ORAL & MAXILOFACIAL SURGERY
Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons are specialists with advanced training and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of various head and neck conditions and injuries. After four years of dental school, an Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon completes four to six years of additional formal training in treating the craniomaxillofacial complex. This specialty is one of 9 dental specialties recognized internationally and by the American Dental Association (ADA).
An Oral Maxillofacial Surgeon can diagnose and treat a wide variety conditions. The following are just some of the many conditions, treatments and procedures oral and maxillofacial surgeon deal with on a daily basis:
- TMJ, Facial Pain, & Facial Reconstruction
- Dental Implants
- Tooth Extractions & Impacted Teeth
- Wisdom Teeth
- Misaligned Jaws
- Cleft Lip & Palate
- Oral Cancers , Tumors, Cysts, & Biopsies
- Sleep Apnea
- Facial Cosmetic Surgery
Whether your dentist refers you to our office, you have pain or symptoms causing you concern, or you simply have questions you would like answered, please contact our office today to schedule an appointment. We are here to answer your questions and provide the treatment you deserve!
The teeth are held firmly in place by strong roots that extend into the jawbone. Molars and premolars tend to have several roots, whereas the front incisors only have a single root. The end or tip of each root is termed the apex. The apex is where the nerves and blood vessels enter the tooth, and aids in the delivery of blood to the crown (the part of the tooth you can see in your mouth).
A root canal treatment refers to the cleaning of the canals and the removal of infected and inflamed tissue within the root. When the inflammation or infection persists after the root canal treatment, an apicoectomy may be required. An apicoectomy is essentially the removal of the apex (or root tip), followed by a filling procedure to seal the root from further infection. When left untreated, infected roots can damage other teeth, spread infection, and cause regression of the jawbone.
Reasons for an apicoectomy
Infected and inflamed soft tissue around the root of a tooth can be exceptionally painful and debilitating to the patient. The purpose of an apicoectomy is to eliminate the infection in the tissue and to ultimately preserve the function of the tooth and save it from extraction. An apicoectomy will rarely be considered by the dentist unless a prior root canal treatment has failed.
There are several reasons why an apicoectomy may be necessary:
- Small Adjoining Root Branches – Roots are extremely complex and can contain many tiny branches. If these tiny branches cannot be cleaned and sealed when the root canal treatment is performed, inflammation can persist.
- Blocked Root Canal – In some cases, the dentist is unable to effectively clean a root canal because it is blocked by a fractured file left behind from prior root canal treatment. Infection and debris can quickly affect adjacent teeth.
- Narrow or Curved Root Canals – When the root canal is poorly shaped, the endodontic files cannot reach the root tip. Continuing infection or re-infection can then occur.
What does getting an apicoectomy involve?
Prior to the surgery, the dentist will generally prescribe an antibiotic or anti-inflammatory medication to treat the underlying infection. Panoramic x-rays will then be taken to enable the dentist to plan the apicoectomy, which will be performed under local anesthesia.
The dentist will make a small incision in the gum and expose the root by lifting away the gum. In some cases, a tiny fraction of the jawbone may be removed to properly expose the root. The edge of the root tip and any infected connective tissue will be removed using ultrasonic instruments. The root will be sealed using a retrofill (filling material) and the dentist will suture the gum with several stitches.
This surgery does not require an overnight stay, and full aftercare instructions and pain medications will be provided as needed. After several days, the dentist will remove the stitches, and the connective tissues will fully heal several months after the procedure.
If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms, such as pain or swelling associated with a tooth that has had a root canal, we encourage you to contact our office immediately to schedule an appointment.
Bone grafting is often closely associated with dental restorations such as bridge work and dental implants. In the majority of cases, the success of a restoration procedure can hinge on the height, depth, and width of the jawbone at the implant site. When the jawbone has receded or sustained significant damage, the implant(s) cannot be supported on this unstable foundation and bone grafting is usually recommended for the ensuing restoration.
