What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the month of May? Balmy breezes? Sweet-smelling flowers? How about root canal treatment?
The last item might seem out of place…but for the last ten years, Root Canal Awareness week has been celebrated in May. So let’s take a closer look at this important—and often misunderstood—dental procedure.
What we commonly call a “root canal” is a special treatment that can save diseased teeth which might otherwise be lost. But the root canal itself is actually a set of hollow, branching passages deep inside the hard outer tissue of the tooth. The tiny “canals” contain the tooth’s soft pulp, including nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. These tissues help teeth grow during childhood but aren’t necessary in healthy adult teeth—and, what’s worse, they can become infected via deep cavity or a crack in the tooth’s outer layers.
When bacteria infect the pulp tissue, the inflammation often causes intense discomfort. In time, the harmful microorganisms can also pass through the tooth’s root and into the tissue of the jaw, resulting in a painful abscess. Eventually, if it isn’t treated, the tooth will likely be lost.
Root canal treatment is designed to remove the infection, relieve the pain…and save the tooth. It is usually performed under anesthesia for your comfort. To begin the procedure, a small hole is made in the tooth’s enamel to give access to the pulp; then, tiny instruments are used to remove the diseased tissue and disinfect the tooth. Finally, it is sealed up against re-infection. Following treatment, a cap (or crown) is often needed to restore the tooth’s full function and appearance.
Despite some rumors you may have heard, root canal treatment is neither very painful nor likely to cause other health problems. So if you come across these discredited ideas, remember that dentists and dental specialists called endodontists perform some 25 million root canal procedures every year—and this treatment method has been validated for decades.
Of course, like any medical procedure, root canal treatment is not 100% successful. While the procedure has a very high success rate, it’s possible that additional treatments will be needed in some cases. However, the alternative—extracting the tooth—has similar potential downsides; plus a replacement tooth will be needed to avoid the health and lifestyle troubles caused by missing teeth. But one thing is certain: Ignoring disease in the tooth’s soft tissues isn’t a good move, because the infection won’t go away on its own—and down the road it will only get worse.
So this May, while you’re taking time to smell the flowers, spare a thought for the often-misunderstood root canal. If you’d like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can also 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.”
For generations, dentures have helped people avoid the dire consequences of total teeth loss. Now, implant technology is making them even better.
Composed of life-like prosthetic teeth fixed within a plastic or resin gum-colored base, dentures are manufactured to fit an individual patient’s mouth for maximum fit, comfort and performance. But dentures also have a critical drawback—they can’t stop bone loss in the jaw.
Bone is constantly regenerating as older cells dissolve and then are replaced by newer cells. In the jawbone, the forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this new cell growth. When teeth are missing, though, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus and may not regenerate at a healthy rate, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can’t transmit this chewing stimulus to the bone. In fact, the pressure they produce as they rest on top of the gums may actually accelerate bone loss. Over time then, a denture’s once secure and comfortable fit becomes loose.
In the past, most patients with loose dentures have had them relined with new dental material to improve fit, or have new dentures created to conform to the changed contours of the jaws. But implant technology now offers another alternative.
Implants are in essence a tooth root replacement. Dentists surgically implant a titanium metal post directly into the jawbone that naturally attracts bone cells to grow and adhere to it over time (a process called osseointegration). This not only creates a secure and lasting hold, it can also stop or even reverse bone loss.
Most people know implants as single tooth replacements with a porcelain crown attached to the titanium post. But a few strategically placed implants can also support either removable or fixed dentures. Removable dentures (also called overdentures) usually need only 3 or 4 implants on the top jaw and 2 on the bottom jaw for support through built-in connectors in the dentures that attach to the implants. A fixed bridge may require 4-6 implants to which they are permanently attached.
There are pros and cons for each of these options and they’re both more expensive than traditional dentures. In the long run, though, implant-supported dentures could be more beneficial for your bone health and hold their fit longer.
Think you’re too old to have your teeth straightened? In reality, healthy teeth can be moved at any age to better positions. For the many adults who have some form of malocclusion (bad bite), orthodontics is still a viable option even in later years.
As important as it is to self-image and confidence, treating misaligned teeth can benefit you more than just improving your smile. Misaligned teeth may be harder to keep clean, setting up a mouth environment advantageous to the development of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the risks of both rising with age. And normally aligned teeth are easier to chew with than those misaligned.
Age isn’t the determining factor for whether you’re a good candidate for orthodontics — but your dental health is. Gum disease in particular can cause supporting bone loss, which can complicate orthodontic treatment. It’s important then that we first perform a complete oral examination and attempt to treat problems such as decay or gum disease first before attempting tooth movement.
