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.”
If you occasionally experience small sores in the softer tissues of your mouth, you may have aphthous ulcers or better known as canker sores. While rarely a health concern, they can be painful and annoying particularly when you’re eating and drinking.
These breaks in the skin or mucosa (the lining membranes of the mouth) usually occur in the thinner tissues found in the cheeks, lips, under the tongue or in the back of the throat. They tend to be most painful (especially while eating acidic foods like citrus or tomato sauce) between the first few hours of appearing and for a couple of days afterward, and will often occur during periods of anxiety, stress or after a minor injury. The sores will normally heal and fade within a couple of weeks.
Although occasional outbreaks of canker sores are quite common with most people, 20-25% of people (more often women) have a recurring form of painful outbreak known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS). Another variation called herpetiform aphthae, similar in appearance to herpes simplex virus sores, is characterized by smaller clusters of ulcers. While the specific causes for canker sores are still unclear, there’s some correlation between them and abnormalities with a person’s immune system, as well as with other systemic conditions like gastrointestinal disorders or vitamin deficiencies.
The basic treatment for canker sores is to first soothe the pain and promote quicker healing. Many over-the-counter medications are available for mild cases that numb the area temporarily and provide a protective covering while the sore heals. For more severe cases, there are also prescription medications (like steroids) that can be applied topically or through injection.
While canker sores are not contagious and usually benign, there are some situations that call for a dental examination: sores that haven’t healed within 2 weeks; increasing occurrences and severity of the sores; and never being completely free of a sore in the mouth. These may indicate some other condition, or be an occurrence of cancer or a pre-cancerous condition.
If you have any concerns, be sure to schedule a visit. We’ll be glad to evaluate any occurrence of the sores and recommend the best course of treatment to ease the pain and annoyance.
If you would like more information on canker sores or other types of mouth ulcers, 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 “Mouth Sores.”
You already know the basics for healthy and attractive teeth and gums: brush and floss every day; and have your teeth cleaned and checked by a dentist every six months. But there are also some lesser known things you can do to improve what you're already doing—and some of them may go against popular wisdom.
Here then are 3 counter-intuitive tips for turbo-boosting your teeth and gum health.
Avoid brushing too hard and too often. While it may not seem like it, “The more, the better” isn't necessarily a good thing when it comes to brushing your teeth. Vigorous brushing several times a day could actually damage both your teeth enamel and your gums, eventually leading to problems like sensitive teeth. So, easy does it on the brushing pressure—let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the work removing disease-causing dental plaque. Likewise, avoid brushing more than twice a day.
Wait on brushing right after eating. If your first instinct right after a meal is to head to the sink to brush your teeth, curb your enthusiasm. Your enamel is actually in a slightly softened state right after eating and drinking because of an increase in mouth acid (especially if you've consumed sodas, sports drinks or juices). Saliva restores the mouth's pH balance and helps remineralize enamel in about an hour. If you brush before then, you could be sloughing off microscopic bits of enamel—an eventual problem if this is a regular habit.
Stop snack “grazing.” If you're one of those that likes to munch on food throughout the day, you could be thwarting your overall efforts to maintain good dental health. Remember saliva? As mentioned, it effectively neutralizes acid in a few minutes. But continuous snacking maintains a constant high level of acid in the mouth—saliva has little chance to catch up. As a result, your mouth stays acidic, which can lead to higher risk of dental disease. If possible, limit your snacking to mealtimes.
These tips might be surprising, but they're based on sound science and research. Incorporating them into your regular, ongoing dental care, could increase your chances of healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on how best to clean and care for your 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
There are many reasons why teeth may need a whitening treatment to achieve an appealing brightness: what we eat and drink, natural aging, genetics, and the lack of dedication to oral hygiene can all play a role in how we look.
For vital (living) teeth, there are basically three different options for teeth whitening, and we’d be happy to help you decide which is right for you:
- In-office tooth whitening: The fastest way to get your smile radiant. A high concentration of a peroxide gel solution is applied directly to the tooth surface. Gums and other soft tissues are completely protected for your safety. This technique is excellent for whitening deep surface stains as well as general tooth whitening. This professional treatment requires the least amount of time to achieve the desired whiteness.
- The professional take-home option: Custom-made bleaching trays are prepared by our office. This technique is convenient and less expensive, but the desired whiteness will take longer to achieve than the in-office option.
- Over-the-counter products: These offer the least expensive option but use weaker whitening agents. For example, whitening strips, like the ones advertised on television, are popular and easy to use but will generally take the most time to achieve the desired success. Also, even agents that are not the strongest available may cause damage to teeth if used inappropriately and without professional supervision.
While there are normally no serious side effects after professional whitening treatments, there is a potential risk of tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. If either one or both of these occur, it should disappear within a few days.
It should come as no surprise that bleaching is not permanent. The whiteness will fade eventually depending on your diet, habits, hygiene, etc., but it usually will last at least six months — more often up to two years. Obviously, if you avoid drinking coffee, tea, or red wine, don’t smoke, and have a diligent oral hygiene routine your results may last longer.
Advertisements for teeth-whitening products are everywhere. If you have any questions about what you see, or simply want to do a reality check on their claims, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening: Brighter, Lighter, Whiter...,” and “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered.”
Let's say you have a diseased tooth you think might be on its last leg. It might be possible to save it, perhaps with a significant investment of time and money. On the other hand, you could have it replaced with a life-like dental implant.
That seems like a no-brainer, especially since implants are as close as we have to natural teeth. But you might want to take a second look at salvaging your tooth—as wonderful as implants are, they can't beat the real thing.
Our teeth, gums and jaws form an intricate oral system: Each part supports the others for optimum function and health. Rescuing a troubled tooth could be the best way to preserve that function, and replacing it, even with a dental implant, a less satisfying option.
How we save it will depend on what's threatening it, like advanced tooth decay. Caused by bacterial acid that creates a cavity in enamel and underlying dentin, decay can quickly spread into the tooth's pulp and root canals, and eventually threaten the supporting bone.
We may be able to stop decay and save the tooth with a root canal treatment. During this procedure, we remove diseased tissue from the pulp and root canals through a drilled access hole, and then fill the empty spaces. We then seal the access and later crown the tooth to protect it against future infection.
A second common threat is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria in dental plaque infect the outer gums and, like tooth decay, the infection quickly spreads deeper into the root and bone. The disease weakens gum attachments to affected teeth, hastening their demise.
To treat gum disease, we manually remove built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). This deprives the infecting bacteria of their primary food source and “starves” the infection. Depending on the disease's advancement, this might take several cleaning sessions and possible gum surgery to access deep pockets of infection around the root.
Because both of these treatment modalities can be quite in-depth, we'll need to assess the survivability of the tooth. The tooth could be too far gone and not worth the effort and expense to save it. If there is a reasonable chance, though, a rescue attempt for your troubled tooth might be the right option.
If you would like more information on whether to save or replace a 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
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