Untreated tooth decay can destroy your teeth; prompt action as soon as its diagnosed will help prevent that undesirable outcome. And even if decay has advanced into the tooth's pulp and root canals, there's still a good chance we can stop it with a root canal treatment. Using this procedure, we can clean out the infection and refill the tooth's interior space with a special filling to protect it from further infection.
Although root canal treatments have gained an unwarranted reputation for pain, they rarely cause even the mildest discomfort. More importantly, they work, which is why they're the go-to treatment dentists use for advanced decay.
But sometimes a unique dental situation might make performing a root canal extremely difficult—possibly even doing more harm than good. For example, trying to access the interior of a tooth with a crown restoration might require removing the crown, which could further weaken or damage the tooth. In other cases, the root canals might have become calcified due to trauma or aging and become too narrow to access.
Even so, we may still be able to save a tooth through a minor surgical procedure called an apicoectomy. Rather than access the diseased area through the tooth crown as with a root canal treatment, an apicoectomy makes access to the infected tissue at the root end.
An apicoectomy also differs from a root canal treatment in that we'll need to surgically go through the gum tissue. After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, we'll make a small incision through the gums at the level of the infection. After removing any infected tissue, we would then fill the space with a small filling to prevent re-infection. We then close the incised gum tissues with sutures and allow them to heal.
With the help of fiber optic lighting and surgical microscopes, endodontists (specialists in interior tooth problems) can perform an apicoectomy quickly and with very little trauma at the surgical sight. If you undergo an apicoectomy, you should be back to normal activity in a day or two at the most. And like its sister procedure the root canal, an apicoectomy could help preserve your teeth for many years to come.
If you would like more information on this and other treatments for 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
A toothache might mean you have tooth decay—or maybe not. It could also be a sign of other problems that will take a dental exam to uncover. But we can get some initial clues about the underlying cause from how much it hurts, when and for how long it hurts and where you feel the pain most.
Let's say, for instance, you have a sharp pain while consuming something cold or hot, but only for a second or two. This could indicate isolated tooth decay or a loose filling. But it could also mean your gums have receded and exposed some of the tooth's hypersensitive root surface.
While over-aggressive brushing can be the culprit, gum recession is most often caused by periodontal (gum) disease. Untreated, this bacterial infection triggered by accumulated dental plaque could eventually cause tooth and bone loss, so the sooner it's attended to the better.
On the other hand, if the pain seems to linger after encountering hot or cold foods and liquids, or you have a continuous throbbing pain, you could have advanced tooth decay that's entered the inner pulp where infected tooth nerves are reacting painfully. If so, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp and root canals to prevent further infection.
If you have this kind of pain, see a dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain stops. Cessation of pain may only mean the nerves have died and can no longer transmit pain; the infection, on the other hand, is still active and will continue to advance to the roots and bone.
Tooth pain could also indicate other situations: a cracked tooth, an abscess or even a sinus problem where you're feeling the pain radiating through the teeth. So whatever kind of pain you're feeling, it's your body's alarm signal that something's wrong. Promptly seeing your dentist is the best course of action for preserving your health.
If you would like more information on treating tooth pain, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
A "toothy grin" might be endearing, but not necessarily healthy. More of the teeth showing may mean your gums have pulled back or receded from the teeth. If so, it's not just your smile that suffers—the parts of teeth protected by the gums could become more susceptible to disease.
There are a number of causes for gum recession. Some people are more likely to experience it because of genetically thinner gum tissues. Over-aggressive brushing could also contribute to recession. But the most common cause by far is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by dental plaque accumulating on teeth mainly as a result of inadequate hygiene.
There are some things we can do to help heal and restore recessed gums, most importantly treating gum disease. The number one goal of treatment is to uncover and remove all dental plaque from tooth and gum surfaces, which can take several sessions and sometimes minor surgery if the infection has reached the tooth roots. But removing plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) is necessary to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal.
For mild recession, this may be enough for the gums to regain normal coverage. But in more severe cases we may need to help rejuvenate new tissue with grafting surgery. In these highly meticulous procedures a surgeon uses microscopic techniques to position and attach donated tissue to the recession site. The graft serves as a scaffold on which new tissue growth can occur.
While these treatments can be effective for reversing gum recession, they often require time, skill and expense. It's much better to try to prevent gum recession—and gum disease—in the first place. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing to prevent plaque buildup, as well as regular dental visits for more thorough cleanings. Be on the lookout too for any signs of a beginning gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums and see your dentist as soon as possible to minimize any damage to your gums.
Caring for your gums is equally as important as caring for your teeth. Healthy gums equal a healthy mouth—and an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on preventing gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”
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