Bad news at your last dental visit: You have a decayed tooth. And not just in the enamel—the decay has invaded the tooth's inner pulp and the resulting infection is threatening the supporting bone structure.
You're thinking that tooth is toast. Then comes the good news: your dentist believes the tooth can be rescued with a root canal treatment.
But then you begin thinking about how often Uncle Sid says he'd rather undergo a colonoscopy than have a root canal. Is the procedure really as painful and uncomfortable as popular culture says it is? What is a root canal really like?
First step: Things go numb. Uncle Sid is wrong: A root canal treatment is painless because your dentist will first make sure the entire area involving the tooth is anesthetized. This does involve injecting the local anesthetic deep within the tissues, but you won't even feel the needle prick thanks to topical anesthesia applied to the surface gums.
Second step: Drilling deep. After applying a protective dam to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors, your dentist will drill a small access hole through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp and root canals. If it's one of the larger back teeth, the access hole is usually drilled in the tooth's biting surface; in a front tooth, the hole is usually located on the tongue side.
Third Step: Removing diseased tissue. Using special instruments, your dentist will remove the diseased tissue in the pulp and root canals, essentially stopping the infection and any tooth pain you've been experiencing. The empty pulp chamber and canals are often then disinfected with a special antibacterial solution.
Fourth Step: Protecting the tooth. After some shaping, the pulp chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling to prevent further infection. The access hole is then filled and sealed to complete the procedure. At some point in the future, the tooth typically will need a crown to add support and further protection.
You may have some minor discomfort afterward, but this can usually be managed with a mild pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. After a week or so, you'll be good as new—and so will your tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal therapy, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy isn't always easy—and it's even more of a challenge if you're wearing orthodontic appliances like braces. That's why a fair percentage of patients wearing braces also contend with tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
The reason is simple: The orthodontic hardware makes it difficult to fully reach all parts of teeth surfaces with your toothbrush or floss. As a result, you can miss removing some of the accumulated plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles most responsible for dental disease. And it only takes a short amount of time (just days with gum disease) for a bacterial infection to begin.
But while avoiding dental disease is difficult while wearing braces, it's not impossible. Here are 4 ways you can minimize your dental disease risk while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Be diligent with your daily hygiene. Even though it's more difficult, don't slack on daily brushing and flossing. It does require more time to work the brush around and between the wires and brackets, but taking the time will help you clear away more plaque you might otherwise miss. It may also help to switch to a multi-tufted, microfine bristled toothbrush if you're not already using one.
Use a water irrigator. If straight thread flossing is proving too difficult (and even with a floss threader), try using a water irrigator. This device emits a pulsating spray of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque between teeth. Clinical studies consistently show water flossing is effective for reducing plaque in orthodontic patients.
Lower your sugar intake. Sugar left over in the mouth is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay or gum disease. Reducing sugary foods and snacks can help reduce bacterial populations and lower your disease risk. You can also fortify your oral health with healthier foods that contain calcium and other minerals.
Keep up regular dental visits. In addition to your orthodontic adjustments, don't neglect your regular visits with your family dentist. Semi-annual cleanings help remove any plaque and calculus (calcified plaque) you may have missed. Your dentist can also monitor your health and boost your disease prevention through topical fluoride treatments or prescribed antibacterial mouth rinses.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
An estimated 50,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed this year with some form of oral cancer. Five years from now, if current survival rates still apply (57%), a little more than half will still be alive. That's why the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to call attention to this serious disease, and what you can do to lower your risk of contracting it.
Oral cancer has one of the lowest survival rates among known cancers, mainly because it easily goes undetected until its later stages when known treatments aren't as effective. Patients don't always have overt symptoms or they mistake cancerous lesions for everyday mouth sores. On the other hand, early detection and treatment dramatically improve survivability.
Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk for oral cancer or improve your odds for early detection.
Don't use tobacco. If you're a smoker, you're five to nine times more likely to develop oral cancer than a non-smoker. Using smokeless snuff or chewing tobacco is also risky—four times the risk of non-users. And preliminary evidence suggests that e-cigarettes increase the risk of cancer as well.
Make better food choices. A diet heavy in processed foods, especially nitrites used in curing meats and other products, can damage cellular DNA and lead to cancer. On the other hand, natural foods like fresh fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that lower cancer risk. A nutritious diet also contributes to healthier teeth and gums.
Practice safer sex. While older adults have traditionally accounted for most oral cancer cases, there has been a recent, unsettling rise among younger people. Most researchers tie this to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV 16), which is sexually transmitted. You can reduce your risk for contracting HPV 16 and subsequent oral cancer by following safe sex practices.
Undergo oral cancer screenings. Your semi-annual dental visits to clean your teeth are also a prime opportunity to check for oral abnormalities, especially if you're older. During an oral cancer screening we visually inspect your face, neck, lips and the inside of your mouth for any suspicious sores or discolorations. Early detection leads to better outcomes.
You should also modify your alcohol consumption—moderate to heavy drinkers have three to nine times greater risk for oral cancer than light or non-drinkers. And, you can further lower your risk of lip cancers by limiting your exposure to the sun and wearing protective sunscreen.
Oral cancer is a dangerous condition that could threaten your life. Regular dental care and healthy lifestyle practices can help lower your risk for encountering this deadly disease.
Advanced tooth decay is a serious dental problem that can threaten an affected tooth's survival. But for decades now dentists have reliably used root canal treatment to better a decayed tooth's odds. This routine procedure performed with dental drill and special hand tools removes infected tissue inside a tooth and replaces the voids with a filling to prevent future infection.
But now there's a new way to perform a root canal—with a surgical laser. Lasers, amplified and focused light beams, aren't new to healthcare—they're an integral feature of many routine medical treatments and surgeries. But their use is relatively new to dentistry, and to endodontics (treating the interior of teeth) in particular.
Lasers can be used in root canal treatment to perform a number of tasks. They can remove diseased tissue and other debris from the innermost tooth pulp. They can be used to clean and shape root canal walls in preparation for filling. And they can also be used to soften and mold the filling material to fit more precisely within a tooth's particular root canal network.
Although laser-assisted root canal therapy isn't yet widespread, laser's limited use to date has given us a fair picture of both their advantages and disadvantages. As with other medical laser applications, lasers are very precise in removing diseased tissue without too much disruption of healthy tissue. There's less need for anesthesia than with dental drills, and lasers are a lot less noisy and jarring. Patients by and large experience less bleeding, as well as less discomfort or infection afterward.
But because laser light can only travel in a straight line, they're difficult to use in many tightly curved root canals. In these cases, the traditional methods are better suited, although a laser can be used in conjunction with other tasks. Temperature with lasers must also be carefully managed lest the high heat that's often generated damages natural tissues.
Although lasers won't be replacing traditional treatment methods for decayed teeth in the foreseeable future, there's hope they'll become more commonplace as technology and techniques continue to advance. Lasers can only improve what already is an effective means of saving teeth.
If you would like more information on treatments for advanced tooth decay, 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 “Laser-Assisted Root Canal Treatment.”
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