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.”
Visiting the dentist for regular cleanings and needed dental work can do wonders for keeping your teeth and gums in tip-top shape. But if you’ve seen or heard about infections occurring in healthcare facilities, you might be a little concerned that your trip to the dentist might expose you to one. Don’t be! You and your family will be out of harm’s way because your dental team has made protection from viruses, bacteria and other infectious agents a top priority. To highlight this effort, the American Academy of Oral Medicine commemorates each September as “National Dental Infection Control Awareness Month.”
As a healthcare provider, dentists have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to protect patients (and staff members too) from infection through what are known as “standard precautions.” These include barrier protection, disinfection and sterilization practices, and safe disposal of contaminated items.
But dentists and their professional organizations don’t stop with the minimum requirements—they’re committed to a higher standard when it comes to infection control. The bedrock for this commitment is adherence to an infection control checklist developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), updated regularly. This in-depth checklist recommends several best practices and protocols, including:
- Creating a written infection control plan that outlines all practices and procedures to be followed by the provider and staff;
- Barrier protection, including the wearing of disposable gloves, face shields or gowns by providers as appropriate;
- Proper disposal methods for used items;
- Proper hand washing and other hygiene practices before and after treatment procedures;
- Proper disinfection and sterilization of instruments and equipment;
Most licensing bodies also require that dentists and their staff undergo continuing education in infection control, usually every two years.
Because you as a patient have a right to know the details about your medical and dental care, you have public access to infection control guidelines and requirements. You can also ask your dental provider about what steps they take to protect you and your family from infectious disease. They’ll be glad to answer any questions you have to put your mind at ease about your safety.
The dental profession’s commitment to patient and staff safety has drastically reduced the risk of any infection. Rest assured, your dental visit will be beneficial for your oral health—and safe for your general health too.
If you would like more information about infection control in the dental office, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Shingles, Herpes Zoster: A One-Sided Facial Rash.”
It’s common for kids to be less than enthusiastic about visiting the dentist. For some, though, it’s even more of a challenge: A child with extreme anxiety and fear during dental visits could interfere with them receiving the dental care they need. The impact could even extend into adulthood.
Recognizing the need to reduce this high anxiety, dentistry has used a number of pharmacological tools for many years that relax a child during dental care. Sedatives have often been the only choice for reducing anxiety, especially during extensive procedures and treatments. But now there’s a promising new approach in dentistry that doesn’t depend on drugs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic method used for decades to treat depression, phobias and eating disorders, has been investigated recently as a possible approach for relieving children’s dental anxiety. During CBT, trained therapists use specific behavioral techniques to help patients develop mental and emotional strategies for dealing with stress.
During the usual course of CBT therapy, a therapist meets in counseling sessions with patients weekly over several months to help them change their routine thinking or behavior surrounding a stressful issue. Initially, the therapist guides the patient toward understanding the underlying causes for their negative reaction to the issue. They then work with the patient to devise an objective way to test whether those emotions and beliefs about the issue are true.
Using this effective method for changing behavioral and emotional responses for dental anxiety has had encouraging results from initial research. One study found CBT successfully reduced dental anxiety among a majority of a group of European children ages 9 through 16 who participated in the method.
CBT isn’t an overnight cure, often requires a number of months to achieve results. But for children who suffer from extreme fear of professional dental care, this drug-free method may provide long-term benefits that extend well past their childhood years.
If you think “vaping” electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes for short) is healthier for your teeth and gums than smoking cigarettes, you might be disappointed with the latest research. A number of studies seem to indicate e-cigarettes could be just as damaging to your mouth as traditional cigarettes.
An e-cigarette is a device containing a chamber for liquids and a means to heat the liquid into a vapor. The user then inhales or “vapes” the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings. The heat also pressurizes the vapor causing it to expel as an aerosol into the mouth.
Researchers have found the ingredients and aerosol effect could lead to potential health problems. An Ohio State University researcher found that vaping disrupted the normal balance of microorganisms in the mouth known as the oral microbiome. This imbalance could make it easier for disease-causing bacteria to proliferate, particularly those most responsible for periodontal (gum) disease.
Another study coming out of the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University in New York detected cell damage in gum tissue caused by e-cigarette vapor similar to that caused by regular cigarette smoke. Some of this damage seemed to result from the flavoring agents used in the e-cigarette liquid, as well as nicotine.
Another study from Quebec, Canada appears to concur with the New York study. These researchers found the damage caused by e-cigarette vapor might substantially increase the rate of cell death in oral tissues by as much as 50% over a short period of time. This kind of damage can lead to higher risks of dental diseases like gum disease or tooth decay.
While we don’t know the long-term effect of using e-cigarettes on both oral and general health, these studies are alarming: They seem to show vaping may cause some of the same problems as smoking. With the jury still out, the prudent thing to do is limit or avoid vaping altogether to protect your mouth from these unhealthy outcomes.
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.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.