There are several major factors that affect jaw bone volume:
- Periodontal Disease – Periodontal disease can affect and permanently damage the jaw bone that supports the teeth. Affected areas progressively worsen until the teeth become unstable.
- Tooth Extraction – Studies have shown that patients who have experienced a tooth extraction subsequently lose 40-60% of the bone surrounding the extraction site during the following three years. Loss of bone results in what is called a “bone defect”.
- Injuries and Infections – Dental injuries and other physical injuries resulting from a blow to the jaw can cause the bone to recede. Infections can also cause the jaw bone to recede in a similar way.
Reasons for bone grafts
Bone grafting is a highly successful procedure in most cases. It is also a preferable alternative to having missing teeth, diseased teeth, or tooth deformities. Bone grafting can increase the height or width of the jawbone and fill in voids and defects in the bone.
There are essentially two basic ways in which bone grafting can positively impact the health and stability of the teeth:
Jaw Stabilization – Bone grafting stabilizes and helps restore the jaw foundation for restorative or implant surgery. Deformities can also be corrected and the restructuring of the bone can provide added support.
Preservation – Bone grafting can be used to limit or prevent bone recession following a tooth extraction, periodontal disease, or other invasive processes.
Initially, the dentist will thoroughly examine the affected area in order to assess the general condition of the teeth and gums. If periodontal disease is present or the adjacent teeth are in poor condition, these factors will be fully addressed before the bone grafting procedure can begin. The dentist will also recommend panoramic x-rays in order to assess the precise depth and width of the existing bone. On occasion, a CAT scan may be recommended to determine the bone condition. Depending on these results, the dentist may also anesthetize the area and explore into the gum in order to determine what kind and how much bone is required.
What Does Bone Grafting Involve?
There are several types of bone grafts. Your dentist will determine the best type for your particular condition.
Autogenous Bone Graft – Harvested from the patient’s own body (usually from the posterior part of the lower jaw or the chin). This method is usually preferred because it produces the most predictable results.
Allograft Bone Graft – Cadaver or synthetic bone is used in this type of graft.
Xenograft – Cow bone is used in this type of graft.
The bone grafting procedure can often take several months to complete. Bone is typically harvested from your own body (or on rare occasions obtained from a “bone bank”) and added to the affected site. This bone will fuse with the existing bone and the migration of cells will cause firm adhesion and cell growth. Supplementing the jaw with bone will result in greater bone mass to help support and anchor the implant(s).
During the surgery, the dentist will numb the grafting and extraction sites using local anesthetic. A small incision will be made to prepare the site for the new bone and it will be anchored into place. On occasion, a synthetic membrane may be used to cover the new bone. This membrane prevents soft tissue and bacterial invasions, and encourages new bone growth. The surgery does not require an overnight stay, and you will be provided with comprehensive instructions for your post-operative care. The dentist will prescribe medications to help manage infection, discomfort and swelling.
Orthognathic surgery refers to the surgical correction needed to fix substantial abnormalities of the maxilla (upper jaw), the mandible (lower jaw), or both. The abnormality may be a birth defect, a growth defect, or the result of traumatic injuries to the jaw area.
Orthognathic surgery is generally performed by an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon to correct malocclusion (bad bite) in cases where routine orthodontic treatment has not or will not be effective. Orthognathic surgeries include the reconstruction of the mandible or maxilla, mandibular ramus, maxilla osteotomy, and mandibular osteotomy.
There are several classifications of malocclusion (the improper coming together of teeth) which may require orthognathic surgery:
Class I Occlusion –This malocclusion means that the lower anterior incisors sit directly behind the upper anterior incisors when the patient bites down. This is considered less destructive than Class II and Class III malocclusions.
Class II Malocclusion – This is identified when the lower anterior incisors lie significantly behind the upper anterior incisors during the biting process; in some cases hitting the soft tissue behind the upper incisors. This is commonly referred to as an overbite and can cause discomfort, bone damage, excessive wear of the front teeth, and tooth loss.
