Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the world, nearly as prevalent as the common cold. It’s also one of the two major dental diseases—the other being periodontal (gum) disease—most responsible for tooth and bone loss.
Tooth decay begins with high levels of acid, the byproduct of oral bacteria feeding on food remnants like sugar. Acid can erode tooth enamel, leading to a cavity that will require removal of decayed material around it and then a filling.
Sometimes, though, decay can spread deeper into the tooth reaching all the way to its core: the pulp with its bundle of nerves and blood vessels. From there it can travel through the root canals to the bone. The continuing damage could eventually lead to the loss of the infected tooth.
If decay reaches the tooth interior, the best course of action is usually a root canal treatment. In this procedure we access the pulp through the crown, the visible part of the tooth, to remove all of the diseased and dead tissue in the pulp chamber.
We then reshape it and the root canals to receive a filling. The filling is normally a substance called gutta percha that’s easily manipulated to conform to the shape of the root canals and pulp chamber. After filling we seal the access hole and later cap the tooth with a crown to protect it from re-infection.
Root canal treatments have literally saved millions of teeth. Unfortunately, they’ve gained an undeserved reputation for pain. But root canals don’t cause pain—they relieve the pain caused by tooth decay. More importantly, your tooth can gain a new lease on life.
But we’ll need to act promptly. If you experience any kind of tooth pain (even if it goes away) you should see us as soon as possible for an examination. Depending on the level of decay and the type of tooth involved, we may be able to perform the procedure in our office. Some cases, though, may have complications that require the skills, procedures and equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canal treatment.
So, don’t delay and allow tooth decay to go too far. Your tooth’s survival could hang in the balance.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
For whatever reason, you’ve put off replacing a missing tooth for awhile. Now you want to fill that empty gap in your smile with a dental implant restoration.
But if your tooth’s been missing for a long time, there could be a problem with space. This is because the teeth on either side of the space may have gradually drifted into it, leaving no room for the implant. You could need orthodontic work first to return these teeth to their proper position.
We could use braces, metal orthodontic devices with wires threaded through brackets bonded to the teeth that are then anchored, usually to back teeth. The orthodontist uses elastics or springs as well as possibly incrementally tightening of the wire against the anchors. These techniques create pressure or tension on the teeth for the desired direction of movement. The teeth’s natural mechanism for movement does the rest.
But while effective, braces can be quite noticeable, an embarrassing thought for many adults having to wear them over several months of treatment. But there may be an alternative: clear aligners, a succession of slightly different plastic trays usually worn in two-week intervals. Sequentially wearing each tray gradually moves the teeth to their desired positions.
Though not appropriate for all bite situations, clear aligners have a number of benefits when they can be used. They’re nearly invisible to others and can be removed for hygiene tasks or rare special occasions. What’s more, the orthodontist may attach a temporary prosthetic (false) tooth to the trays to camouflage the missing space during treatment.
There’s one other issue you may have to deal with: if your tooth loss was related to periodontal (gum) disease, the gums and underlying bone may be in poor condition. In fact, substantial bone loss could rule out an implant altogether. But we may be able to remedy both gum and bone deficiencies through grafting or plastic surgery. It may be possible to regenerate enough bone to support the implant; and surgically repairing your gums will help ensure the implant appears natural.
If you have problems like these, don’t give up on your restoration goal just yet. With some orthodontic and dental work ahead of time, we may still be able to make implants a reality for you.
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
While some aspects of regular dental visits are much the same for everyone, they can be more involved for an older adult. That’s because people later in life face an increased risk of dental disease and other age-related issues.
If you’re a caregiver for an older adult, you’ll want to be aware of these heightened risks. Here are 4 areas of concern we may check during their next regular dental visit.
Oral cancer. While it can occur at any age, cancer is more prevalent among older adults. Although rarer than other cancers, oral cancer’s survival rate is a dismal 50% after five years. This is because the disease is difficult to detect early or is misidentified as other conditions. To increase the odds of early detection (and better survival chances) we may perform a cancer screening during the visit.
Dental disease. The risks for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease also increase with age. A primary risk factor for older people is a lack of adequate saliva (the mouth’s natural disease fighter) often caused by medications or systemic conditions. We’ll watch carefully for any signs of disease, as well as assess their individual risk factors (including medications) for decreased oral health.
Dentures. If they wear dentures, we’ll check the appliance’s fit. While dentures can wear with use, the fit may also grow loose due to continuing bone loss in the jaw, a downside of denture wearing. We’ll make sure they still fit comfortably and aren’t stressing the gums or supporting teeth. It may be necessary to reline them or consider replacing them with a new set.
Oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing are just as important for older adults as for younger people for preventing dental disease, but often more difficult due to mental or physical impairment. We can note areas of bacterial plaque buildup and recommend ways to improve their hygiene efforts.
Depending on how well your older adult can care for themselves, it may be advisable for you to come with them when they visit us. Our dental team can provide valuable information and advice to help you help them have a healthier mouth.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
A lot of people don’t like dental work because they believe it will be painful or uncomfortable. There’s an anatomical reason to back up that concern — the mouth with its dense network of nerves in the teeth and gums is one of the most sensitive parts of the human body.
But modern dentistry has helped solve much of the problem of pain with advances in local anesthesia. Using substances that temporarily block electrical impulses within the nerves of a selected area of oral tissues, there’s a good chance you’ll feel little to no discomfort even during moderately invasive procedures.
Unfortunately, you might have heard some complaints from others about local anesthesia that might make you wary of it. Many of these complaints, however, aren’t fully based on all the facts. So, let’s set the record straight about local anesthesia and what you can expect.
No need to be afraid of needles. Nobody enjoys the painful prick from an injection needle, and some people are highly fearful of them. But although it’s necessary to use a needle to deliver anesthesia to deeper levels of tissue, it’s possible you won’t feel it. That’s because we’ll typically apply a topical numbing agent to the skin surface that deadens the top layers where we insert the needle.
That numb feeling afterward won’t last long. One of the chief complaints in the past about local anesthesia was the irritating numbness that could long linger after a procedure. Today, however, with more advanced anesthetics and formulae, we’re better able to gauge the duration of the medication’s effect. This has greatly reduced the length of time afterward your mouth might have that awkward numbing sensation.
Anesthesia isn’t necessary for every procedure. Unless you have hypersensitive teeth, a lot of dental procedures don’t require anesthesia. Your enamel, for example, has no nerves and actually serves as a kind of “muffler” for sensations to lessen their effect. Cleaning your teeth or removing portions of the enamel can normally be performed without the need for numbing medication.
For procedures, though, where pain could be a factor, local anesthesia can make all the difference in the world. In these cases, anesthesia is your friend — it can help you receive the dental care you need without the discomfort.
If you would like more information on pain-free dentistry, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
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