As permanent teeth gradually replace primary (“baby”) teeth, most will come in by early adolescence. But the back third molars—the wisdom teeth—are often the last to the party, usually erupting between ages 18 and 24, and the source of possible problems.
This is because the wisdom teeth often erupt on an already crowded jaw populated by other teeth. As a result, they can be impacted, meaning they may erupt partially or not at all and remain largely below the gum surface.
An impacted tooth can impinge on its neighboring teeth and damage their roots or disrupt their protective gum attachment, all of which makes them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Impacted teeth can also foster the formation of infected cysts that create areas of bone loss or painful infections in the gums of other teeth.
Even when symptoms like these aren’t present, many dentists recommend removing the wisdom teeth as a preemptive measure against future problems or disease. This often requires a surgical extraction: in fact, wisdom teeth removal is the most common oral surgical procedure.
But now there’s a growing consensus among dentists that removing or not removing wisdom teeth should depend on an individual’s unique circumstances. Patients who are having adverse oral health effects from impacted wisdom teeth should consider removing them, especially if they’ve already encountered dental disease. But the extraction decision isn’t as easy for patients with no current signs of either impaction or disease. That doesn’t mean their situation won’t change in the future.
One way to manage all these potentialities is a strategy called active surveillance. With this approach, patient and dentist keep a close eye on wisdom teeth development and possible signs of impaction or disease. Most dentists recommend carefully examining the wisdom teeth (including diagnostic x-rays and other imaging) every 24 months.
Following this strategy doesn’t mean the patient won’t eventually have their wisdom teeth removed, but not until there are clearer signs of trouble. But whatever the outcome might be, dealing properly with wisdom teeth is a high priority for preventing future oral health problems.
If you would like more information on wisdom teeth and their potential impact 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come with a Dilemma.”
Your gums aren’t just for show—they also play an important role in supporting and protecting your teeth. Healthy gums are essential for healthy teeth.
Your gums can take a lot from daily chewing or other environmental factors. Unfortunately, disease or trauma can weaken their resilience. This weakening could lead to gum recession.
Gum recession occurs when the tissues covering a tooth begin to lose their attachment and shrink back (recede). As a result, the tooth appears “longer” as more of it that’s normally below the gum line becomes visible. Not only is gum recession unattractive, it also exposes more of the tooth to disease-causing bacteria.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease, an infection arising from the accumulation of a thin bacterial biofilm on the teeth called plaque. Infected gums become inflamed, a normal defensive response to isolate diseased or damaged tissues from the rest of the body. Chronic inflammation, however, weakens affected tissues over time and results in bone loss.
Other factors can also contribute to gum recession. A tooth that didn’t erupt properly and has come in away from the center of its protective bony housing can impede adequate gum coverage. Your gum tissue thickness, which you genetically inherit, can also increase the risk of gum recession. People with thinner gum tissues are more susceptible to recession than with thicker tissues.
You can also damage your gums (ironically) while trying to care for them. Over-aggressive brushing over time may traumatize the gums to the point that they recede. While it’s essential in removing disease-causing dental plaque, brushing only requires a gentle scrubbing action covering all portions of tooth surfaces. The brush bristles and mild abrasives in the toothpaste do most of the work of plaque removal.
To minimize the chances of gum recession, you should practice proper oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups. And you might also consider orthodontics for improperly positioned teeth that could not only improve your smile, but also your gum health.
And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you begin gum disease treatment, the less likely your gums will recede in the future.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
While the term “plastic surgery” might bring to mind face lifts or tummy tucks, not all procedures in this particular surgical field are strictly cosmetic. Some can make a big difference in a person’s health.
One example is periodontal plastic surgery, which corrects gum tissue loss around the teeth. Although these procedures can indeed improve appearance, they more importantly help save teeth.
Gum loss is most often a consequence of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from a thin film of food particles on the teeth called dental plaque. As the disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth, they shrink back or recede, exposing the area around the roots. Without the protective cover the gums provide the roots, they become more susceptible to decay.
In milder cases of gum recession, treating the infection often results in the gums regaining their normal attachment to teeth. But with more advanced recession, natural gum healing may not be enough to reverse it. For such situations grafting donor tissue to the recessed area can help stimulate new tissue growth.
While gum tissue grafts can come from an animal or other human, the most likely source is from the person themselves. In one type of procedure, free gingival grafting, the surgeon locates and completely removes (or “frees”) a thin layer of skin resembling gum tissue, typically from the roof of the mouth, shapes it and then transplants it by suturing it to the recession site. Both donor and recipient sites heal at about the same rate in two to three weeks.
Another technique is known as connective tissue grafting. In this procedure the surgeon partially removes the donor tissue from its site while leaving a portion containing blood vessels intact. The palatal tissue is still used and transported to fit beneath the tissue that’s still attached to the blood supply. This connective tissue graft is then positioned and sutured to the recipient site while still maintaining its blood supply connection at the donor site. Maintaining this connection facilitates healing and increases the chances the graft will “take” and become firmly attached to the new site.
Grafting procedures require advanced techniques and skills. But with them we may be able to restore gum attachment to teeth with an impact on appearance and dental health that’s well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 Plastic Surgery.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
You brush and floss every day to rid your teeth and gums of disease-causing plaque. But while “showing up” is most of the battle, the effectiveness of your technique will win the war.
So, how good are you at removing plaque? One quick way to find out is the “tongue test”—simply rub your tongue along your teeth: they should feel smooth and “squeaky” clean. Surfaces that feel rough and gritty probably still contain plaque.
For a more thorough evaluation, your dental hygienist may use a product during your regular dental visit called a plaque disclosing agent. It’s a solution applied to your teeth that dyes any bacterial plaque present on tooth surfaces a certain color while leaving clean surfaces un-dyed. The disclosing agent shows you where you’re effectively removing plaque and where you’re not.
These products aren’t exclusive to the dental office—you can use something similar at home if you’d like to know how well you’re doing with your hygiene before your next visit. You can find them over-the-counter as tablets, swabs or solutions. You may even find some that have two dye colors, one that reveals older plaque deposits and the other newer plaque.
You simply follow the product’s directions by first brushing and flossing as usual, then chewing the tablet, daubing the swab on all tooth and gum surfaces, or swishing the solution in your mouth like mouthwash for about 30 seconds before spitting it out. You can then use a mirror to observe any dye staining. Pay attention to patterns: for example, dyed plaque scalloping along the gum line means you’ll need to work your brush a little more in those areas.
The dye could color your gums, lips and tongue as well as your teeth, but it only lasts a few hours. And while plaque disclosing agents are FDA-approved for oral use, you should still check the ingredients for any to which you may be allergic.
All in all, a plaque disclosing agent is a good way to occasionally check the effectiveness of your plaque removal efforts. By improving your technique you may further lower your risk of dental disease.
If you would like more information on learning how effective your oral hygiene really is, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
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