Class III Malocclusion – This is commonly known as an underbite and occurs when the lower anterior incisors and lower jaw are positioned beyond the upper teeth, making the lower jaw much more prominent than the upper jaw.
Reasons for orthognathic surgery
The malocclusion of the teeth can create greatly destructive forces among the five powerful muscles that control the closing and opening of the jaw. These muscles generate a tremendous force when clenching, grinding or chewing. Misalignment can seriously damage the function and aesthetic appearance of the teeth in many ways if left untreated, such as:
- Tooth Wear – In the case of an overbite, the pressure and wear on the teeth is not spread evenly. This can also lead to TMJ, migraine headaches, and tooth loss.
- Chronic Jaw, Muscle Pain & Headache – The misalignment of the teeth alters the way the facial muscles interact. In some cases, the meniscus cartilage which acts as a buffer between the jawbones can be painfully damaged.
- Loose Teeth – When uneven pressure is continually exerted in unintended places or soft tissue is damaged by an overbite, adjacent teeth may become loose in their sockets which causes pain and reduces proper function.
- Tooth Sensitivity – As teeth become damaged by constant use, the enamel becomes thinner and the nerves are less protected. This lack of protection can lead to sharp pains when hot or cold foods are eaten.
- Difficulty Swallowing, Chewing, or Biting Food – Each can be associated with muscle pain and/or poor alignment of the upper and lower jaws.
What does orthognathic surgery involve?
When the dentist identifies a patient as a candidate for orthognathic surgery, a complete photographic analysis is initially undertaken. This includes panorex x-rays, cephalometric x-rays, models, impressions, and radiographs. Your oral & maxillofacial surgeon, your orthodontist and your dentist will work together and consider how the corrective surgery will impact both proper jaw function and the aesthetic appearance of the entire face.
Generally, orthodontic braces are necessary to align the arches and straighten the teeth prior to the surgery, and additionally, retainers may be used after the surgery. During maxillary surgery, the upper jaw is moved and may be secured in position using tiny plates, wires, rubber bands and screws. Surgery on the mandible is performed using bone grafts to align the lower jaw into the correct position. Orthognathic surgery generally requires a general anesthesia and a good deal of aftercare. Pain medication will be prescribed as necessary, and you’ll be given post treatment advice for your recovery. You may also be provided with a modified diet (if required).
Humans have two upper (maxillary) canines and two lower (mandibular) canines. Canine teeth are sometimes referred to as cuspids, fangs, or “eye teeth” because of their direct positioning beneath the eyes. Canine teeth have thicker and more conical roots than incisors and thus have an especially firm connection to the jaw. Canine teeth often have the longest root of all teeth in the human mouth and the last to fully erupt and fall into place; often around age 13.
An impacted tooth essentially means that it is blocked, stuck, or unable to fully erupt and function properly. Third molars (wisdom teeth) most commonly fall victim to impaction, but the upper canine is the second most common tooth to become impacted. Wisdom teeth serve no important function in the mouth and are frequently removed; however, impacted canines are critical to the bite and require treatment for the following reasons:
- Closing Gaps – Canines are the last of the front teeth to fall into place and therefore close any unsightly gaps between the other upper teeth.
- First Touch – Canines play a vital role in the “biting” mechanism of the teeth. They touch first when the jaw closes, and guide the other teeth into position.
- Proper Alignment & Function – Canine teeth are essential to the correct alignment and function of the other teeth on the dental arch. Missing or impacted canines can greatly affect the function and aesthetic appearance of the smile.
What causes canine teeth to become impacted?
There are several main causes for impacted canine teeth:
Extra Teeth – If extra teeth are present, the natural eruption of the canine teeth may be inhibited. The eruption progress of the canine may be directly blocked by an extra tooth or the subsequent overcrowding might leave no room on the dental arch for the canine.
Overcrowding – In some cases, poor alignment of the front teeth can lead to overcrowding. The existing teeth compete for space which means that the canines do not have sufficient room to become functional.
Unusual Growths – On rare occasions, unusual growths on the soft tissue of the gums can restrict the progress of canine teeth, which leads to later impaction.
