Advanced decay doesn't necessarily mean it's curtains for an infected tooth. Millions of teeth in that condition have been saved by a tried and true procedure called root canal therapy.
Although they may vary according to the complexity of a case, all root canal procedures share some similarities. After numbing the tooth and gum areas with local anesthesia, the procedure begins with a small hole drilled into the tooth to access the infected pulp and root canals, tiny passageways inside the root.
The dentist then uses special instruments to clear out infected tissue from the pulp and canals, followed by thoroughly sanitizing the resulting empty spaces. This is followed with filling the pulp chamber and root canals with a rubber-like substance (gutta percha) to seal the interior of the tooth from further infection. Later, the dentist typically crowns the tooth for further protection and support.
Root canals have become the standard treatment for teeth with advanced decay. There are, however, some circumstances where performing a root canal isn't a good idea. For example, a previously root-canaled tooth with a crown and supporting post. A dentist would need to fully disassemble the restoration to gain access into the tooth, which could significantly weaken it.
But there may be another option if a standard root canal is out of the picture: a surgical procedure performed by an endodontist (a specialist in interior tooth treatment) called an apicoectomy. Instead of drilling through the tooth crown, the endodontist accesses the tooth root through the adjacent gum tissue.
Like a traditional root canal, the procedure begins by anesthetizing the tooth and surrounding gums. The endodontist then makes a small incision through the gums to expose the diseased tissues at the tooth's root. After removing the infected tissue and a few millimeters of the root tip, they place a small filling to seal the end of the root canal against infection and suture the gum incision.
This is a specialized procedure that requires the state-of-the-art equipment and advanced techniques of an endodontist. But it does provide another possible option for saving a diseased tooth that might otherwise be lost.
If you would like more information on 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.”
You know what people say: "Protect your tooth enamel, and it will protect your teeth." Then again, maybe you've never heard anyone say that—but it's still true. Super strong enamel protects teeth from oral threats that have the potential to do them in.
Unfortunately, holding the title of "Hardest substance in the human body" doesn't make enamel indestructible. It's especially threatened by oral acid, which can soften its mineral content and lead to erosion.
That doesn't have to happen. Here are 5 things you can do to protect your enamel—and your teeth.
Don't brush too often. Brushing is essential for removing bacterial plaque, the main cause for dental disease. But more isn't always good—brushing too frequently can wear down enamel (and damage your gums, too). So, limit daily brushing to no more than twice a day.
Don't brush too soon. Oral acid normally peaks at mealtime, which can put your enamel into a softer than normal state. No worries, though, because saliva neutralizes acid within about an hour. But brushing before saliva finishes rebuffering could cause tiny bits of softened enamel to flake off—so, wait an hour after eating to brush.
Stop eating—right before turning in for the night, that is. Because saliva flow drops significantly during sleep, the decreased saliva may struggle to buffer acid from that late night snack. To avoid this situation, end your eating or snacking at least an hour before bedtime.
Increase your calcium. This essential mineral that helps us maintain strong bones and teeth can also help our enamel remineralize faster after acid contact. Be sure, then, to include calcium-rich foods and calcium-fortified beverages in your diet.
Limit acidic beverages. Many sodas, sports and energy drinks are high in acid, which can skew your mouth's normal pH. Go with low-acidic beverages like milk or water, or limit acidic drinks to mealtimes when saliva flows more freely. Also, consider using a straw while drinking acidic beverages to lessen their contact with teeth.
Remember, enamel isn't a renewable resource—once it's gone, it's gone. Take care of your enamel, then, so it will continue to take care of you!
If you would like more information on caring for your tooth enamel, 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
Until recently, the standard treatment for tooth decay remained essentially the same for nearly a century: Remove any decayed structure, then prepare and fill the cavity. But that singular protocol has begun to change recently.
Although "drilling and filling" saves teeth, it doesn't fully address the causes of decay. In response, dentists have broadened their approach to the disease—the focus now is on an individual patient's particular set of risk factors for decay and how to reduce those.
At the heart of this new approach is a better understanding of oral bacteria, the true cause of decay. Bacteria produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and create a gateway into the tooth for decay to advance. We therefore want to lower those risk factors that may lead to bacterial growth and elevated acidity.
One of our major objectives in this newer approach is to reduce plaque, a thin film of food particles used by bacteria for food and habitation. Removing plaque, principally through better oral hygiene, in turn reduces decay-causing bacteria.
