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.”
It's September—and that means football season is underway. Whether you're playing, spectating or managing a fantasy team, the action is about to ramp up. Unfortunately, increased “action” also includes injury risk, especially for a player's teeth, mouth and jaws.
Injury prevention is a top priority for all players, whether the pros or the little guys in Pee Wee league. For oral injuries, the single best way to avoid them is by wearing an athletic mouthguard. This soft but durable plastic appliance helps cushion the force of a direct blow to the face or mouth. Wearing one can help prevent tooth and gum damage, as well as lessen the risk for jaw or facial bone fractures.
Mouthguard use is fairly straightforward—a player should wear one anytime there's player-to-player contact. That's not only during game time, but also during practice and informal play. But what's not always straightforward is which type of mouthguard to purchase. That's right: You'll have to decide from among a variety of mouthguards on the market.
Actually, though, most fall into one of two categories: the “Boil and Bite” found in most retail stores with a sports gear department; or the custom mouthguard fashioned by a dentist.
The first are called Boil and Bite because the mouthguard must first be softened with hot water and then placed in the intended wearer's mouth to bite down on in its softened state. When the mouthguard cools and re-hardens, it will retain the bite impression to give it somewhat of an individual fit. These retail guards are relatively inexpensive and reasonably effective in cushioning hard contact, but they can also be on the bulky side and uncomfortable to wear.
In contrast, custom mouthguards are formed from an accurate impression of the wearer's bite taken in the dental office. Because of the individualized fit, we can create a guard with less bulk, greater comfort and, due to their precision, better effectiveness in preventing injury.
A custom guard is more expensive than a retail mouthguard, and younger players may need a new upgrade after a few seasons to accommodate fit changes due to jaw development. But even so, with its higher level of protection and comfort (making it more likely to be worn during play), a custom mouthguard is a worthwhile investment that costs far less than a devastating dental injury.
So, if you or a family member will be hitting the gridiron this fall (or, for that matter, the basketball court or baseball diamond later in the year), be sure you invest in a mouthguard. It's a wise way to ensure this football season will be a happy one.
After a long hiatus, school athletes are gearing up for another sports year. Given the pandemic, they may be modifying some of their usual habits and practices. But one thing probably won't change: These young athletes will be looking for every way possible to improve their sports performance. And a new research study offers one possible, and surprising, avenue—beefing up their oral hygiene practice.
That's the conclusion of the study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, a sister publication of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Working with a group of about 60 elite athletes, a research group in the U.K. found that improving oral health through better hygiene practices might also boost overall sports performance.
Because there's some evidence that over 50% of athletes have some form of tooth decay or gum disease, the study's researchers wanted to know if there was a link between athletes' sports performance and their dental problems caused by neglected oral hygiene. And if so, they wanted to see if better hygiene might improve sports performance as well as oral health.
Their first step was to establish an initial baseline for the participants with an oral health screening, finding that only around 1 in 10 of the study's participants regularly brushed with fluoride toothpaste or flossed. They then administered a detailed questionnaire developed by the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center (OSTRC) to gauge the athletes' perception of how their current oral health affected their sports performance.
After some basic hygiene training, the athletes were given kits containing a toothbrush, prescription fluoride toothpaste and floss picks. They were then instructed to clean their teeth twice a day. Four months later, researchers found the number of participants who regularly brushed increased to 80%, and flossing more than doubled. What's more, a second OSTRC questionnaire found significant improvement overall in the athletes' perception of their sports performance.
As scientific research, these findings still need further testing and validation. But the study does raise the possibility that proper dental care could benefit other areas of your life, including sports participation.
Athlete or not, instituting some basic dental care can make a big difference in maintaining a healthy mouth:
- Brush twice and floss once every day to remove accumulated dental plaque, the main source of dental disease;
- Get a professional dental cleaning at least twice a year to remove stubborn plaque and tartar;
- See us if you notice tooth pain or swollen or bleeding gums to stay ahead of developing dental disease.
Improving your dental care just might benefit other areas of your life, perhaps even athletic pursuits. We guarantee it will make a healthy difference for your teeth and gums.
Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
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