Posts for: June, 2015
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.”
Although we’ve made great strides over the last century making dental visits more pleasant and comfortable, many people still feel a little apprehension about them at one time or another. For a few, though, this apprehension escalates into high anxiety — so high they may even avoid important dental treatment altogether.
If you have a significant phobia regarding dental visits and treatment, here are some things you can do to reduce your anxiety and feel more comfortable when you undergo treatment.
Let us know about your feelings of anxiety. We’re conditioned by society to regard such fears as irrational or “silly,” and so we tend to hide our negative emotions. Dentists, however, have been trained to work with fearful patients to reduce their anxiety levels. Being honest with us about your fears and nervousness is the first step to developing an anxiety-reducing strategy that will make your visits more pleasant.
Counteract bad experiences with good. For most people the fear they have during dental visits stems from earlier unpleasant experiences at the dentist. The fear can be so ingrained that simply trying to convince yourself or to be told “there’s nothing to be afraid of” will have little to no effect. Instead, build a memory collection of positive and pleasant dental visit experiences that serve to counteract the unpleasant. To do this we might first get you acclimated to routine visits and then gradually transition to more invasive procedures. This may increase the normal time for dental treatment, but the reduction in anxiety is worth the extra time.
Consider sedation therapy. In addition to modifying your experiences, you may also benefit from sedation medications that reduce anxiety, especially in the early stages of treatment. Depending on your medical history and current status, we can prescribe a sedative for you to take an hour or so before your appointment to help you relax. We can also increase the level of anesthesia (from local to intravenous or gas anesthesia, for example) if your anxiety is especially acute.
Taking proactive steps to minimize dental visit anxiety will increase the probability that you’ll obtain needed dental care. Your teeth and gums will be healthier for it.
If you would like more information on coping with dental visit anxiety, 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 “Overcoming Dental Fear & Anxiety.”