Dentists remove millions of teeth each year, often because of tooth decay or gum disease. But disease isn't the only reason—a tooth extraction might make it easier to straighten a crooked smile.
Realigning teeth for therapeutic or cosmetic reasons is a regular undertaking in dentistry, but the process itself often differs from person to person. Each individual patient requires their own treatment plan taking into account factors like the kind of bite problem involved, the size of the jaw and the space available to move teeth.
This plan could indeed involve removing teeth. For example, an abnormally small jaw could cause crowding. Not only can crowding move teeth out of position, it may also leave little to no room for moving teeth. Although dentists can minimize crowding by influencing jaw development in early childhood, removing teeth for more space is usually the only option available to older adolescents and adults.
Similarly, teeth can fail to erupt properly and remain partially or fully submerged beneath the gums (known as impaction). There is an orthodontic method for pulling an impacted tooth fully onto the jaw, but only if the tooth isn't too far out of alignment. Otherwise, it may be better to remove the impacted tooth and then correct any gaps with braces or a dental implant.
There's also a situation on the opposite side of the spectrum that could benefit from teeth removal—when one or more permanent teeth fail to form, known as congenitally missing teeth. This can cause gaps in the smile or a “lopsided” appearance where a tooth on one side of the jaw is present while its counterpart on the opposite side of the jaw is missing.
The missing tooth can be replaced by an implant, bridge or other restoration. But another option may be to remove the existing counterpart tooth, and then close the gaps. This can result in a much more attractive smile that might be simpler and less costly than replacing the missing tooth.
Again, the decision to remove teeth to improve smile appearance depends on the patient and their particular dental condition. But in the right situation, it could make straightening a smile easier and more effective.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, 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 “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
If you would like more information on 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.”
During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.
With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”
That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.
Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.
Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.
But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.
This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.
Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.
“Personalize Your Plate” is the theme for this year's National Nutrition Month in March, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It means there isn't a single diet for all of us: We're each unique with differing body types and tastes, and our diets need to be unique as well. Still, though, you'll want to be sure to include basic nutrients that are generally good for all of us—including for our teeth.
As you “personalize” your daily diet, be sure it includes dental-friendly vitamins and minerals. Here are some of the more important ones that contribute to strong and healthy teeth, and the kinds of foods in which you'll find them.
Vitamin D. This vitamin is a key element for growing and maintaining healthy teeth and bone, mainly by helping the body absorb calcium. You'll find vitamin D in milk, eggs or fatty fish—and you'll also gain a little strolling outdoors in the sunshine!
Vitamin E. As an antioxidant, vitamin E helps the body fight free radical molecules that contribute to cancer development, including oral cancer. You'll find vitamin E naturally in seeds and nuts (and derivative cooking oils), wheat germ and whole grains.
Calcium. When included with vitamin D and phosphorus, calcium is an important “construction material” for building strong teeth and bones. You'll find calcium in dairy products like milk and cheese as well as greens, legumes and tofu.
Phosphorus. Eighty-five percent of the body's phosphorus, a companion mineral to calcium, is found in teeth and bones, where it helps to keep them strong and healthy. You'll find this important mineral in meats, milk and eggs.
Magnesium. This mineral helps mineralize teeth and bones, giving them strength and protection against disease. You can get magnesium by eating nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, seafood and—if you limit the added sugar content—chocolate.
Fluoride. Most people are familiar with fluoride added to drinking water or toothpaste to strengthen tooth enamel against tooth decay, but the mineral also occurs naturally in some foods. You can obtain low amounts of fluoride in seafood and black or green tea.
One last thing! While we're promoting foods that you should eat for healthier teeth, there's also one you'll want to cut back on: processed sugar. This carbohydrate is a major factor in oral bacterial growth that causes tooth decay and gum disease. So, eating foods low in sugar and high in these key vitamins and minerals will help ensure your teeth stay healthy.
If you would like more information about the importance of nutrition in dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition: Its Role in General & Oral Health.”
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
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