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Dental Ankylosis: A Rare Concern For Baby Teeth

Having a confident, straight smile can help boost our self-esteem. But sometimes, rare dental anomalies can get in the way, like dental ankylosis, which is a condition that can cause a baby tooth to fuse to the nearby bone instead of loosening up like it's supposed to. If left untreated, it can lead to further problems down the road—but luckily, treatment options are available. Learn how to recognize this condition early and what you can do about it.

Recognizing Dental Ankylosis

Ankylosis occurs when a tooth fuses to the surrounding bone and slowly begins to sink or submerge into the nearby gum tissue. Normally, small fibers called the periodontal ligament hold a tooth in its socket, but with ankylosis, this connection is absent, and the tooth becomes directly attached to nearby bone. Although this condition can affect baby and adult molar teeth, it is most commonly noticed when children fail to lose a baby tooth at the appropriate time.

Ankylosis is considered a rare disease. According to the International Organization of Scientific Research's Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences (IOSR-JDMS), the prevalence of ankylosis ranges from 1.3 to 14.3 percent of people, has a higher incidence in siblings, and is slightly more common in females. As far as when you might notice this condition in your child, ankylosis affects baby teeth 10 times more often than adult teeth. The one-year-old molar in the lower jaw is the tooth that ankylosis most commonly affects. A person may have only a single ankylosed tooth or several. Luckily, your dental professional will be able to diagnose this condition during an examination.

So, what causes teeth to sink into the gum? Several factors cause ankylosis. Some people are genetically predisposed and thus inherit the condition; others may develop this condition due to trauma, like a jaw injury, inflammation, or infection.

Problems Caused by Dental Ankylosis

The immediate problem caused by most cases is that the ankylosed baby tooth prevents an adult tooth from growing in. However, if it’s left untreated, this condition could cause other oral health issues like difficulty chewing if the back teeth do not touch each other. It also may cause the loss of neighboring teeth to cavities and periodontal disease. 

Permanent changes to facial structure, like a protruding jaw and a reduction in the height of the lower portion of the face, may develop over time. Additional problems may occur, too—surrounding teeth may begin to tip as the ankylosed tooth sinks. Teeth on the opposite portion of the dental arch may over-erupt and stick out further than they are supposed to. Think of it this way: if one ankylosed tooth is “off,” it could cause ripple effects to other areas of your mouth. That’s why early detection is vital to treating this condition, so you or your child can get back to smiling with confidence.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Dental Ankylosis

If you suspect that a tooth in your mouth or your child's mouth is affected by dental ankylosis, contact your dental professional. Often, a person is unaware that they have this condition until it is detected during a routine dental exam. The problem tooth can be identified through a visual examination, and the results are typically confirmed with a dental X-ray.

Treatment usually consists of removing the ankylosed tooth so that the adult tooth will grow in properly. A space maintainer might also be placed to hold the space until the adult tooth erupts. Other options include placing a restorative material to raise the height of the tooth.

When to Involve a Dental Specialist

As the condition progresses, other oral health specialists may need to become involved. An orthodontist can correct skeletal and bite issues, but sometimes your dental professional may recommend oral surgery to expose and reposition the adult tooth. They might also suggest implants if the baby tooth does not have an adult tooth under it or if the ankylosed tooth is an adult tooth.

Early detection is always a great tool to limit future problems. Getting regular dental exams and dental hygiene treatments will keep your teeth at their healthiest and help you and your dental professional be aware of any problems relating to ankylosis.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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