Your tooth is in peril if its innermost layer, the pulp, becomes infected and inflamed. Deep tooth decay, repeated dental procedures or fractures can all expose the pulp and ultimately the roots to infection and lead to tooth loss.
But that scenario isn't inevitable — we can often save the tooth with a root canal treatment. By accessing the tooth's interior through a prepared hole, we're able to clean out the infected tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals, and fill the empty space with a special filling. We then cap the tooth with a custom crown to protect it from a re-infection.
Root canal treatments have a very high success rate — chances are good your tooth will survive for many years afterward. But there's a slight chance the tooth may become re-infected; in that case, a second root canal treatment may be in order.
In a few cases, though, a second root canal may not be advisable, and could even accelerate damage to the tooth. For example, if past dental work resulted in an extensive crown restoration, accessing the root canals the conventional way will require disassembling that restoration. This could weaken the tooth significantly.
We can approach the problem from a different route: instead of accessing the tooth's interior through the crown (the visible part of the tooth), we instead perform a surgical procedure called an apicoectomy, which accesses the tooth at the root end through the gums.
In this procedure we numb the area with local anesthesia and then make a small incision through the gums at the level of the affected root. After access, we remove any diseased tissue around the root and a few millimeters of the root tip itself. We then insert a small filling in its place to seal the canal and prevent further infection. In some cases we may also insert a graft to encourage bone growth and aid in healing.
Over time, the affected area will heal and return to normal function. Even if a traditional root canal treatment can't be used, an apicoectomy could be another option for saving your tooth.
If you would like more information on your options for preserving a problem tooth, 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.”
If you think gum disease only happens to the other guy (or gal), think again. If you’re over 30 you have a 50-50 chance for an infection. After 65 the risk climbs to 70 percent.
Fortunately, we can effectively treat most cases of gum disease. But depending on its severity, treatment can involve numerous intensive sessions and possible surgery to bring the disease under control. So, why not prevent gum disease before it happens?
First, though, let’s look at how gum disease most often begins—with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth and gum surfaces. If plaque isn’t consistently removed through daily brushing and flossing, it doesn’t take long—just a few days—for the bacteria to infect the gums.
While it’s not always easy to detect gum disease early on, there are signs to look for like red, swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, and bad breath or taste. The infection is usually more advanced if you notice pus-filled areas around your gums or loose teeth. If you see any of these (especially advanced signs like loose teeth) you should contact us as soon as possible.
Obviously, the name of the game with prevention is stopping plaque buildup, mainly through daily brushing and flossing. Technique is the key to effectiveness, especially with brushing: you should gently but thoroughly scrub all tooth surfaces and around the gum line, coupled with flossing between teeth.
To find out how well you’re doing, you can rub your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss—you should feel a smooth, almost squeaky sensation. You can also use plaque-disclosing agents that dye bacterial plaque a particular color so you can easily see surface areas you’ve missed. You can also ask us for a “report card” on how well you’re doing during your next dental visit.
Dental visits, of course, are the other essential part of gum disease prevention—at least every six months (or more, if we recommend) for cleaning and checkups. Not only will we be able to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, we’ll also give your gums a thorough assessment. By following this prevention regimen you’ll increase your chances of not becoming a gum disease statistic.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
There’s more to teeth than meets the eye. Hidden beneath the visible crown are the tooth’s roots set within the jawbone, secured and protected by the gums from bacteria and infection. But if the gums shrink back (recede), the roots become exposed and susceptible to disease, especially at the points where multiple roots branch from each other, areas called furcations.
It all begins with periodontal (gum) disease caused by built-up bacterial plaque from insufficient brushing and flossing. The infection triggers inflammation that over time weakens gum tissues. They begin to detach from the teeth, which can eventually lead to gum recession and root exposure.
This also causes bone loss, especially at the furcations. We can detect any loss (known as a furcation invasion) and how far along it may be with x-ray imaging or by manually probing with an instrument called a periodontal probe.
There are three general classes measuring furcation invasions. In the earliest, Class I, we can feel the invasion as a slight groove; in Class II, it increases to two or more millimeters across. In Class III the bone loss extends from one side of the root all the way to the other (a “through and through”).
At this stage a patient is in danger of losing the tooth, so we’ll have to act promptly. This means first removing accumulated dental plaque and calculus (tartar) to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal. With severe damage, we may need to assist healing with bone and gum tissue grafting, in which we place donor grafts to serve as scaffolding for the appropriate tissue to grow upon.
You can help prevent this situation by practicing effective daily hygiene and visiting your dentist for thorough cleanings at least twice a year (or more if recommended). And at the first signs of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—make an appointment as soon as possible to have it checked. The sooner we can detect and treat gum disease, the less likely a furcation invasion or worse will be in your future.
Spring means different things to different people—but to baseball fans, it means just one thing: the start of another thrilling season. All 30 Major League Baseball teams begin play this month, delighting fans from Toronto to Texas and everywhere in between.
The boys of spring carry on an age-old tradition—yet baseball is also changing with the times. Cigarette smoking has been banned at most ballparks for years; smokeless tobacco is next. About half of the MLB venues now prohibit tobacco of any kind, including “snuff” and “dip.” What’s more, a recent contract agreement bars new Major League players from using smokeless tobacco anywhere.
Why all the fuss? Because tobacco isn’t safe to use in any form. People who use smokeless tobacco get just as much highly addictive nicotine as cigarette smokers. Plus, they get a mouthful of chemicals that are known to cause cancer. This puts them at higher risk for oral cancer, cancer of the esophagus, pancreatic cancer and other diseases.
A number of renowned ballplayers like Babe Ruth, Curt Flood and Bill Tuttle died of oral cancer. The death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwinn in 2014 focused attention on tobacco use in baseball, and helped lead to the ban. Gwynn was convinced that his addiction to smokeless tobacco led to his getting oral cancer.
Yet tobacco isn’t the only cause of oral cancer. In fact, the disease is becoming more common in young people who do not smoke. That’s one more reason why it’s so important for people of all ages to keep to a regular schedule of routine dental exams. These visits offer a great opportunity to detect oral cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
So as you watch your favorite team, take a tip from the professional athletes’ playbook. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. If you do, now is a good time to quit. For help and support, call an expert at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov.
If you have any questions about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
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