There are subtle differences from person to person, but there's a great deal of uniformity when it comes to teeth. The formation and structure of your teeth aren't going to be significantly different to someone else's. However, this is not exclusively the case, and there are some dental abnormalities that can make teeth very different indeed. Talon cusps are one such abnormality, mostly seen in permanent (adult) teeth. But what are they exactly?
Bird of Prey
Talon cusps are an addition to the normal structure of a tooth. They're essentially a sharp growth that develops on the back of a tooth that vaguely resembles a bird of prey's talons (which is where the name comes from). The cause is unknown and is thought to be the result of genetic factors.
Leave Them Alone
Even though the cause is unknown, the end result can vary. In many instances, talon cusps are left alone. A dental intervention is only deemed necessary when the presence of the cusps affects the functionality of the teeth. How can they do that?
Overcrowding and Injury
Your talon cusps may result in overcrowding in your mouth (due to the extra physical bulk of the cusps), which can make dental hygiene (actually cleaning your teeth) problematic. Additionally, the sharpness of the cusps could cut or irritate your tongue and the lining of your mouth. When the cusps are problematic, what will a dentist do?
Removing a Cusp Without Dental Pulp
At the dental office, your dentist will need to thoroughly assess the cusps before taking action. This involves an x-ray or radiograph to look at the internal portions of the cusp. Some cusps are simply dentin and enamel, and these can be filed away using a manual bur or a rotary dental handpiece. This is the end of the cusp. But what about when there's more to the cusp than just dentin and enamel?
Removing a Cusp With Dental Pulp
The x-ray or radiograph looks at the layout of the tooth's pulp chamber (which is where the nerve is found). Sometimes the nerve extends into the cusp. What would happen if your dentist were to file away the cusp with a nerve inside? Here's a clue—it would involve pain and bleeding. Obviously, this must be avoided. When the nerve extends into the cusp, a root canal will be performed, and then the cusp can be harmlessly filed away.
Don't be alarmed if you begin to develop sharp cusps on the backs of some of your teeth. Sometimes they can be left as is, but removal isn't especially complicated.