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.”
Durable as well as life-like, dental implants are by far the preferred method for replacing missing teeth. But they can be costly and, although not as much, so can traditional bridgework. Is there an effective but more affordable means to replace a few missing teeth?
There is: a removable partial denture (RPD). In fact, RPDs have always been the less expensive alternative to bridgework and implants. Today's RPDs are usually made of vitallium, a strong but lightweight metal alloy. Because of the metal's characteristics, we can create an appliance that precisely matches the contours of your gums, is thin and hardly noticeable. We anchor prosthetic (false) teeth made of porcelain, resins or plastics in acrylic or nylon that resembles gum tissue.
The most important aspect of an RPD is to design it to produce the least amount of movement in your mouth as you eat or speak. A good design will minimize pressure on both the underlying bone (which can accelerate bone loss) and on the remaining teeth that support the RPD. Although a little more costly, it may be advantageous to use a dental implant to stabilize a lower partial denture when no end tooth is available for support.
To get the most out of your RPD — and to prevent dental disease — it's important for you to practice diligent daily hygiene. RPD attachments can make remaining teeth more susceptible to plaque accumulation, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that can cause tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. To avoid this you should remove the RPD and thoroughly brush and floss your remaining teeth. You should clean the RPD every day with recommended cleansers. You should also take it out at night while you sleep to discourage further bacterial or fungal growth.
Besides daily care for your RPD and natural teeth, be sure to visit us for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. Taking care of both your appliance and your mouth will help ensure your RPD serves you for many years to come.
If you would like more information on removable partial dentures or other restoration 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 “Removable Partial Dentures: Still a Viable Tooth-Replacement Alternative.”
Spring means different things to different people—but to baseball fans, it means just one thing: the start of another thrilling season. All 30 Major League Baseball teams begin play this month, delighting fans from Toronto to Texas and everywhere in between.
The boys of spring carry on an age-old tradition—yet baseball is also changing with the times. Cigarette smoking has been banned at most ballparks for years; smokeless tobacco is next. About half of the MLB venues now prohibit tobacco of any kind, including “snuff” and “dip.” What’s more, a recent contract agreement bars new Major League players from using smokeless tobacco anywhere.
Why all the fuss? Because tobacco isn’t safe to use in any form. People who use smokeless tobacco get just as much highly addictive nicotine as cigarette smokers. Plus, they get a mouthful of chemicals that are known to cause cancer. This puts them at higher risk for oral cancer, cancer of the esophagus, pancreatic cancer and other diseases.
A number of renowned ballplayers like Babe Ruth, Curt Flood and Bill Tuttle died of oral cancer. The death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwinn in 2014 focused attention on tobacco use in baseball, and helped lead to the ban. Gwynn was convinced that his addiction to smokeless tobacco led to his getting oral cancer.
Yet tobacco isn’t the only cause of oral cancer. In fact, the disease is becoming more common in young people who do not smoke. That’s one more reason why it’s so important for people of all ages to keep to a regular schedule of routine dental exams. These visits offer a great opportunity to detect oral cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
So as you watch your favorite team, take a tip from the professional athletes’ playbook. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. If you do, now is a good time to quit. For help and support, call an expert at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov.
If you have any questions about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
With all the new tooth-colored fillings for cavities, it's easy to overlook metal amalgam. While this mainstay of dental care for over a century might not be as attractive as composite resins or glass and resin ionomers, it still has the advantage of strength and durability.
Amalgam is a stable metal alloy usually made up of silver, tin, copper and mercury. The metals are proportioned and mixed precisely to guard against “free” mercury molecules, which could pose a health hazard. The mixture is pliable at first, but then sets hard once molded into the prepared area of the tooth.
Besides strength, amalgam's other advantages include low cost, high resistance to wear and biocompatibility (not toxic to the body or allergy-producing). At the same time, it can require more tooth structure removal to accommodate a filling and cause higher sensitivity to temperature for a while after installation. Its main disadvantage, however, is appearance — it's now considered unacceptable from an aesthetic point of view to use it in visible areas like the front teeth.
Because of this, materials resembling natural tooth color are coming into vogue, especially as their strength improves. Still, dental amalgam continues to play a useful role, especially in less visible back teeth with higher chewing forces.
One past concern about dental amalgam is the inclusion of mercury in the alloy. As mentioned before, mercury is hazardous in a “free” form when not knit microscopically with other metals; as such it can emit a vapor that could enter the bloodstream and damage the nervous system. But after several studies by various organizations, the American Dental Association has concluded amalgam's precise mixture prevents the mercury from taking this form: although some vapor is given off during chewing it's far too low in concentration to pose any danger.
Dental amalgam continues to be an effective choice for fillings. Whether it's the right choice for you will depend on the type and location of a tooth to be filled, and whether durability is a higher concern than appearance. If we do recommend an amalgam filling, you can be assured it's a safe and lasting choice.
If you would like more information on your choices for dental fillings, 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 “Silver Fillings — Safe or Unsafe?”
In February, the American Dental Association sponsors Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of good oral health for kids of all ages. It’s a great time to focus on concerns unique to children—teething, for example. This stage of development can be stressful for children and parents alike. Just ask tennis legend (and new mom) Serena Williams. When her baby daughter recently began teething, the Olympic gold medalist and multi-Grand-Slam champion asked her instagram followers for help:
“Teething… is so hard. Poor Alexis Olympia has been so uncomfortable. She cried so much… I almost need my mom to come and hold me to sleep cause I’m so stressed. Help? Anyone?”
We certainly sympathize with Serena’s plight. The process of teething—where a child’s primary teeth start to emerge (erupt) from below the gum line—can make both baby and parents irritable in the daytime and sleepless at night. While a few infants are born with tiny teeth already showing, most kids’ teeth begin emerging at age 4-7 months.
Teething is an important milestone in baby’s growth…but it’s one that’s not always cause for celebration. It can lead to pain, drooling, gnawing, and biting; ear rubbing and gum swelling; decreased appetite and disrupted sleeping patterns. And did we mention that irritability and stress are common as well? But if you notice fever, diarrhea, or widespread rash, it may be wise to consult your dentist or pediatrician.
What can you do to ease the discomfort of teething? The American Dental Association (ADA) has a few recommendations: Try soothing the gums by rubbing them gently with a clean finger or a cool, moist towel or washcloth; or let your baby chew on a cold (but not frozen) teething ring or pacifier.
If your pediatrician recommends it, over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used for persistent teething pain—but make sure to use the correct dosage and wait the proper amount of time between doses.
There are also a few things you should NEVER do. Don’t give alcohol to a baby in any form, and don’t rub any medications on baby’s gums. Don’t give a baby anything to chew on that’s unsafe (bones, breakable items, etc). And don’t use teething gels containing benzociane, lidocaine or certain homeopathic ingredients: According to a recent FDA warning, they may pose a danger to infants, including risks of rare but serious medical conditions. Feel free to check with us if you are not sure whether a particular remedy is safe for your baby.
There’s no doubt that teething can be stressful. But it’s a sign of normal development—and in time it will pass…like babyhood itself. If you’re concerned about your child’s teething or would like more information, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Teething Troubles.”
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