One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth treatment, 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.”
Complete tooth loss is a common condition among older adults, gradually occurring one or two teeth at a time. There often comes a point of realization, though, that all the teeth will eventually be lost.
This can create a dilemma: Do you replace teeth as they're lost, or go ahead and have all of them removed at one time?
Up until recently, the latter choice seemed the most practical and affordable. But most dentists would agree that keeping natural teeth for as long as practical is better for a person's overall oral health and to slow any potential bone loss.
The emergence of dental implants has made this less of a dilemma: We can use this technology to more affordably replace teeth in stages rather than all at once. This is because an implant is technically a root replacement: a dentist inserts a titanium metal post into the jawbone. Because of an affinity with titanium, bone cells grow and adhere to the implant surface, which creates a stronger hold. It also impedes bone loss.
We can, of course, use implants as individual tooth replacements. But the expense of this approach with multiple teeth puts it well out of reach financially for many people. But implants can also be used as connective points between the patient's jaw and other kinds of dental restorations like bridges, partial dentures, and full removable or fixed dentures.
Using this approach, we can adopt a strategy of allowing healthier teeth to remain until it's necessary to remove them. We initially place implants to support a bridge, for example; later we can use the same implants along with additional ones to support a larger restoration, even a fixed full denture.
An implant-supported restoration is typically more expensive than traditional bridges or dentures, but far less than replacing teeth with individual implants. And because the stages of restorations may occur over a long period of time, the cost can be spread out to make it more manageable.
If you're facing a future where it's likely you'll lose all your teeth, you don't have to lose them all at once. Staged restorations with implants could help you hold on to your natural teeth for as long as possible, slow bone loss and make for a healthier mouth.
If you would like more information on the wide array of dental 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 “Replacing All Teeth But Not All at Once.”
On the way to adulthood, permanent teeth steadily erupt until, if all goes normally, you have a full set of teeth. Sometimes, though, one or more teeth may fail to form. This not only can affect your dental health, but it could also diminish your smile.
For example, if the lateral incisors on either side of the central incisors (the two teeth front and center) don't develop, it could create a smile that's “not quite right.” But we can vastly improve such a smile in one of three unique ways.
The first is to fill the resulting gap through canine substitution. This is an orthodontic method in which we use braces to move the pointed canine teeth, which normally position on the other side of the missing laterals, closer to the central incisors. This choice is determined by the size of the canine teeth. If they are slim in width, they can be re-shaped to make them appear more like a lateral incisor, and the gums possibly reshaped as well around them through cosmetic surgery.
We can also install a dental bridge, an appliance that fills the missing lateral space with prosthetic teeth. A traditional bridge requires the teeth on either side of the gap to be reduced in size, which becomes a permanent alteration to accommodate these crowns. This is a disadvantage in a young person. We can also use a “bonded bridge” which uses adhesives to attach extended pieces (or “wings”) of dental material from either side of the prosthetic tooth to one or more supporting teeth. These wings are behind the permanent teeth. Though not as durable as a traditional bridge, it does avoid altering the support teeth.
Finally, we can replace the missing teeth with dental implants. In this method, we install titanium metal posts into the jawbone at the missing tooth locations and then attach a life-like crown to each one. Implants may be more costly than other restorative methods and can take several months to complete. But they are life-like, highly durable, and don't require any alteration to other teeth. A disadvantage is that you should wait until at least 19 years of age to consider this option. What many people do is use a temporary solution until the proper age to do a dental implant.
Each of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages, which should be thoroughly reviewed in consultation with your dentist. And each may also require other dental work, such as initial orthodontics to open adequate space for a restoration. But any of these methods for correcting a missing lateral tooth can be effective and help restore both a healthier mouth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating congenital dental defects, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow.”
