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.”
Eaten in a fast food restaurant lately? If so, maybe you’ve noticed some changes in the big, colorful signs behind the counters. Many have begun promoting a few “healthier” selections (like salads and grilled items) and giving a more extensive listing of nutritional information. But there’s one thing you might not have noticed on those displays: a listing for soda among the beverage choices in the kiddie meal packages. That’s because they are no longer there.
Recently, Burger King quietly removed sugary fountain drinks from the in-store and online menu boards that show what you get with kids’ meals. They were following the lead of McDonalds and Wendy’s, both of which made similar moves in prior months. You can still get a soda with your kiddie burger if you specifically ask for one, but we’re hoping you won’t; here’s why.
For one thing, youth obesity has nearly tripled in the past three decades. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted, it’s now an epidemic affecting more than one in six children and adolescents. Many of the extra calories kids get are blamed on sugary drinks: According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, children’s daily calorie intake from these beverages rose by 60 percent in recent years. Obesity makes kids more likely to get many diseases, and can lead to problems in psychological and social adjustment.
But that’s not all. As dentists, we’re concerned about the potential for soda to cause tooth decay, which is still the number one chronic disease in children around the world. The association between sugary drinks and cavities is clear. So is the fact that tooth decay causes pain, countless hours of missed school and work, and expense that’s largely unnecessary, because it’s a disease that is almost 100 percent preventable.
While the new signage at fast food restaurants won’t make soda disappear, it does tend to make it less of an automatic choice. Anything that discourages children from routinely consuming soda is bound to help — and let’s point out that the same thing goes for other sweet and acidic beverages including so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks. It’s best to try and eliminate these from your child’s diet; but if you do allow them, at least limit them to mealtimes, and give your mouth a break from sweets between meals. That gives the saliva enough time to do its work as a natural buffer and acid-neutralizer.
What else can you do to help keep your child’s oral hygiene in tip-top shape? Be sure they brush their teeth twice and floss once every day, and bring them in for regular checkups and cleanings. But if you do suspect tooth decay, don’t delay treatment: Left alone, decay bacteria can infect the inner pulp of the tooth, resulting in severe pain, inflammation, and possibly the need for root canal treatment.
If you would like more information about children’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children.”
Barley malt, corn syrup, maltodextrin — these and over fifty other label ingredients are all names for refined sugar. Under its various aliases, this sweet carbohydrate is tucked away in three-quarters of packaged foods in the U.S.
Although in recent years the general health effects from too much sugar have gained the spotlight, its effect on dental health has been known for decades. Accumulated sugar in the mouth is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.
For both general and oral health, people have been looking to artificial alternatives to satisfy their sweet tooth. But do they have their own issues that can impact overall health? Here is an overview of some of the more popular brands of artificial sweeteners and their effect on health.
Saccharin — One of the most widely used artificial sweeteners, saccharin is often used under the names Sweet’N Low or Sugar Twin in low-calorie foods because it contains no calories. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) there are no associated health risks with consuming saccharin in recommended servings.
Aspartame — used commonly in beverages as Equal or NutraSweet, aspartame is unsuitable for cooking because its chemical structure breaks down under high heat. Although generally safe for consumption, it can affect people with a rare condition known as phenylketonuria that can’t adequately break down its chemicals.
Sucralose — marketed as Splenda, this sweetener is made by chemically altering refined table sugar so the body can’t process it. This may be one reason it has the most recognized natural flavor profile among consumers and is a market leader. It’s stable at high temperatures, so it’s often used in cooked or baked goods.
Stevia/Erythritol — this combination of an extract from the extremely sweet herb stevia and the sugar alcohol erythritol is marketed as Truvia. Unlike other calorie-free artificial sweeteners, this and other alcohol-based sweeteners have a low calorie level due to sugar alcohol’s characteristic of slow and incomplete absorption during digestion.
Xylitol — although all the previously mentioned sweeteners won’t promote bacterial growth like refined sugar, the sugar alcohol xylitol — often added to chewing gum and mints — has an added benefit: it may actually reduce levels of bacteria most likely to cause decay.
