Posts for: February, 2016
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.”
Accidents happen. And if an accident causes an injury to your jaws or surrounding facial area, it could result in serious damage. Without prompt treatment, that damage could be permanent.
You’ll usually know, of course, if something is wrong from the extreme pain near or around a jaw joint that won’t subside. If you have such symptoms, we need to see you as soon as possible to specifically diagnose the injury, which will in turn determine how we’ll treat it.
This is important because there are a number of injury possibilities behind the pain. It could mean you’ve loosened or displaced one or more teeth. The joint and its connective muscle may also have been bruised resulting in swelling within the joint space or a dislocation of the condyle (the bone ball at the end of the jaw), either of which can be extremely painful.
These injuries also cause muscle spasms, the body’s response for keeping the jaw from moving and incurring more damage (a natural splint, if you will). After examining to see that everything is functioning normally, we can usually treat it with mild to moderate anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and pain and muscle relaxers to ease the spasms. We may also need to gently manipulate and ease a dislocated jaw into its proper position.
In the worst case, though, you may actually have fractured the jaw bone. The most common break is known as a sub-condylar fracture that occurs just below the head of the joint with pain and discomfort usually more severe than what’s experienced from tissue bruising or dislocation. As with other fractures, we’ll need to reposition the broken bone and immobilize it until it’s healed. This can be done by temporarily joining the upper and lower teeth together for several weeks to keep the jaw from moving, or with a surgical procedure for more severe breaks that stabilizes the jawbone independently.
It’s important with any persistent jaw or mouth pain after an accident that you see us as soon as possible — you may have an injury that needs immediate attention for proper healing. At the very least, we can help alleviate the pain and discomfort until you’re back to normal.
If you would like more information on treating jaw injuries, 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 “Jaw Pain — What’s the Cause?”