Posts for: September, 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.”
People with poor hygiene habits can develop a chronic form of periodontal (gum) disease known as gingivitis. Characterized by inflamed and bleeding gums, gingivitis is caused by an infection triggered by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food remnant built up on tooth surfaces.
This chronic form of gingivitis, though, can quickly escalate into more serious forms of gum disease that may lead to tooth and bone loss. One such condition is Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG), also known as “trench mouth.” ANUG is a painful condition that can appear suddenly and result in extensive tissue damage and ulcerations, particularly in the papillae, the small, triangular bits of tissue between teeth. Persons with ANUG may also develop a foul breath and taste.
Gingivitis often develops into ANUG when certain mouth conditions exist: poor diet, smoking, which can dry the mouth and disrupt healthy bacterial flora, and increased stress or anxiety. If caught early, though, ANUG is highly treatable and reversible.
After determining you have ANUG and not another condition, our first step is to relieve the symptoms with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to manage pain and reduce swelling. We also prescribe a regimen of antibiotics like Amoxicillin (a proven antibiotic against the specific bacteria that cause ANUG). This should decrease the symptoms within 24 to 48 hours.
As the inflammation subsides we want to continue treatment by removing any plaque or calculus (hardened plaque deposits), especially in hard to reach places. This involves a technique known as scaling in which we used specialized hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to manually remove and flush away plaque and calculus.
The final step depends on you. To prevent reoccurrence, it’s important for you to consistently practice effective oral hygiene to remove plaque — brushing twice and flossing once each day, and visiting us at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. Quitting tobacco and improving your diet will also reduce your risk for ANUG.
ANUG and any other form of gum disease can cause a lot of damage. But taking steps to care for your teeth will help keep this acute form of gingivitis from arising in the first place.
If you would like more information on gingivitis and other forms of 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”