What type of orthodontic treatment you’ll need will depend on the type of malocclusion you have and its relationship to the way your jaws fit together. Because your adult jaws have fully developed you may need orthognathic (“jaw straightening”) surgery to address certain advanced forms of malocclusion. If your bite problems aren’t that severe (the majority of situations) they can be treated with braces or, an increasingly popular alternative, clear aligners. These customized clear plastic trays are nearly invisible compared to metal braces and are effective for most patients.
Following the completion of tooth movement and other bite procedures, you will most likely need to wear a retainer to help prevent the teeth from reverting to their older positions. You may need to wear the retainer for a longer period than a younger patient, or perhaps indefinitely. Even with this mild inconvenience, though, you’ll still experience the positive effects of healthier and better functioning teeth and a great new smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
Everyone knows that in the game of football, quarterbacks are looked up to as team leaders. That's why we're so pleased to see some NFL QB's setting great examples of… wait for it… excellent oral hygiene.
First, at the 2016 season opener against the Broncos, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was spotted on the bench; in his hands was a strand of dental floss. In between plays, the 2105 MVP was observed giving his hard-to-reach tooth surfaces a good cleaning with the floss.
Later, Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor was seen on the sideline of a game against the 49ers — with a bottle of mouthwash. Taylor took a swig, swished it around his mouth for a minute, and spit it out. Was he trying to make his breath fresher in the huddle when he called out plays?
Maybe… but in fact, a good mouthrinse can be much more than a short-lived breath freshener.
Cosmetic rinses can leave your breath with a minty taste or pleasant smell — but the sensation is only temporary. And while there's nothing wrong with having good-smelling breath, using a cosmetic mouthwash doesn't improve your oral hygiene — in fact, it can actually mask odors that may indicate a problem, such as tooth decay or gum disease.
Using a therapeutic mouthrinse, however, can actually enhance your oral health. Many commonly available therapeutic rinses contain anti-cariogenic (cavity-fighting) ingredients, such as fluoride; these can help prevent tooth decay and cavity formation by strengthening tooth enamel. Others contain antibacterial ingredients; these can help control the harmful oral bacteria found in plaque — the sticky film that can build up on your teeth in between cleanings. Some antibacterial mouthrinses are available over-the-counter, while others are prescription-only. When used along with brushing and flossing, they can reduce gum disease (gingivitis) and promote good oral health.
So why did Taylor rinse? His coach Rex Ryan later explained that he was cleaning out his mouth after a hard hit, which may have caused some bleeding. Ryan also noted, “He [Taylor] does have the best smelling breath in the league for any quarterback.” The coach didn't explain how he knows that — but never mind. The takeaway is that a cosmetic rinse may be OK for a quick fix — but when it comes to good oral hygiene, using a therapeutic mouthrinse as a part of your daily routine (along with flossing and brushing) can really step up your game.
One of the most important revolutions in healthcare in recent decades is the increasing use of lasers. Now, laser technology is making a showing in dental care for the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Lasers (an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation") narrowly focus and amplify light within a small area. First developed in the early 1960s, laser technology rapidly advanced in the ensuing decades with more compact and precise devices that were eventually safe and effective for many types of medical procedures. Its remarkable features are now available for the primary focus of gum disease treatment—removing bacterial plaque.
Plaque is a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces that serves as a haven for the bacteria that cause gum disease. The continuing presence of plaque and calculus (tartar) enables the infection to thrive and advance within the gum tissues, ultimately damaging them along with supporting bone. As the tissues weaken and bone volume diminishes, the teeth are at greater risk for loss.
It's necessary, therefore, first and foremost to remove all detectable plaque and calculus to stop the infection. This is traditionally done with special hand tools called scalers used to manually remove plaque, or with ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose to be flushed away with water. These procedures can take numerous sessions and may result in some minor post-procedural discomfort and bleeding during the cleaning.
But lasers specifically designed for plaque removal can minimize tissue damage and resulting discomfort. Because the particular laser light used reacts only with plaque and diseased tissue, it can remove them without disturbing nearby healthy tissue usually more efficiently than traditional scaling. Dentists who've used the technology frequently report less bleeding and higher patient satisfaction.
But before lasers for gum disease treatment are widely adopted, the procedure must undergo further scrutiny. Reports from dentists notwithstanding, not enough research studies have been performed to date that meet the necessary scientific criteria. But if the evidence so far from the field holds up, it's quite possible lasers will one day become a regular part of dental practice for treating gum disease.
If you would like more information on 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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
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