What's a Talon Cusp and How Is It Treated?

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A talon cusp is one of the more unusual tooth problems dentists see, with an estimated prevalence of only 1 in 430 patients developing the condition, according to a study in the Journal of Oral Diseases. The cusp is a claw-like growth or projection that erupts alongside one of the teeth, which received its name because of the resemblance to an eagle's curved talon. Various scientific names are used for these cusps, but the most common is dens evaginatus. The condition is more common in patients from Asia, and little attention has been given to its occurrence in the United States.

How and Where Do Talon Cusps Develop?

Dental science is unclear on the exact reason for a talon cusp, but studies show practitioners believe it is caused by extra layers of enamel and dental tissue forming inside the tooth chamber. These layers press outwards and create a growth projecting from the tooth surface. Cusps can develop on any of a patient's teeth, and can erupt against either the inner or outer surface. They are most often found in the front of the mouth, forming behind the incisor or canine teeth although documented cases exist of patients with cusps growing on the outer surface of the incisors, notes Contemporary Clinical Dentistry. It's unusual for a patient to have more than one tooth supporting a talon cusp, but not impossible.

Why Are Talon Cusps a Problem?

Cusps usually develop during the formation of primary teeth, and can cause a number of associated dental problems. When a growth develops behind a front tooth it can push the tooth out of position. If the tooth then turns sideways to allow the cusp space, the patient is hosting the equivalent of two teeth in a space intended only for one. This forces the surrounding teeth to erupt awkwardly, and the results may include:

  • Malocclusion or an abnormal bite
  • Difficulty in eating
  • Difficulty in speaking
  • Wear and tear on teeth, causing dental cavities and breakages
  • Build-up of plaque in the grooves between the cusp and the host tooth
  • Bruxism or tooth grinding, which mainly occurs during sleep
  • Overcrowding of the mouth and irritation of the cheek tissue, tongue and gums

Treatment for Talon Cusps

The preferred dental treatment for a talon cusp is to remove it by grinding it down. In many cases, the cusp does not contain tooth pulp, but if it does, the dentist will have to first perform a root canal to remove the nerves. Cusps often don't require any treatment, however. If the growth is small, located out of sight and doesn't cause any problems with your other teeth, the dentist might recommend leaving it alone. You will need to make extra effort to ensure that your daily brushing and flossing includes taking care of the cusp. Add to your oral hygiene regimen a mouthwash such as Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield, which significantly reduces plaque and helps prevent gingivitis.

If you're one of the rare people in the world with a talon cusp, it won't necessarily cause problems for you. Regular dental care will enable you to live with it, or you can explore the options to have it removed.