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.”
There are several reasons why dental implants are so popular. Perhaps the most important, though, is their longevity: if maintained properly implants can last for decades. However, they’re not indestructible—certain mouth conditions could put them at risk for early failure. But if you address emerging problems early, you may be able to prevent that unfortunate outcome.
Your implants may be in danger, for example, if you have a teeth grinding or clenching habit. This occurs when a person involuntarily and repeatedly bites down on their teeth when not chewing or speaking. Usually triggered in adults by high stress, teeth grinding can subject both natural teeth and implants to damaging levels of force. Over time this can cause bone loss around an implant and weaken their support. It could also cause a direct break in an implant.
But there are ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of teeth grinding. One effective way is a custom-made bite guard you wear while you sleep. Made of hard plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other, reducing the amount of force generated.
A more prominent problem is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by built-up dental plaque on tooth surfaces. This can trigger inflammation, a normal defensive response that when it persists for an extended period of time can damage tissues and supporting bone. It can also cause a specific form of gum disease related to implants called peri-implantitis, in which the tissues that support an implant become infected and weaken, leading eventually to possible implant failure.
If you have implants, then, you should brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease, as well as see your dentist at least every six months for cleanings and checkups. And if you notice anything like reddened, swollen or bleeding gums, see your dentist immediately. The sooner you undergo treatment, the better the outcome for your implants as well as your overall health.
Dental implants can give you years of great service and can prove to be well worth the cost. But you’ll have to stay on your guard against gum disease and other mouth conditions that could endanger them down the road.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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: A Tooth-Replacement Method that Rarely Fails.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Periodontal (gum) disease can cause a number of devastating effects that could eventually lead to tooth loss. However, you may be more prone to a particular effect depending on the individual characteristics of your gums.
There are two basic types of gum tissues or “periodontal biotypes” that we inherit from our parents: thick or thin. These can often be identified by sight — thinner gum tissues present a more pronounced arch around the teeth and appear more scalloped; thicker tissues present a flatter arch appearance. While there are size variations within each biotype, one or the other tends to predominate within certain populations: those of European or African descent typically possess the thick biotype, while Asians tend to possess the thin biotype.
In relation to gum disease, those with thin gum tissues are more prone to gum recession. The diseased tissues pull up and away (recede) from a tooth, eventually exposing the tooth’s root surface. Receding gums thus cause higher sensitivity to temperature changes or pressure, and can accelerate tooth decay. It’s also unattractive as the normal pink triangles of gum tissue between teeth (papillae) may be lost, leaving only a dark spot between the teeth or making the more yellow-colored root surface visible.
While thicker gum tissues are more resilient to gum recession, they’re more prone to the development of periodontal pockets. In this case, the slight gap between teeth and gums grows longer as the infected tissues pull away from the teeth as the underlying bone tissue is lost. The resulting void becomes deeper and more prone to infection and will ultimately result in further bone loss and decreased survivability for the tooth.
Either of these conditions will require extensive treatment beyond basic plaque control. Severe gum recession, for example, may require grafting techniques to cover exposed teeth and encourage new tissue growth. Periodontal pockets, in turn, must be accessed and cleaned of infection: the deeper the pocket the more invasive the treatment, including surgery.
Regardless of what type of gum tissue you have, it’s important for you to take steps to lower your risk of gum disease. First and foremost, practice effective daily hygiene with brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the main cause of gum disease. You should also visit us at least twice a year (or more, if you’ve developed gum disease) for those all important cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on hereditary factors for gum disease, 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 “Genetics & Gum Tissue Types.”
A poor bite (malocclusion) could be more than simply teeth out of alignment. There could be complex causes for the malocclusion, possibly involving the facial bone structure.
An example of this is the development of a cross-bite due to problems with the upper jaw and palate (the roof of the mouth), jointly called the maxilla. The maxilla is in fact formed by two bones fused together in the center of the palate in what's called the midline suture. The suture doesn't completely fuse until after puberty.
Sometimes a maxilla's development doesn't follow a normal track. The upper jaw doesn't widen as it should, which leads to the cross-bite where the upper back teeth abnormally bite inside the lower teeth. The upper front teeth continue to bite normally in front of the lower front teeth. This also can have profound influence on breathing, causing sleep apnea.
We can correct this by using an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander before the midline suture fuses. The expander gradually widens the upper jaw to its normal width and thus eliminates the cross-bite.
Positioned at the roof of the mouth, the expander has metal arms that extend from a central hinge to exert pressure on the inside of the upper teeth. The patient or a caregiver uses a small key to turn a mechanism that extends the arms toward the teeth a tiny amount each day. This gradually widens the jaw, while at the same time stimulating bone growth at the midline suture. Eventually the gap fills with bone to solidify the new width as the suture fuses.
It's important to undertake this treatment before fusion. If you wait until after puberty, you will need to separate the bones first to attempt it. The overall impact and cost is much less if you act promptly in the early years.
Palatal expansion may not be the right treatment in every case, so we'll need to perform a thorough orthodontic exam first. If, however, we do determine it can help, using an expander can improve function, correct future breathing problems and make possible a more attractive future smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment options, 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 “Palatal Expanders: Orthodontics is more than just Moving Teeth.”
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