Posts for: December, 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.”
If you've ever been alarmed to find oddly-shaped red patches on your tongue, you can relax for the most part. Most likely, you're part of a small fraction of the population with a condition known as geographic tongue.
The name comes from the irregular shape of the patches that seem to resemble land formations on a map. Its medical name is benign migratory glossitis, which actually describes a lot about the condition. The patches are actually areas of inflammation on the tongue (“glossus” – tongue; “itis” – swelling) that appear to move around or migrate. They're actually made up of areas where the tiny bumps (papillae) you normally feel have disappeared: the patches feel flat and smooth compared to the rest of the tongue.
We're not sure why geographic tongue occurs. It often runs in families and seems to occur mostly in middle-aged adults, particularly women and non-smokers. It's believed to have a number of triggers like emotional stress, hormonal disturbances or vitamin or mineral deficiencies. There may also be a link between it and the skin condition psoriasis. Under a microscope the red patchiness of both appears to be very similar in pattern; the two conditions often appear together.
The bad news is we can't cure geographic tongue. But the good news is the condition is benign, meaning it's not cancerous; it's also not contagious. It poses no real health threat, although outbreaks can be uncomfortable causing your tongue to feel a little sensitive to the touch with a burning or stinging sensation. Some people may also experience numbness.
Although we can't make geographic tongue go away permanently, you should come by for an examination to confirm that is the correct diagnosis. Once we know for sure that you do have migratory glossitis, we can effectively manage discomfort when it flares up. You should limit your intake of foods with high acidity like tomatoes or citrus fruits, as well as astringents like alcohol or certain mouthrinses. We can also prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments if the discomfort becomes more bothersome.
It may look strange, but geographic tongue is harmless. With the right care it can be nothing more than a minor annoyance.
If you would like more information on benign migratory glossitis, 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 “Geographic Tongue.”