Once upon a time, celebrities tried hard to maintain the appearance of red-carpet glamour at all times. That meant keeping the more mundane aspects of their lives out of the spotlight: things like shopping, walking the dog and having oral surgery, for example.
That was then. Today, you can find plenty of celebs posting pictures from the dentist on social media. Take Julianne Hough, for example: In 2011 and 2013, she tweeted from the dental office. Then, not long ago, she shared a video taken after her wisdom teeth were removed in December 2016. In it, the 28-year-old actress and dancer cracked jokes and sang a loopy rendition of a Christmas carol, her mouth filled with gauze. Clearly, she was feeling relaxed and comfortable!
Lots of us enjoy seeing the human side of celebrities. But as dentists, we’re also glad when posts such as these help demystify a procedure that could be scary for some people.
Like having a root canal, the thought of extracting wisdom teeth (also called third molars) makes some folks shudder. Yet this routine procedure is performed more often than any other type of oral surgery. Why? Because wisdom teeth, which usually begin to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums) around age 17-25, have the potential to cause serious problems in the mouth. When these molars lack enough space to fully erupt in their normal positions, they are said to be “impacted.”
One potential problem with impacted wisdom teeth is crowding. Many people don’t have enough space in the jaw to accommodate another set of molars; when their wisdom teeth come in, other teeth can be damaged. Impacted wisdom teeth may also have an increased potential to cause periodontal disease, bacterial infection, and other issues.
Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed; after a complete examination, including x-rays and/or other diagnostic imaging, a recommendation will be made based on each individual’s situation. It may involve continued monitoring of the situation, orthodontics or extraction.
Wisdom tooth extraction is usually done right in the office, often with a type of anesthesia called “conscious sedation.”Â Here, the patient is able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli (such as verbal directions), but remains free from pain. For people who are especially apprehensive about dental procedures, anti-anxiety mediation may also be given. After the procedure, prescription or over-the-counter pain medication may be used for a few days. If you feel like singing a few bars, as Julianne did, it’s up to you.
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
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 article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
Dental implants are today’s closest restorative facsimile to natural teeth. And they’re versatile: not only can they replace single teeth but they can also support bridges or dentures.
But since one of their crucial components is made of metal, are you out of luck obtaining this state-of-the-art dental restoration if you have a metal allergy?
The answer is: probably not—it’s rare for implants to cause an allergic reaction. Still, metal allergies can be a potential problem within your mouth as with other areas of health.
An allergy originates from the body’s necessary response to potentially harmful microorganisms or substances. Sometimes, however, this response becomes chronic and exaggerated, creating an allergy. People can have allergies to nearly anything with responses ranging from a minor rash to a potentially life-threatening multi-organ system shutdown (anaphylactic shock).
A small number of people have allergies to particular metals. One of the most common is nickel, which affects an estimated 17% of women and 3% of men; cobalt and chromium are also known to cause allergies. Consumer exposure, particularly metal contact with the skin through jewelry or clothing, is the most prevalent, but not the most concerning. That’s reserved for metal allergies related to medical devices like coronary stents or hip and knee prostheses. And in dentistry, there are rare occasions of inflammation or rashes from metal amalgam fillings.
Which brings us to dental implants: the main metal post that’s inserted into the jawbone is usually made of titanium. It’s the metal of choice for two reasons: it’s bio-compatible, meaning the body normally accepts its presence; and it’s osteophilic, which means bone cells readily grow and adhere to it, a major reason for implant durability.
While it’s possible for someone to have an allergy and subsequent reaction to implants with titanium, the occurrences appear to be extremely low. In one study of 1,500 patients, titanium allergies were estimated to be a factor in implant failures in less than 1% of those studied.
Even so, if you have known metal allergies you should make sure your dentist knows. Being aware of all the facts will help them recommend the best tooth replacement choice for you—and hopefully it will be dental implants.
If you would like more information on dental implant restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”
Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the world, nearly as prevalent as the common cold. It’s also one of the two major dental diseases—the other being periodontal (gum) disease—most responsible for tooth and bone loss.
Tooth decay begins with high levels of acid, the byproduct of oral bacteria feeding on food remnants like sugar. Acid can erode tooth enamel, leading to a cavity that will require removal of decayed material around it and then a filling.
Sometimes, though, decay can spread deeper into the tooth reaching all the way to its core: the pulp with its bundle of nerves and blood vessels. From there it can travel through the root canals to the bone. The continuing damage could eventually lead to the loss of the infected tooth.
If decay reaches the tooth interior, the best course of action is usually a root canal treatment. In this procedure we access the pulp through the crown, the visible part of the tooth, to remove all of the diseased and dead tissue in the pulp chamber.
We then reshape it and the root canals to receive a filling. The filling is normally a substance called gutta percha that’s easily manipulated to conform to the shape of the root canals and pulp chamber. After filling we seal the access hole and later cap the tooth with a crown to protect it from re-infection.
Root canal treatments have literally saved millions of teeth. Unfortunately, they’ve gained an undeserved reputation for pain. But root canals don’t cause pain—they relieve the pain caused by tooth decay. More importantly, your tooth can gain a new lease on life.
But we’ll need to act promptly. If you experience any kind of tooth pain (even if it goes away) you should see us as soon as possible for an examination. Depending on the level of decay and the type of tooth involved, we may be able to perform the procedure in our office. Some cases, though, may have complications that require the skills, procedures and equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canal treatment.
So, don’t delay and allow tooth decay to go too far. Your tooth’s survival could hang in the balance.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
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