Early and thorough examination of the teeth can pre-empt problems with impacted canines. It is important for the dentist to document the number teeth present when the patient is around 7 years of age in order to record the presence or absence of canine teeth. The older the patient becomes, the less likely it is that an impacted canine tooth will erupt naturally. If canine teeth are missing or very slow in fully erupting, the dentist can make recommendations for proper treatment.
The dentist initially conducts a thorough visual examination of the teeth, accompanied by a panorex x-ray and/or individual x-rays. Once the cause of the impaction has been determined, there will be several treatment options available depending upon the age of the patient. The objective is to aid the eruption of the impacted canines, and this can be skillfully done by the dentist, an oral surgeon, or an orthodontist.
What does the treatment of impacted canines involve?
If your mouth is overcrowded for any reason, the dentist may recommend extraction of teeth. The extraction will generally be performed under local anesthetic by an oral surgeon. The un-erupted canine will then be exposed by lifting the gum, and guided into place using a special bracket.
In the case of younger patients, an orthodontic brace may be fitted to create a space on the dental arch for the impacted canine. Surgery for impacted canines usually does not require an overnight stay. Pain medication will be prescribed as necessary, and you’ll be given post treatment advice for your recovery.
An oral exam is routinely performed by the dentist during the course of an initial comprehensive exam and regular check-ups. An oral cancer exam refers to the identification and management of diseases pertaining to the maxillofacial and oral regions.
The soft tissue of the mouth is normally lined with mucosa, which is special type of skin that should appear smooth in texture and pink in color. Any alteration of the color or texture of the mucosa may signal the beginning of a pathologic process. These changes may occur on the face, neck, and areas of the mouth (e.g., gums, tongue, lips, etc.). The most serious of these pathologic changes (which may or may not be painful) is oral cancer, but there are also many other common pathologic problems.
Geographic Tongue – Also known as Benign Migratory Glossitis or Erythema Migrans, is a condition where the tongue is missing papillae (small bumps) in different areas, and a map-like appearance can develop. This condition is usually seen as red well defined areas on or around the sides of the tongue. The red patches (which can look like an unsightly rash) may come and go from hours to months at a time and cause increased sensitivity to certain substances.
Median Palatal Cyst – This cyst is of developmental origin and is essentially a fluid filled skin sac. It usually appears in the middle of the palate and may cause substantial discomfort.
Hairy Tongue – An overgrowth of bacteria or a yeast infection in the mouth which can cause the tongue to appear hairy and black. This condition is usually a result of poor oral hygiene, chronic or extensive use of antibiotics, or radiation treatments to the head or neck. It is often also seen in HIV positive patients and those who are intravenous drug users. Hairy Tongue may or may not require treatment.
Treatment of Pathological Diseases
In the majority of cases, the pathological changes experienced in the oral region are uncomfortable and disfiguring, but not life threatening. However, oral cancer is on the rise (especially among men) and the chances of survival are around 80% if an immediate diagnosis is made.
Oral cancer is a general term used when referring to any type of cancer affecting the tongue, jaw, and lower cheek area. Since it is impossible for the dentist to decisively diagnose a pathological disease without taking a biopsy sample of the affected area, seeking immediate treatment when changes are first noticed might be a life and death decision. For less serious problems, there are several options available, such as:
- Antibiotics – In the case of a bacterial infection or persistent soreness, the dentist may prescribe a dose of antibiotics to return the mucosa to its natural state. This will alleviate soreness and discomfort.
- Diluted Hydrogen Peroxide – When poor oral hygiene is causing changes to the soft tissue, the dentist may prescribe a diluted hydrogen peroxide mouthwash. This will kill more bacteria than regular mouthwash and improve halitosis (bad breath).
- Oral Surgery – If the patient has cysts or abnormal non-cancerous growths, the dentist may decide to completely remove them. This can improve comfort levels, alleviate breathing problems, and make speech substantially easier depending on the location of the cyst.