You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that someone playing hockey, racing motocross or duking it out in an ultimate fighter match had a tooth knocked out. But acting in a movie? That's exactly what happened to Howie Mandel, well-known comedian and host of TV's America's Got Talent and Deal or No Deal. And not just any tooth, but one of his upper front teeth—with the other one heavily damaged in the process.
The accident occurred during the 1987 filming of Walk Like a Man in which Mandel played a young man raised by wolves. In one scene, a co-star was supposed to yank a bone from Howie's mouth. The actor, however, pulled the bone a second too early while Howie still had it clamped between his teeth. Mandel says you can see the tooth fly out of his mouth in the movie.
But trooper that he is, Mandel immediately had two crowns placed to restore the damaged teeth and went back to filming. The restoration was a good one, and all was well with his smile for the next few decades.
Until, that is, he began to notice a peculiar discoloration pattern. Years of coffee drinking had stained his other natural teeth, but not the two prosthetic (“false”) crowns in the middle of his smile. The two crowns, bright as ever, stuck out prominently from the rest of his teeth, giving him a distinctive look: “I looked like Bugs Bunny,” Mandel told Dear Doctor—Dentistry & Oral Health magazine.
His dentist, though, had a solution: dental veneers. These thin wafers of porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask slight imperfections like chipping, gaps or discoloration. Veneers are popular way to get an updated and more attractive smile. Each veneer is custom-shaped and color-matched to the individual tooth so that it blends seamlessly with the rest of the teeth.
One caveat, though: most veneers can look bulky if placed directly on the teeth. To accommodate this, traditional veneers require that some of the enamel be removed from your tooth so that the veneer does not add bulk when it is placed over the front-facing side of your tooth. This permanently alters the tooth and requires it have a restoration from then on.
In many instances, however, a “minimal prep” or “no-prep” veneer may be possible, where, as the names suggest, very little or even none of the tooth's surface needs to be reduced before the veneer is placed. The type of veneer that is recommended for you will depend on the condition of your enamel and the particular flaw you wish to correct.
Many dental patients opt for veneers because they can be used in a variety of cosmetic situations, including upgrades to previous dental work as Howie Mandel experienced. So if slight imperfections are putting a damper on your smile, veneers could be the answer.
If you would like more information about veneers and other cosmetic dental enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
Dental implants are far and away the most “tooth-like” restoration available today for missing teeth. Not only do they look real, they also mimic dental anatomy in replacing the tooth root.
To install an implant, though, requires a minor surgical procedure. And, as with any surgery, that includes a slight risk for a post-surgical infection. For most patients this isn't a major concern—but it can be for people with certain medical conditions.
One way to lessen the risk for implant patients whose health could be jeopardized by an infection is to prescribe a prophylactic (preventive) antibiotic before implant surgery. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the measure for patients with artificial heart valves, a history of infective endocarditis, a heart transplant and other heart-related issues.
In the past, their recommendation also extended to people with joint replacements. But in conjunction with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery (AAOS), the ADA downgraded this recommendation a few years ago and left it to the physician's discretion. Indeed, some orthopedic surgeons do recommend antibiotic therapy for patients before surgical procedures like implantation for up to two years after joint replacement.
These changes reflect the ongoing debate over the proper use of antibiotics. In essence, this particular argument is over risks vs. benefits: Are pre-surgical antibiotics worth the lower infection risk for patients at low to moderate risk in return for increased risk of allergic reactions and other side effects from the antibiotic? Another driver in this debate is the deep concern over the effect current antibiotic practices are having on the increasing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
As a result, dentists and physicians alike are reevaluating practices like prophylactic antibiotics before procedures, becoming more selective on who receives it and even the dosage levels. Some studies have shown, for example, that a low 2-gram dose of amoxicillin an hour before the procedure can be effective with much lower risks for side effects.
If you're considering dental implants and you have a medical condition you think could be impacted by the procedure, discuss the matter with your dentist and physician. It may be that pre-surgical antibiotics would be a prudent choice for you.
If you would like more information on getting 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 “Implants & Antibiotics.”
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