Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
When the multi-platinum recording artist, songwriter and TV personality Jason Derulo was recently asked about his ideal woman, his answer covered a remarkably broad spectrum. "There’s no specific thing," he said, "so I think it’s unfair to say what my ‘type’ is." But it turns out that there is one thing the So You Think You Can Dance judge considers essential: A beautiful smile.
"I’m not into messy teeth," Derulo said. "If the grill has spaces and different colors, it’s not my vibe."
As it turns out, he may be on to something: A number of surveys have indicated that a bright, healthy smile is often the first thing people notice when meeting someone new. Yet many are reluctant to open up that big grin because they aren’t satisfied with the way their teeth look. If you’re one of them, consider this: Modern cosmetic dentistry offers a variety of ways to improve your smile — and it may be easier and more affordable than you think.
For example, if your smile isn’t as bright as you would like it to be, teeth whitening is an effective and economical way to lighten it up. If you opt for in-office treatments, you can expect a lightening effect of up to 10 shades in a single one-hour treatment! Or, you can achieve the same effect in a week or two with a take-home kit we can custom-make for you. Either way, you’ll be safe and comfortable being treated under the supervision of a dental professional — and the results can be expected to last for up to two years, or perhaps more.
If your teeth have minor spacing irregularities, small chips or cracks, it may be possible to repair them in a single office visit via cosmetic bonding. In this process, a liquid composite resin is applied to the teeth and cured (hardened) with a special light. This high-tech material, which comes in colors to match your teeth, can be built up in layers and shaped with dental instruments to create a pleasing, natural effect.
If your smile needs more than just a touch-up, dental veneers may be the answer. These wafer-thin coverings, placed right on top of your natural teeth, can be made in a variety of shapes and colors — from a natural pearly luster to a brilliant "Hollywood white." Custom-made veneers typically involve the removal of a few millimeters of tooth enamel, making them a permanent — and irreversible — treatment. However, by making teeth look more even, closing up spaces and providing dazzling whiteness, veneers just might give you the smile you’ve always wanted.
If you would like more information about cosmetic dental treatments, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cosmetic Dentistry — A Time for Change.”
A root canal treatment is a highly effective way to save a deeply decayed tooth. Sometimes, though, complications make it difficult or even impossible to perform the traditional procedure. In those cases, we may need to use a different option.
Tooth decay becomes an imminent threat to a tooth's survival if it works its way into the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. It's only a short advancement from there into the roots by way of the root canals.
In a typical root canal treatment, we access the pulp by drilling a small hole in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back side of a front tooth. We remove all the tissue within the pulp and fill it and the root canals with a special filling to prevent re-infection. After sealing the access hole, we cap the tooth with a crown to further protect it.
Although root canal treatments have a high success rate, re-infection can still occur. Often, a second root canal will save the tooth from the new infection.
In some cases, though, using the traditional procedure might do more harm than good. It's possible we may find extra canals previously undetected branching out from the primary canal at the root end. Canals can calcify and narrow, making them extremely difficult to fill. Subsequent dental work may also prove troublesome: we would have to take the restoration apart, which could further weaken the tooth.
The alternative is a procedure known as an apicoectomy. Instead of accessing the pulp through the crown, we access the root end through the gum tissue. We then focus on removing infected tissue at the tooth's root end, along with a tiny amount of the root tip. We then place a small filling at the end of the root canal (essentially plugging it up) to prevent further infection. We may also perform grafting to encourage bone growth in any voids left by the procedure.
Endodontists, specialists in root canals, have the advanced training and specialized equipment to perform an apicoectomy. With their expertise, they may be able to save your tooth with this specialized procedure when a root canal treatment won't work.
If you would like more information on options for treating decayed teeth, 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
Dental implants are the ideal tooth replacement with their life-like appearance, high success rate and durability. If you have significant dental issues, they may seem like the perfect answer. But before you choose to replace a problem tooth with an implant, it might be to your benefit — financially and health-wise — to consider saving the tooth first.
Tooth decay can be a formidable enemy, destroying both tooth structure and the tooth’s connectivity to the jaw. But there are treatment options even for heavily decayed teeth, including cavity filling with composite resins or porcelain that look and function like natural teeth. For decay deep within a tooth’s interior, root canal therapy can rid the pulp chamber and root canals of decay and seal them from future occurrences. The treatment’s success rate is comparable to and less expensive than implants.
While decay damage can be significant, adult teeth are more at risk from periodontal (gum) disease, a gum infection caused by bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces. This disease can weaken gum tissues until they eventually detach from the teeth and lead to loss. Gum disease, though, can often be brought under control by techniques called scaling and root planing that deep clean tooth and root surfaces of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
Scaling may require multiple sessions and will require a greater effort from the patient in performing daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist regularly to closely monitor gum health. And more advanced cases may require surgery to access deep pockets of infection or repair damaged tissues. But even with this effort, treating gum disease rather than replacing a tooth could be much less costly — and you’ll be able to preserve your own teeth.
On the other hand, the disease process may have gone on too long and caused too much damage for the tooth to be saved. In these cases, the best option is to remove it and install a restoration like an implant. By first completing a complete dental examination, we’ll be better able to advise you whether your best course is a “tooth rescue” or a replacement.
It takes only a few days of inadequate oral hygiene for bacterial plaque to trigger the periodontal (gum) disease gingivitis. Though sometimes subtle, there are signs to watch for like inflamed, reddened or bleeding gums.
Untreated gingivitis can develop into more advanced forms of gum disease that infect deeper levels of the gums and supporting bone and ultimately cause bone and tooth loss. Fortunately, though, prompt treatment by a dentist removing plaque from teeth and gums, along with you reinstituting daily brushing and flossing, can stop gingivitis and help restore health to your gums.
If you’re under acute stress or anxiety, however, basic gingivitis can develop into something much more serious and painful, a condition called Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG). It’s also known as “trench mouth” from its common occurrence among World War I soldiers experiencing stressful periods in front line trenches without the means for proper oral hygiene.
ANUG develops from a “perfect storm” of conditions: besides anxiety and deficient hygiene practices, ANUG has a high occurrence risk in people who smoke (which dries the mouth and changes the normal populations of oral bacteria) or have issues with general health or nutrition.
In contrast to many cases of basic gingivitis, ANUG can produce highly noticeable symptoms. The gum tissues begin to die and become ulcerative and yellowish in appearance. This can create very bad breath and taste along with extreme gum pain.
The good news is ANUG can be treated and completely reversed if caught early. In addition to plaque removal, the dentist or periodontist (a specialist in the treatment of gum disease) may prescribe antibiotics along with an antibacterial mouthrinse to reduce bacteria levels in the mouth. A person with ANUG may also need pain relief, usually with over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.
It’s important that you seek treatment as soon as possible if you suspect you have ANUG or any gum disease. It’s possible to lose tissue, particularly the papillae (the small triangle of tissue between teeth), which can have an adverse effect on your appearance. You can also reduce your risk by quitting smoking, addressing any stress issues, and practicing diligent, daily oral hygiene and visiting your dentist for cleanings and checkups twice a year or more if needed.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatments for gum disease, 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”
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