Posts for: February, 2018
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.”
Your tooth is in peril if its innermost layer, the pulp, becomes infected and inflamed. Deep tooth decay, repeated dental procedures or fractures can all expose the pulp and ultimately the roots to infection and lead to tooth loss.
But that scenario isn't inevitable — we can often save the tooth with a root canal treatment. By accessing the tooth's interior through a prepared hole, we're able to clean out the infected tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals, and fill the empty space with a special filling. We then cap the tooth with a custom crown to protect it from a re-infection.
Root canal treatments have a very high success rate — chances are good your tooth will survive for many years afterward. But there's a slight chance the tooth may become re-infected; in that case, a second root canal treatment may be in order.
In a few cases, though, a second root canal may not be advisable, and could even accelerate damage to the tooth. For example, if past dental work resulted in an extensive crown restoration, accessing the root canals the conventional way will require disassembling that restoration. This could weaken the tooth significantly.
We can approach the problem from a different route: instead of accessing the tooth's interior through the crown (the visible part of the tooth), we instead perform a surgical procedure called an apicoectomy, which accesses the tooth at the root end through the gums.
In this procedure we numb the area with local anesthesia and then make a small incision through the gums at the level of the affected root. After access, we remove any diseased tissue around the root and a few millimeters of the root tip itself. We then insert a small filling in its place to seal the canal and prevent further infection. In some cases we may also insert a graft to encourage bone growth and aid in healing.
Over time, the affected area will heal and return to normal function. Even if a traditional root canal treatment can't be used, an apicoectomy could be another option for saving your tooth.
If you would like more information on your options for preserving a problem tooth, 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 “Apicoectomy.”
If you’ve had issues with periodontal (gum) disease, no doubt a few things have changed for you. You may be seeing us for dental cleanings and checkups more frequently and you have to be extra diligent about your daily brushing and flossing.
There’s one other thing you may need to do: change your diet. Some of the foods you may be eating could work against you in your fight against gum disease. At the same time, increasing your intake of certain foods could boost your overall oral health.
The biggest culprits in the first category are carbohydrates, which make up almost half the average diet in the Western world, mainly as added sugar. Although carbohydrates help fuel the body, too much can increase inflammation—which also happens to be a primary cause of tissue damage related to gum disease.
Of course, we can’t paint too broad a brush because not all carbohydrates have the same effect on the body. Carbohydrates like sugar or processed items like bakery goods, white rice or mashed potatoes quickly convert to glucose (the actual sugar used by the body for energy) in the bloodstream and increase insulin levels, which can then lead to chronic inflammation. Complex or unprocessed carbohydrates like vegetables, nuts or whole grains take longer to digest and so convert to glucose slowly—a process which can actually hinder inflammation.
Eating less of the higher glycemic (the rate of glucose conversion entering the bloodstream) carbohydrates and more low glycemic foods will help reduce inflammation. And that’s good news for your gums. You should also add foods rich in vitamins C and D (cheese and other dairy products, for instance) and antioxidants to further protect your oral health.
Studies have shown that changing to a low-carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory diet can significantly reduce chronic inflammation in the body and improve gum health. Coupled with your other efforts at prevention, a better diet can go a long way in keeping gum disease at bay.
If you would like more information on the role of diet in 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”