During the course of a regular check up, the dentist will thoroughly inspect the soft tissue of the mouth and take serious note of any changes. If there are cell changes present, the dentist will take a biopsy of the affected area and send it away to be analyzed by laboratory specialists. When definitive results are obtained, the dentist can decide on the best course of treatment.
Oral Cancer Screenings
An oral cancer screening is usually performed during a comprehensive or recall (check-up) exam. Screening is painless and only takes a few minutes. The dentist or hygienist will use a laser light to assess the soft tissue for cell changes that might be indicative of oral cancer. If such cell changes are present, a small biopsy will be taken and sent to a laboratory for review. If the biopsy indicates that oral cancer is present, an excision (removal) will generally be performed.
If you are experiencing any pain or symptoms that cause you concern, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule an appointment.
Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. The term sleep apnea is derived from the Greek etymology meaning “without breath”. Breathing pauses can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes, and happen as often as 30 times or more per hour. Ongoing disrupted breathing causes an imbalance between the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the bloodstream, as not enough carbon dioxide is exiting and not enough oxygen is entering the body.
Sensing this imbalance, the brain sends a message to the body, telling it to wake up to restart breathing the process. People with sleep apnea will partially awake as they struggle to breathe, and this is often accompanied by loud snoring or choking sensations. Because people with sleep apnea don’t always completely awake during the episodes, they are often unaware they have a sleeping disorder and it can remain undiagnosed.
There are two main types of this disorder; central sleep apnea which occurs when the brain fails to send important signals to the breathing muscles, and obstructive sleep apnea which occurs when air cannot flow through the nose or mouth even though the body is still trying to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more prevalent and easily treatable by the dentist.
Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea can include severe early morning headaches, sleepiness in the daytime, and insomnia. Fortunately, the dentist is equipped with the necessary technology and expertise to treat sleep apnea in several different ways.
Reason for treating sleep apnea
It is very important to seek medical attention if sleep apnea is suspected. A sufferer can completely stop numerous times per hour, and this can quickly turn into a deadly situation. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue lying at the back of the patient’s throat collapses into the airway. The tongue then falls towards the back of the throat which tightens the blockage and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs.
The problem worsens when the chest region, diaphragm, and abdomen fight for air. The efforts they make to obtain vital oxygen only cause a further tightening of the blockage. The patient must arouse from deep sleep to tense the tongue and remove the soft tissue from the airway.
Because sleep apnea causes carbon dioxide levels to skyrocket in the blood and oxygen levels to decrease, the heart has to pump harder and faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Sleep apnea patients can technically “die” many times each night. Sleep apnea has been linked to a series of serious heart-related conditions, and should be investigated by the dentist at the earliest opportunity.
What does sleep apnea treatment involve?
Initially, the dentist will want to conduct tests in order to investigate, diagnose, and pinpoint a suitable treatment. The dentist can offer many different treatment options which depend largely on the exact diagnosis and the health of the patient. The dentist may advise the patient to halt some habits that aggravate sleep apnea such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and tranquilizer use.
Sleeping masks were traditionally used to keep the patient’s airways open while they slept, but nowadays there are some less intrusive options. Dental devices that gently tease the lower jaw forward are very effective in preventing the tongue from blocking the main air passage. These dental devices are gentle, easy to wear, and often help patients avoid unwanted surgeries.
A more permanent solution is to have surgery that sections the lower jaw and helps pull the bone holding the tongue forward slightly. This surgery has an impressive success rate and is simple for the dentist or oral surgeon to perform. The dentist needs to formally make a diagnosis of each individual case before recommending the best course of action.
Sleep apnea is a serious, sometimes fatal medical disorder that affects around 10% of American men over the age of 40, and 6% of American women of the same age. Sleep apnea sufferers completely stop breathing during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times in a single night. Normal breathing ceases because the airway becomes obstructed, causing a serious reduction of airflow to the lungs.
