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.”
There’s really no secret to keeping your child’s teeth healthy — good, daily hygiene habits, regular dental visits and early treatment for emerging problems. It’s a lot easier for those things to happen if your child feels comfortable with dental care and visiting the dentist. Sadly, that’s not always the case: many children develop an unhealthy fear of the dentist because the initial relationship may have been mishandled.
Here, then, are 3 tips that will help you foster a healthy relationship between your child and their dentist.
Visit the dentist before their first birthday. From a health standpoint, dental visits should begin soon after your child’s first teeth emerge (erupt) in the mouth. Visiting the dentist by their first birthday also improves the chances they’ll develop a sufficient level of comfort with the visits, more so than if you waited a year or two longer.
Choose your dentist with your child’s sense of security and comfort in mind. When you’re looking for a dentist to care for your child, think of it as looking for a “new member of the family.” It’s important to find an office environment that’s kid-friendly and staff members that work well with children. Some dentists specialize in pediatric dentistry and many general dentists have additional training in working with children. The key is a dental team that has a good, trust-building rapport with children.
Set an example, both in the home and at the dentist. Children learn quite a bit watching what their caregivers say and how they react in potentially stressful situations. If dental care is important to you personally, it’s more likely to become important to your child. And when you visit the dentist with your child, be sure to project calm and a sense that it’s routine — if you display tenseness or nervousness your child may take that as a sign that visiting the dentist is something to fear.
You want your child to learn that the dentist is their friend who’s there to help them. That lesson should begin early with the right dental team — and by making dental care a priority in your own life.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
A woman as gorgeous and funny as Sofia Vergara surely planned to be a model and actress from the get-go, right? Wrong! Sofia’s first career choice actually was to be… a dentist! That’s right, the sexy star of TV’s Modern Family actually was only two semesters shy of finishing a dental degree in her native Columbia when she traded dental school for the small screen. Still, dental health remains a top priority for the actress and her son, Manolo.
“I’m obsessed,” she recently told People magazine. “My son thinks I’m crazy because I make him do a cleaning every three months. I try to bribe the dentist to make him to do it sooner!”
That’s what we call a healthy obsession (teeth-cleaning, not bribery). And while coming in for a professional cleaning every three months may not be necessary for everyone, some people — especially those who are particularly susceptible to gum disease — may benefit from professional cleanings on a three-month schedule. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to having professional teeth cleanings — but everyone needs this beneficial procedure on a regular basis.
Even if you are meticulous about your daily oral hygiene routine at home, there are plenty of reasons for regular checkups. They include:
- Dental exam. Oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease are much easier — and less expensive — to treat in the earliest stages. You may not have symptoms of either disease early on, but we can spot the warning signs and take appropriate preventive or restorative measures.
- Oral cancer screening. Oral cancer is not just a concern of the middle aged and elderly — young adults can be affected as well (even those who do not smoke). The survival rate for this deadly disease goes up tremendously if it is detected quickly, and an oral cancer screening is part of every routine dental visit.
- Professional teeth cleaning. Calcified (hardened) dental plaque (tartar or calculus) can build up near the gum line over time — even if you brush and floss every day. These deposits can irritate your gums and create favorable conditions for tooth decay. You can’t remove tartar by flossing or brushing, but we can clear it away — and leave you with a bright, fresh-feeling smile!
So take a tip from Sofia Vergara, and don’t skimp on professional cleanings and checkups. If you want to know how often you should come in for routine dental checkups, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor articles “Dental Hygiene Visit” and “Dental Cleanings Using Ultrasonic Scalers.”
If you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’ve no doubt experienced red and swollen gums. If, however, you notice an especially inflamed area next to a tooth, you may have developed a gum abscess.
An abscess is a pus-filled sac that develops as a result of chronic (long-standing) gum disease, an infection caused by bacterial plaque that’s built up on tooth surfaces from inadequate oral hygiene or from a foreign body (food debris) getting stuck below the gums. The abscess, which typically develops between the tooth and gums, may be accompanied by pain but not always (the affected tooth may also be tender to bite on). Abscesses may grow larger, precipitated by stress or by a general infection like a common cold, and then abate for a time.
As with other abscesses in the body, a gum abscess is treated by relieving the pressure (after numbing the area with local anesthesia) and allowing it to drain. This is often followed by cleaning any infected root surfaces of bacterial plaque and then irrigating the area with a saline and/or antibacterial solution. We may also prescribe antibiotics afterward and some form of pain control (usually a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen) to help with discomfort.
Although the results of this procedure can be dramatic, it’s just the first step in treating the overall gum disease. After a few days of healing, we continue with a complete examination and recommend further treatment, usually starting with removing bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), the underlying cause for the infection and inflammation, from all tooth and gum surfaces. This may take several sessions before we begin seeing the gum tissues return to a healthier state.
The key to preventing an abscess recurrence (or any symptom of gum disease) is to remove plaque everyday through proper brushing and flossing, and visiting us twice a year (or more if you’ve developed chronic gum disease) for cleanings and checkups. Doing so will raise your chances of avoiding an uncomfortable and often painful gum abscess in the future.
If you would like more information on gum abscesses, 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 “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses.”
Professional basketball player Lamar Odom is sometimes known as “the candyman” because of his notorious fondness for sweets. But when his sweet tooth finally caught up with him — in the form of a mouthful of decayed teeth — the six-foot-ten-inch, 230-pound hoops star admitted that he had been avoiding treatment… because he was afraid of going to the dentist!
It took two Kardashians (Khloe and Kim) and a painful toothache to finally persuade Odom to sit in the chair. Once he did, it was found that he needed a root canal, a wisdom tooth extraction, and several fillings. Yet the fretful forward sailed through the whole set of procedures in a single visit, and walked out with a big smile afterward. How did his dentists make that happen?
Put it down to the “magic” of sedation dentistry. With anxiety-relieving medications that can be delivered orally (in pill form or by gas) or intravenously (into the bloodstream), the techniques of sedation dentistry can help even the most fearful patients get the dental care they need. That’s good news for about 50 percent of the population, who admit they’re at least somewhat afraid of the dentist — and even better for the 15 percent who avoid dental care completely due to their fear.
Dentists have a number of ways to ease apprehensive patients through a dental visit. An oral anti-anxiety drug can be given in pill form about an hour beforehand. Nitrous oxide (sometimes called “laughing gas”), which is administered by a mask placed over the mouth or nose, may also be used to relieve anxiety. The calming effects of these medications help make any nervousness melt away — and in many circumstances, mild sedation is all that’s needed to ease the fear.
For lengthier or more complex procedures, intravenous (IV) sedation may be recommended. Unlike deeper (unconscious) sedation, IV sedation doesn’t cause “sleep.” Instead, it puts you in a comfortable semi-awake state, where you can still breathe on your own and respond to stimuli… but without feeling any anxiety. And when the procedure is over, you probably won’t have any memory of it at all.
IV sedation can be administered by dentists who are specially trained and equipped with the proper safety equipment. While sedation is being provided, you will be monitored at all times by a dedicated staff member; when it’s over, you will rest for a while as the medication quickly wears off. Then (as is the case with oral sedation), you’ll need another person to give you a ride home.
Does sedation dentistry really work? Lamar Odom thinks so. “I feel so much better,” he said when his 7-hour procedure was over. “I feel like I accomplished something.”
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