If you would like more information on the effect of sweeteners on 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
For decades, traditional braces were the only orthodontic choice for moving misaligned teeth. Although they’re quite effective, they can cause discomfort and, for teens especially, embarrassment due to their noticeable metallic appearance.
In recent years, though, technology has produced an alternative to braces that’s proven effective for many types of patients. Besides being less cumbersome and disruptive to everyday life than braces, clear aligners have another advantage that appeals to teens — they’re much less visible.
Introduced in the late 1990s, clear aligners are a system of individual trays made of nearly invisible polyurethane plastic worn over the upper teeth. The trays are computer-generated based on the patient’s individual mouth structure captured in photographs and x-rays. Each tray in the sequence is incrementally smaller in size; the patient begins wearing the first aligner in the series for about two weeks, 20 to 22 hours a day. They then switch to the next tray in the series for about the same amount of time, and continue in this fashion until they’ve worn each aligner in the series.
Besides their improvement in appearance, aligners also have another advantage: unlike traditional braces, aligners can be removed from the mouth for eating or on a limited basis for rare important social occasions. Brushing and flossing are also much easier with aligners, which don’t pose the same access problems as traditional braces.
Clear aligners were once only effective with select types of orthodontic patients, which didn’t always include teens. Over the last decade, however, significant changes to design and additional implements have widened their application to more patients, especially teens. For example, we can now add tiny “power ridges” to the aligner design that give greater precision over desired tooth movement to create a more controlled and efficient force on the teeth. More recent aligners are also being produced with a thinner, more comfortable material.
A thorough orthodontic exam will tell whether your teen is a good candidate for clear aligners. If so, they’ll benefit from a more comfortable and less embarrassing experience while gaining a new smile for life.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
In real life he was a hard-charging basketball player through high school and college. In TV and the movies, he has gone head-to-head with serial killers, assorted bad guys… even mysterious paranormal forces. So would you believe that David Duchovny, who played Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files and starred in countless other large and small-screen productions, lost his front teeth… in an elevator accident?
“I was running for the elevator at my high school when the door shut on my arm,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had fainted, fallen on my face, and knocked out my two front teeth.” Looking at Duchovny now, you’d never know his front teeth weren’t natural. But that’s not “movie magic” — it’s the art and science of modern dentistry.
How do dentists go about replacing lost teeth with natural-looking prosthetics? Today, there are two widely used tooth replacement procedures: dental implants and bridgework. When a natural tooth can’t be saved — due to advanced decay, periodontal disease, or an accident like Duchovny’s — these methods offer good looking, fully functional replacements. So what’s the difference between the two? Essentially, it’s a matter of how the replacement teeth are supported.
With state-of-the-art dental implants, support for the replacement tooth (or teeth) comes from small titanium inserts, which are implanted directly into the bone of the jaw. In time these become fused with the bone itself, providing a solid anchorage. What’s more, they actually help prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs after tooth loss. The crowns — lifelike replacements for the visible part of the tooth — are securely attached to the implants via special connectors called abutments.
In traditional bridgework, the existing natural teeth on either side of a gap are used to support the replacement crowns that “bridge” the gap. Here’s how it works: A one-piece unit is custom-fabricated, consisting of prosthetic crowns to replace missing teeth, plus caps to cover the adjacent (abutment) teeth on each side. Those abutment teeth must be shaped so the caps can fit over them; this is done by carefully removing some of the outer tooth material. Then the whole bridge unit is securely cemented in place.
While both systems have been used successfully for decades, bridgework is now being gradually supplanted by implants. That’s because dental implants don’t have any negative impact on nearby healthy teeth, while bridgework requires that abutment teeth be shaped for crowns, and puts additional stresses on them. Dental implants also generally last far longer than bridges — the rest of your life, if given proper care. However, they are initially more expensive (though they may prove more economical in the long run), and not everyone is a candidate for the minor surgery they require.
Which method is best for you? Don’t try using paranormal powers to find out: Come in and talk to us. If you would like more information about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework,” and “Dental Implants.”
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