Posts for: January, 2016
Today’s dentist can not only treat most dental diseases and conditions, but can almost prevent disease completely. Our true needs as a society, however, go beyond the dentist’s chair — to the lack of availability and affordability of care for every American.
That’s of grave concern to dentists — so much so that dentistry itself is already changing to meet these challenges.
In one of the most visible changes, we’re seeing accelerated technological advancement that could lower costs and extend our range of care. Advances in 3-D digital imaging are giving dentists amazingly detailed views of patients’ mouths that surpass the accuracy of traditional imaging. Telecommunications and the internet are enabling dentists in distant locations to examine patients and even review dental x-rays to guide treatment, providing a new level of care access for patients.
The means for delivering that care are also changing as the traditional paradigm of the solo practice becomes more difficult for new dentists to achieve. With educational debt and practice setup costs reaching as high as $1 million — before earning their first dollar — many dentists are joining larger groups or dental corporations. In these arrangements, practitioners don’t have the burden of overhead expenses and can concentrate mainly on their clinical work. On the downside, patients seeing multiple providers may not easily build that all important dentist-patient relationship that’s the hallmark of a solo practice. This alternative model could, however, increase the number of practicing dentists over time, making dental care more widely available.
Finally, we’re beginning to see greater collaboration between physicians and dentists. There’s an emerging understanding of the true interconnection of the body’s various systems: diseases of the mouth can affect other diseases of the body, and vice-versa. We’re also experiencing a growing development in salivary diagnosis, using this vital oral fluid to detect conditions and disease in other parts of the body. Dentists and physicians will be working more closely than ever to treat the whole person, not just individual systems — a collaboration that will improve patient care all around.
As these changes continue to emerge in dentistry, you may soon see their effects during your visits. One thing, however, won’t change — the commitment of dentists to provide the highest level of care, for both your oral and general health.
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.”