Plaque isn't the only mechanism for bacterial growth and acidity. Appliances like dentures or retainers accumulate bacteria if not regularly cleaned. Reduced saliva flow, often due to certain medications or smoking, limits this fluid's ability to buffer acid and acid reflux or acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks can disrupt the mouth's normal pH and increase the risk for enamel erosion.
Our aim, then, is to develop a long-term strategy based on the patient's individual set of oral disease risk factors. To determine those, we'll need to examine their medical history (including family), current health status and lifestyle habits. From there, we can create a specific plan targeting the identified risk factors for decay.
Some of the elements of such a strategy might include:
- Daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings;
- Fluoride dental products or treatments to strengthen enamel;
- Changes in diet and excess snacking, and ceasing from any tobacco use;
- Cleaning and maintaining appliances, as well as monitoring past dental work.
Improving the mouth environment by limiting the presence of oral bacteria and acid can reduce the occurrence of tooth decay and the extent of treatment that might be needed. It's a more nuanced approach that can improve dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention and 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Between the final game of the World Series in late October and spring training in February, major league baseball players work on their skills preparing for the new season. Reporters on a Zoom call to the New York Yankees' training camp wanted to know what star outfielder Aaron Judge had been doing along those lines. But when he smiled, their interest turned elsewhere: What had Aaron Judge done to his teeth?
Already with 120 homers after only five seasons, Judge is a top player with the Yankees. His smile, however, has been less than spectacular. Besides a noticeable gap between his top front teeth (which were also more prominent than the rest of his teeth), Judge also had a chipped tooth injury on a batting helmet in 2017 during a home plate celebration for a fellow player's walk-off home run.
But now Judge's teeth look even, with no chip and no gap. So, what did the Yankee slugger have done?
He hasn't quite said, but it looks as though he received a “smile makeover” with porcelain veneers, one of the best ways to turn dental “ugly ducklings” into “beautiful swans.” And what's even better is that veneers aren't limited to superstar athletes or performers—if you have teeth with a few moderate dental flaws, veneers could also change your smile.
As the name implies, veneers are thin shells of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, cracks, discolorations or slight gaps between teeth. They may even help even out disproportionately sized teeth. Veneers are custom-made by dental technicians based on a patient's particular tooth dimensions and color.
Like other cosmetic techniques, veneers are a blend of technology and artistry. They're made of a durable form of dental porcelain that can withstand biting forces (within reason, though—you'd want to avoid biting down on ice or a hard piece of food with veneered teeth). They're also carefully colored so that they blend seamlessly with your other teeth. With the right artistic touch, we can make them look as natural as possible.
Although porcelain veneers can accommodate a wide range of dental defects, they may not be suitable for more severe flaws. After examining your teeth, we'll let you know if you're a good candidate for veneers or if you should consider another restoration. Chances are, though, veneers could be your way to achieve what Aaron Judge did—a home run smile.
If you would like more information about porcelain veneers, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before.”
As summer wanes, thousands of high school grads will begin the new adventure called college. For many of these "freshmen," it will also be their first taste of true independence—mom and dad and the guidance they normally provide will be far away.
This is generally a good thing. But there are also consequences to making (or not making) your own choices that can have long-lasting effects, some of which may not be pleasant. For example, neglecting teeth and gum care could disrupt oral health (as well as overall health) for years or even decades to come.
As your newly minted college student sets off on their new academic journey, be sure that among the advice you give them are these 3 important dental care habits.
Brush and floss daily. It's important to stress that among the things of childhood to leave behind, oral hygiene isn't one of them. Dental disease is mainly caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing greatly reduces disease risk. It's a top priority, even with a hectic college schedule.
Eat "tooth-friendly." That hectic schedule may also tempt them to grab whatever food is quick and available. Unfortunately, such food isn't always the healthiest, especially for teeth and gums. Foods and snacks loaded with sugar are especially perilous to oral health—sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Healthier food choices contribute to healthier teeth and gums.
Avoid bad habits. The exhilaration of new independence can lead to a flurry of bad habits, some of which could affect teeth and gum health. Using tobacco increases the risk of dental disease and oral cancer. Wearing lip piercings or tongue jewelry may cause tooth damage. And certain forms of unprotected sex raise the chances of viral infection and an increased risk of oral cancer.
College can be an exciting adventure. But there are pitfalls along the way, especially for oral health. Advising your college student to follow these tips will help ensure their teeth and gums stay healthy beyond graduation.
If you would like more information on ways to keep your student's teeth and gums healthy, 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 Health Tips For College Students.”
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