease could help renew gum attachment. We may also need to support tissue regeneration with grafting surgery.
Root cavities are a serious matter that could lead to tooth loss. But by practicing prevention and getting prompt treatment for any dental disease, you can stop them from destroying your smile.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root cavities, 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 Cavities: Tooth Decay near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
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