In a normal bite, the upper and lower teeth line up and fit together when you close your jaws. When they don’t, you have a poor bite or “malocclusion.” The most common cause is teeth out of position, which can be corrected by moving them with braces.
Sometimes, though, the size and position of the jaws is the primary cause for the malocclusion and not the teeth. If the discrepancy is minor, tooth movement alone might be sufficient; but if there’s a wide discrepancy in the symmetry of the face or the size of one jaw over the other then a surgical solution may be necessary. One common procedure is orthognathic surgery, which literally means to “straighten the jaw.”
A wide range of irregularities — both minor and major — can be corrected by adjusting and realigning the bone in the jaw. While orthognathic surgery can certainly improve your facial profile and smile, its main purpose is to restore function that’s been lost due to poor jaw alignment. Candidates for the surgery have difficulty chewing, biting or swallowing food, chronic pain or headaches related to the jaw joints, chronic mouth breathing and dry mouth, or sleep apnea.
In many cases, treatment involving orthognathic surgery requires a team approach between orthodontist, oral surgeon and general dentist. While the surgeon surgically alters and repairs the jaw or facial structure, the services of an orthodontist may still be needed to move teeth misaligned due to the underlying problem with the jaw structure. The general dentist ensures teeth and gums remain healthy during all the other treatment phases.
Orthognathic surgery can benefit both oral and general health, as well as improve the appearance of the entire face. The process, however, can be complicated: you or your family member will need to undergo a thorough examination to determine if you or they are a good candidate for the surgery. If so, the end result can be life-changing.
If you would like more information on the treatment of jaw development disorders, 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 Surgery & Orthodontics.”
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.”