There are a number of dental devices that can be used to alleviate this condition. The goal of most of these devices is to separate the jaws and push them forward slightly. This slight repositioning opens up the airway, and allows oxygen to flow freely again. Wearers of sleep apnea dental devices report that they stop loud snoring, feel more rested in the daytime, and are much more comfortable going to sleep. Sleep apnea appliances work best on patients who are not significantly overweight. They offer a viable alternative to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).
Sleep apnea appliances fall into two categories: fixed and adjustable. Here are brief descriptions of some commonly used sleep apnea dental appliances:
TAP® 3 (Thornton Adjustable Positioner)
The TAP® 3 is the smallest, most comfortable member of the TAP family. It is a two-part custom-created sleep apnea appliance that fits over the teeth in much the same way as a sports mouthguard. The TAP® 3 projects the jaw forward to prevent the tongue and soft tissues from impeding the airway. The lower jaw positioner is adjustable, which means that it can be altered to suit the comfort level of the wearer. The TAP® 3 appliance can accommodate the three main types of malocclusion, and allows the lips to fully close.
The OASYS appliance is designed to move the base of the tongue toward the front of the mouth by gently repositioning the jawbone (mandible). This shift opens the oropharynx and strengthens the upper airway. An extension of the upper shield projects toward the nose, creating a larger nasal opening and less resistance to normal airflow. This adjustable appliance is comfortable to wear and extremely patient friendly.
The KlearwayTM Appliance is generally used to alleviate obstructive sleep disorder and eliminate snoring. The patient or dentist can project the jaw forwards in increments of .25mm at a time. This ensures maximum comfort for the sleeper. The KlearwayTM appliance is made from VariflexTM heat softening acrylic, which makes it easier to insert. Running warm water over the appliance makes it pliable, but once placed in the desired position, the acrylic hardens again.
Herbst Telescopic Appliance
The Herbst appliance is held in the mouth by clasps and friction grips. It is made of acrylic, and contains adjustable metal wiring. The advantage of this appliance is that the wearer is able to move vertically and laterally without dislodging the appliance. The Herbst appliance is usually used in mild and moderate cases of sleep apnea, and can also alleviate loud snoring effectively.
If you have questions or concerns about sleep apnea appliances, please ask your dentist.
Tempro-Mandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome (TMJ) is a common condition affecting a wide variety of people. TMJ is characterized by severe headaches, jaw pain of varying degrees, grinding teeth, and an intermittent ringing in the ears. The vast majority of TMJ sufferers are unaware that the root cause of these problems is something that a dentist can effectively treat.
The symptoms of TMJ are debilitating and can greatly interfere with every day life. The comfort and general well being of the patient is at the heart of the dental practice, so pain relief is the first consideration of the dentist. The dentist is able to test, diagnose, and devise an immediate plan to treat the underlying causes of the TMJ disorder.
Reasons for treating TMJ
TMJ sufferers report that their symptoms generally worsen during periods of prolonged or unexpected stress, and that intense outbreaks of the condition can lead to neck pain and dizziness.
The most common cause of TMJ is the misalignment of the teeth, often called “bad bite.” It is possible for the dentist to realign or adjust the teeth without the need for painful or expensive surgeries. The realignment/adjustment will stop the pounding headaches, the jaw pain, and the dizziness.
The grinding teeth symptom is particularly common and usually occurs at night. The grinding will eventually erode the structure of the teeth and lead to much more severe dental problems in the future. Untreated TMJ is one of the prime underlying factors in eroded jawbones and loose teeth.
It is important for anyone experiencing the symptoms of TMJ to visit the dentist for an exact diagnosis.
What does treating TMJ involve?
TMJ could be a result of several different problems. Bad bite is the most common, but an injury resulting from a blow to the meniscus cartilage is also a possibility. Initially, the dentist will thoroughly examine the jaw area, the patients bite, take x-rays, and review the patient’s history in order to make an accurate diagnosis and recommend necessary treatment.
Once a firm diagnosis is attained, there are several ways in which relief can be provided. A specially molded bite guard can be created to stop teeth grinding during the night. A bite relationship analysis may be recommended by the dentist. The dentist can also provide advice on relaxation techniques which will lessen the effects of stress. As a last alternative, the dentist is also able to prescribe muscle relaxants.
