Posts for: April, 2015
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.”
Even with good dental hygiene and care, your teeth may show signs of wear as you age. Fortunately, we now have ways to treat these symptoms of aging and restore a youthful look and function to your teeth and jaws.
How Do Teeth Wear?
All the tissues in your body are constantly in a process of breaking down (catabolism) and rebuilding (anabolism). During childhood the anabolic processes exceed the catabolic processes. But after you have reached physical maturity the balance changes and the breakdown process begins to draw ahead of the building up. The result: signs of wear.
In your teeth, the outer layer, the enamel, is a hard, mineralized substance that is resistant to wear. Under the enamel is a layer called dentin, which is a living tissue something like bone. As teeth age, the dentin layer thickens, causing teeth to lose some of their whiteness. Most wear to your teeth comes from the pressure of the upper and lower teeth's biting surfaces against each other. How much wear occurs depends on your bite or occlusion (how the teeth are aligned, and how they meet) and the ways in which you use your teeth.
Constant interactions between the biting surfaces of your teeth result in removal of small amounts of enamel. Your body naturally compensates for this wearing away of material. As teeth wear, they erupt from your jaws by tiny amounts, moving slightly up or down to stay in the proper occlusal relation with the teeth on the other jaw. They also slowly move toward the front of your mouth.
If the wear becomes excessive, your body can no longer compensate for it. At this point you may find that your bite relationships are not working correctly, and the lower third of your face loses height. This creates or accentuates an older appearance.
Some people clench or grind their teeth, applying greater than normal — and damaging — forces to their teeth. This problem, often a reaction to stress, is called bruxism. It can cause a number of problems from jaw pain to loose teeth or excessive wear or tooth fractures. If you suffer from excessive wear due to bruxism, a professionally made mouthguard may prevent further damage.
Modern Dentistry Can Restore a Youthful Look
Modern dentistry can successfully restore the normal shape, appearance and function of worn teeth by installing porcelain crowns or veneers. These not only replace the tooth structure lost through wear, but they also restore the bite relationship. Crowns on excessively worn teeth can dramatically improve tooth color and facial appearance, resulting in a more harmonious, younger look.
Lasers have transformed our everyday lives, especially in healthcare. These intense beams of light of a single wavelength have revolutionized all manner of diagnostics and treatments, from general surgery to cosmetic therapy.
Dentistry has also been influenced by the laser revolution. Here are just a few of the areas where they’re growing in use and popularity.
Early disease detection. Laser instruments can take advantage of “fluorescence,” the tendency of bacteria to “glow” when exposed to certain wavelengths of light. This is proving more effective in detecting early tooth decay in pits and fissures (very tiny areas in a tooth’s biting surface) than traditional needle-like probing instruments called dental explorers. Newer lasers can now detect the same fluorescent qualities in soft tissues, which may reduce the detection time for oral cancer and make the difference between life and death.
Dental caries treatment. Lasers have become an alternative to the dental drill in treating teeth with dental caries (decay). Although with larger cavities lasers are somewhat slower than the conventional drill, they truly shine when it comes to early enamel caries and small cavities because they can be quite precise in the amount of tooth structure they remove. This feature allows them to be less invasive than a dental drill.
Periodontal treatment. Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection caused mainly by bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that have adhered to tooth surfaces. Lasers are emerging as an alternative to conventional periodontal (gum) surgery to treat voids or spaces below the gum line called periodontal pockets that have formed because of gum tissue detachment as supporting bone is lost. With their ability to target and destroy infected tissue without damaging nearby healthy tissue, lasers can achieve similar outcomes as traditional techniques but with less tissue damage and discomfort to patients afterward.
Research and development into laser technology continues to perfect these and other applications that promise to make dental procedures less invasive and more comfortable for patients.
You may get a laugh out of jokes about snoring, but in fact snoring and “Sleep Apnea” (“a” – without; “pnea” – breath) is no laughing matter. Nights of chronically disturbed sleep results in accidents, lost productivity and even depression, as well as problems at work and with relationships. Chronic snoring as a result of sleep apnea, results in sleep deprivation and health problems such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, brain damage and strokes.
What causes snoring?
Snoring results when soft tissue structures block the airway (windpipe) in the back of the throat. These structures include tonsils, soft palate, the uvula (the little punch-bag shaped structure at the back of the throat), and fat deposits. As you relax in sleep these tissues collapse onto themselves and the tongue drops back, causing a blockage in the air passage to the lungs. These obstacles to airflow create the familiar sound that we know as snoring.
What is Sleep Apnea?
When the obstruction is severe, it can block airflow completely. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when your upper airway is so seriously obstructed that there is significant loss of airflow, or even a complete arrest of breathing for 10 seconds or more. Reduced airflow into the lungs causes low levels of oxygen in the blood reaching the brain. Your brain, saving itself from suffocation, wakes you briefly out of deep sleep, followed by a loud gasp as the flow of air starts again. This can happen more than 50 times an hour. Low oxygen levels and fragmented sleep cause most of the dangers of sleep apnea.
What can be done to combat sleep apnea?
Medical and dental treatment includes:
- Staying physically healthy: Being overweight contributes to OSA, so start by losing weight and exercising.
- Oral Appliance Therapy: Specially designed (retainer-like) appliances are designed to maintain an open, unobstructed, upper airway during sleep.
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): CPAP bedside machines send pressurized air through a tube connected to a mask (covering the nose and sometimes mouth), keeping your airway open.
How can we help you combat your snoring and sleep apnea?
The first step is assessment and diagnosis. Dentists, specially trained in sleep medicine, are in a unique position to help diagnose and help treat snoring and sleep apnea as part of a medical team. Contact us today to schedule an appointment if you think you have a problem with snoring and OSA — or if your spouse thinks you do. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Snoring and Sleep Apnea.”