Dental patients have amazing options for tooth replacement. Dental implants, for example, can replace the entire tooth, root and crown, giving patients a new tooth nearly as good as the old one.
Nearly—but not exact. Even implants can't match the full benefits of a natural tooth, including one in less than perfect shape. Our first goal as dentists, then, is to save a diseased tooth if at all practical before considering replacing it.
That often involves a root canal treatment to address decay threatening a tooth's interior. The procedure requires drilling into the tooth to access its innermost pulp, cleaning out the pulp and root canals, and then filling the empty spaces. Since all dentists are trained in basic root canal treatment, your general dentist may be able to perform it.
But some dental situations call for more advanced endodontics, the dental specialty for treating disease and other problems inside a tooth. So, in what situations would you see an endodontist?
When your dentist refers you. Your dentist wants you to receive the level of treatment necessary to save your tooth. After examination, they may determine your situation would be better served by the advanced training, equipment and techniques (including surgery) of an endodontist.
When your tooth has complications. Patients often need an endodontist when existing factors complicate treatment of advanced tooth decay. A patient may have dental pain that's difficult to pinpoint, requiring the diagnostic resources of an endodontist. It's also common for a tooth's root canal network to be highly intricate, and which respond better to treatment with specialized endodontic tools and techniques.
When root canal treatment fails. Most root canal treatments are successful in protecting the tooth from further infection. That said, it's still possible for a root-canaled tooth to become re-infected or develop more problems. Again, an endodontist and their “tool chest“ re-treating a root-canaled tooth may be the best option for saving it.
You also don't have to wait for a referral—you can see an endodontist if you believe they would be best to treat your decayed tooth. You can find one near you by visiting an online endodontist directory at www.aae.org/find. An endodontist may be the lifesaver your diseased tooth needs.
Tooth decay is a destructive disease that could rob you of your teeth. But it doesn't appear out of nowhere—a number of factors can make it more likely you'll get cavities.
But the good news is you can be proactive about many of these factors and greatly reduce your risk of tooth decay. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to point you in the right direction for preventing this destructive disease.
Do you brush and floss every day? A daily habit of brushing and flossing removes buildup of dental plaque, a bacterial film on teeth that's the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Hit or miss hygiene, though, can greatly increase your risk for developing a cavity.
Do you use fluoride? This naturally occurring chemical has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel against decay. Many locations add fluoride to drinking water—if your area doesn't or you want to boost your fluoride intake, use toothpastes, mouthrinses or other hygiene products containing fluoride.
Do you smoke? The nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels in the mouth so that they provide less nutrients and antibodies to the teeth and gums. Your mouth can't fight off infection as well as it could, increasing your risk of dental diseases like tooth decay.
Do you have dry mouth? This isn't the occasional bout of “cotton mouth,” but a chronic condition in which the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva. Saliva neutralizes mouth acid, so less of it increases your risk for decay. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by medications or other underlying conditions.
Do you snack a lot between meals? Sugary snacks, sodas or energy drinks can increase oral bacteria and acidity that foster tooth decay. If you're snacking frequently between meals, your saliva's acid neutralizing efforts may be overwhelmed. Coordinate snacking with mealtimes to boost acid buffering.
You can address many of these questions simply by adopting a daily habit of brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and eating a healthy, “tooth-friendly” diet. By reducing the risk factors for decay, you can avoid cavities and preserve your teeth.
If you would like more information on preventing 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Most dental problems are caused by tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, easily preventable with dedicated daily hygiene and regular dental care. But there are a few other rare conditions to be on alert for that could pose just as serious a threat to your dental health.
One of these is a phenomenon called root resorption. Put simply, certain cells arise within a tooth root that eat away and dissolve (resorb) tooth structure. Left unchecked, it could eventually lead to the tooth's demise.
Although its exact cause remains elusive, we suspect root resorption is associated with trauma to the gum ligaments earlier in life, perhaps from an injury or too much force applied during orthodontics. Other possible contributing factors include teeth-grinding habits or internal tooth bleaching procedures.
Root resorption in adults isn't that common, so your chances of experiencing it are low. But it is still possible, so you should be on the lookout for potential signs: Early on, it may appear as faint pink spots on teeth where the enamel has filled with the destructive cells eating away at the tooth. In time, these spots can increase to form cavities.
More than likely, though, your dentist may detect the problem during a dental exam. That's why regular dental cleanings and checkups are essential—a routine exam is a prime opportunity to uncover conditions like root resorption that silently undermine your teeth.
If found early, we can often treat root resorption effectively. We can often expose a small affected area with minor gum surgery, remove the harmful cells and fill any cavities with a tooth-colored filling. In some cases, we may recommend orthodontics beforehand to encourage a buildup of bone around the root by moving the affected tooth outward from the jawbone. If the resorption has affected the tooth pulp, you may also need a root canal treatment.
There is also the possibility with advanced resorption that the best course of action is to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant. So, keep up your regular dental visits—early detection and intervention can stop this destructive dental condition from destroying your tooth.
If you would like more information on root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Tooth decay can be a big problem for children's primary (baby) teeth. It doesn't take long for a tooth to become infected and the infection spread to their neighbors.
But since it will eventually give way to a permanent tooth, why not just pull a diseased primary tooth? Although that sounds sensible, there are important reasons for helping a troubled primary tooth survive to its natural end.
Current usefulness. They may not be around for long, but primary teeth serve children well while they have them. They enable a child to eat solid foods to further their physical development. They also figure prominently in speech development, which could be stunted by lost teeth.
The smile factor. Young children are also honing their social skills, and smiling is an important part of learning to fit in with family and friends. A tooth that's missing for some time, especially in the “smile zone,” could affect their smile and have an adverse effect on their social development.
Future teeth health. A primary tooth reserves the space intended for the future permanent tooth, helping to ensure the incoming tooth erupts in the right position. If it's not there, however, other teeth can drift into the space, crowding the incoming tooth out of its proper alignment.
That last reason could have the most long-term effect, causing the development of a poor bite that could require extensive orthodontic treatment. To avoid this and any other physical or social consequences accompanying its premature loss, it's worth the effort to try to protect and save a primary tooth.
Preventively, we can apply sealants on biting surfaces more prone to plaque buildup (the main cause of decay) and topical fluoride to strengthen enamel. When decay does occur, we may be able to remove it and fill the tooth, cap a tooth with a steel crown, or even use a modified root canal procedure in the case of advanced tooth decay.
The best way, however, to protect your child's primary teeth is to brush and floss them every day. Removing harmful plaque vastly reduces the risk of tooth decay. Coupled with professional dental care, your child can avoid tooth decay and get the most out of their primary teeth.
If you would like more information on children's dental care, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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