A better option is to change the shape of the teeth and get rid of the bad bite completely, often called “realignment.” This is especially useful because it alleviates TMJ symptoms and may improve the aesthetic appearance of the teeth as well. Realignment involves adjusting the relationship between how the upper teeth come together with the lower teeth. This may require new restorations and/or adjusting the natural teeth as well. It is not a painful procedure, and it is one the dentist has performed with great success numerous times. As with any procedure, the dentist will be happy to answer questions and discuss symptoms, options, and treatments.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of TMJ, we encourage you to contact our office today to schedule an appointment.
Third molars, commonly referred to as wisdom teeth, are usually the last four of 32 teeth to erupt (surface) in the mouth, generally making their appearance between the ages of 17 to 25. They are located at the back of the mouth (top and bottom), near the entrance to the throat. The term “wisdom” stems from the idea that the molars surface at a time typically associated with increased maturity or “wisdom”.
In most cases, inadequate space in the mouth does not allow the wisdom teeth to erupt properly and become fully functional. When this happens, the tooth can become impacted (stuck) in an undesirable or potentially harmful position. If left untreated, impacted wisdom teeth can contribute to infection, damage to other teeth, and possibly cysts or tumors.
There are several types, or degrees, of impaction based on the actual depth of the teeth within the jaw:
Soft Tissue Impaction: The upper portion of the tooth (the crown) has penetrated through the bone, but the gingiva (gum) is covering part or all of the tooth’s crown and has not positioned properly around the tooth. Because it is difficult to keep the area clean, food can become trapped below the gum and cause an infection and/or tooth decay, resulting in pain and swelling.
Partial Bony Impaction: The tooth has partially erupted, but a portion of the crown remains submerged below the gum and surrounding jawbone. Again, because it is difficult to keep the area clean, infection will commonly occur.
Complete Bony Impaction: The tooth is completely encased by jawbone. This will require more complex removal techniques.
Reasons to remove wisdom teeth
While not all wisdom teeth require removal, wisdom teeth extractions are most often performed because of an active problem such as pain, swelling, decay or infection, or as a preventative measure to avoid serious problems in the future. If impaction of one or more wisdom teeth is present, and left untreated, a number of potentially harmful outcomes can occur, including:
- Damage to nearby teeth: Second molars (the teeth directly in front of the wisdom teeth) can be adversely affected by impacted wisdom teeth, resulting in tooth decay (cavities), periodontal disease (gum disease) and possible bone loss.
- Disease: Although uncommon, cysts and tumors can occur in the areas surrounding impacted wisdom teeth.
- Infection: Bacteria and food can become trapped under the gum tissue, resulting in an infection. The infection can cause considerable pain and danger.
- Tooth Crowding: It has been theorized that impacted wisdom teeth can put pressure on other teeth and cause them to become misaligned (crowded or twisted). This theory isn’t universally accepted by all dental professionals, and it has never been validated by any scientific studies.
Wisdom teeth examination
As with any dental procedure, your dentist will want to initially conduct a thorough examination of the wisdom and surrounding teeth. Panoramic or digital x-rays will be taken in order for your dentist to evaluate the position of the wisdom teeth and determine if a current problem exists, or the likelihood of any potential future problems. The x-rays can also expose additional risk factors, such as deterioration or decay of nearby teeth. Early evaluation and treatment (typically in the mid-teen years) is recommended in order to identify potential problems and to improve the results for patients requiring wisdom teeth extractions. Only after a thorough examination can your dentist provide you with the best options for your particular case.
What does the removal of wisdom teeth involve?
Wisdom teeth removal is a common procedure, generally performed under local anesthesia, intravenous (IV) sedation, or general anesthesia by a specially trained dentist in an office surgery suite. The surgery does not require an overnight stay, and you will be released with post-operative instructions and medication (if necessary), to help manage any swelling or discomfort.