As Spring turns to Summer, millions of students will depart high school in the time-honored rite of passage called graduation. At the same time, quite a few of these graduates will be experiencing another maturity milestone: the eruption (coming in) of their last permanent teeth.
Typically, these are the back third molars, better known as “wisdom teeth,” emerging on either end of both the top and bottom jaws sometime between the ages of 18 and 24. Their arrival heralds the end of a long development process that began in infancy.
But this auspicious event can give rise to dental problems. Because they’re the last to come in, wisdom teeth often erupt in an environment crowded by earlier teeth. Depending on jaw size and other factors, there may not be enough room for a normal eruption.
Wisdom teeth can thus erupt out of position, creating a poor bite (malocclusion). Or they might not erupt at all—becoming stuck fully or partially within the gums and bone, a condition known as impaction. Impacted teeth can also cause problems for the adjacent teeth, damaging the roots of the second molars or disrupting the surrounding gum tissue, making them more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease.
Because of these and other issues, impacted wisdom teeth are among the most common type of teeth removed: an estimated 10 million each year. And many of these are removed before they show signs of disease or complications as a preemptive strike against developing dental problems.
Although unnecessary surgery should always be avoided, according to some research, there’s a one in three chance that erupting wisdom teeth that are not showing signs of trouble will eventually become problematic. And the earlier they’re removed, the lower the risk of post-extraction complications.
Wisdom teeth should always be evaluated on a case by case basis. Those with obvious signs of disease or complications do require prompt treatment, including possible extraction. Others that are asymptomatic can be monitored over time: If they’re tending to become problematic, we can adjust the treatment plan accordingly. Our goal is to ensure these particular teeth signaling the end of childhood won’t detract from dental health in adulthood, so a measured approach seems to be the best and safest one.
If you would like more information on treatment options for wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma” and “Wisdom Teeth: To Be or Not to Be?”
If you have chronic jaw pain, you may be one of an estimated 10 million Americans suffering from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). If so, it's quite possible you're also coping with other health conditions.
TMD is an umbrella term for disorders affecting the temporomandibular (jaw) joints, muscles and adjoining tissues. The most common symptoms are limited jaw function and severe pain. Determining the causes for these disorders can be difficult, but trauma, bite or dental problems, stress and teeth clenching habits seem to be the top factors. Women of childbearing age are most susceptible to these disorders.
In recent years we've also learned that many people with TMD also experience other conditions. In a recent survey of TMD patients, two-thirds reported having three or more other health conditions, the most frequent being fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or chronic headaches. Researchers are actively exploring if any systemic connections exist between TMD and these other conditions, and how these connections might affect treatment changes and advances for all of them including TMD.
In the meantime, there remain two basic approaches for treating TMD symptoms. The most aggressive and invasive approach is to surgically correct perceived defects in the jaw structure. Unfortunately, the results from this approach have been mixed in their effectiveness, with some patients even reporting worse symptoms afterward.
The more conservative approach is to treat TMD orthopedically, like other joint problems. These less invasive techniques include the use of moist heat or ice to reduce swelling, physical therapy and medication to relieve pain or reduce muscle spasming. Patients are also encouraged to adopt softer diets with foods that are easier to chew. And dentists can also provide custom-fitted bite guards to help ease the stress on the joints and muscles as well as reduce any teeth grinding habits.
As we learn more about TMD and its relationship to other health conditions, we hope to improve diagnosis and treatment. Until then, most dentists and physicians recommend TMD patients try the more conservative treatments first, and only consider surgery if this proves unsatisfactory. It may take some trial and error, but there are ways now to ease the discomfort of TMD.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of TMD, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.
Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.
Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:
- If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
- If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
- If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
- If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.
What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!
The longer many health problems go on, the worse they become. Treating them as early as possible could stop or slow their development.
That holds true for poor bites: while we can certainly correct them later in life, it's often better to "intercept" the problem during childhood. Interceptive orthodontics attempts to do this with treatments that influence how the jaws and other mouth structures develop during childhood. Many of these techniques are usually best implemented before puberty.
For example, some very complex problems called cross bites can occur if the upper jaw grows too narrowly. We might be able to stop this from happening by using an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander during the childhood years. It works because the bone at the center of the palate (roof of the mouth) has a gap running back to front until the early teens when the gap closes.
We fit the palatal expander up under and against the palate, then extend out metal arms from a center mechanism to the back of the upper teeth that exert outward pressure on them. This widens the center gap, which the body continually fills with bone as the device gradually exerts more pressure. Over time this causes the jaw to widen and lessens the cross bite. Timing, though, is everything: it's most effective before the gap closes.
Another way to aid jaw growth is a Herbst appliance, a hinged device that alters the movement of the jaws. As a child wears it, a Herbst appliance draws the lower jaw forward to develop more in that direction. Like the palatal expander, it's best used before significant jaw growth occurs.
These are just two examples of techniques and tools that can guide structural growth and prevent bite problems. Because they're most effective in the early years of oral development, your child should undergo an orthodontic evaluation as early as age 6 to see if they need and can benefit from an interceptive treatment.
Interceptive orthodontics can stop or at least slow a growing bite problem. The effort and expense now could save you much more of both later on.
If you would like more information on interceptive orthodontics, 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 “Interceptive Orthodontics: Timely Intervention can make Treatment Easier.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other healthcare organizations recommend breastfeeding as the best means for infant feeding. While bottle feeding can supply the nutrition necessary for a baby's healthy development, breastfeeding also provides emotional benefits for both baby and mother.
But there might be an obstacle in a baby's mouth that prevents them from getting a good seal on the mother's breast nipple—a small band of tissue called a frenum. This term describes any tissue that connects a soft part of the mouth like the upper lip or tongue to a more rigid structure like the gums or the floor of the mouth, respectively.
Although a normal part of anatomy, frenums that are too short, thick or inelastic can restrict a baby's lip or tongue movement and prevent an adequate seal while nursing. The baby may adjust by chewing rather than sucking on the nipple. Besides a painful experience for the mother, the baby may still not receive an adequate flow of breast milk.
Bottle-feeding is an option since it may be easier for a baby with abnormal frenums to negotiate during nursing. But the problem might also be alleviated with a minor surgical procedure to snip the frenum tissue and allow more freedom of movement.
Often performed in the office, we would first numb the frenum and surrounding area with a topical anesthetic, sometimes accompanied by injection into the frenum if it's abnormally thick. After the numbing takes effect, we gently expose the tissue and cut it with either surgical scissors or a laser, the latter of which may involve less bleeding and discomfort. The baby should be able to nurse right away.
If you wait later to undergo the procedure, the baby may already have developed compensation habits while nursing. It may then be necessary for a lactation consultant to help you and your baby "re-learn" normal nursing behavior. It's much easier, therefore, to attempt this procedure earlier rather than later to avoid extensive re-training.
While there's little risk, frenum procedures are still minor surgery. You should, therefore, discuss your options completely with your dental provider. Treating an abnormal frenum, though, could be the best way to realize the full benefits of breastfeeding.
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