Advanced tooth decay is a serious dental problem that can threaten an affected tooth's survival. But for decades now dentists have reliably used root canal treatment to better a decayed tooth's odds. This routine procedure performed with dental drill and special hand tools removes infected tissue inside a tooth and replaces the voids with a filling to prevent future infection.
But now there's a new way to perform a root canal—with a surgical laser. Lasers, amplified and focused light beams, aren't new to healthcare—they're an integral feature of many routine medical treatments and surgeries. But their use is relatively new to dentistry, and to endodontics (treating the interior of teeth) in particular.
Lasers can be used in root canal treatment to perform a number of tasks. They can remove diseased tissue and other debris from the innermost tooth pulp. They can be used to clean and shape root canal walls in preparation for filling. And they can also be used to soften and mold the filling material to fit more precisely within a tooth's particular root canal network.
Although laser-assisted root canal therapy isn't yet widespread, laser's limited use to date has given us a fair picture of both their advantages and disadvantages. As with other medical laser applications, lasers are very precise in removing diseased tissue without too much disruption of healthy tissue. There's less need for anesthesia than with dental drills, and lasers are a lot less noisy and jarring. Patients by and large experience less bleeding, as well as less discomfort or infection afterward.
But because laser light can only travel in a straight line, they're difficult to use in many tightly curved root canals. In these cases, the traditional methods are better suited, although a laser can be used in conjunction with other tasks. Temperature with lasers must also be carefully managed lest the high heat that's often generated damages natural tissues.
Although lasers won't be replacing traditional treatment methods for decayed teeth in the foreseeable future, there's hope they'll become more commonplace as technology and techniques continue to advance. Lasers can only improve what already is an effective means of saving teeth.
If you would like more information on treatments for advanced 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 “Laser-Assisted Root Canal Treatment.”
The braces are finally off! But to keep your new, straighter smile you'll need to wear a retainer for some time. That's because the same structural mechanism used to move your teeth could undo what we've just accomplished.
That mechanism resides in an elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament that lies between the teeth and the bone and attaches to both with tiny fibers. While the ligament holds the teeth securely in place, it also allows for slight movement in response to bite changes. Braces "pull" the teeth in the desired new direction, and the ligament responds.
But with that pressure gone after the braces' removal, a kind of "muscle memory" can set in that moves the teeth back towards their original positions. A retainer, a dental appliance worn on the teeth, exerts just enough pressure to "retain" or keep the teeth from regressing.
Retainers are effective, but the most common type has a feature that poses potential problems: it can be removed by the wearer. Because of this, less disciplined patients might be tempted not to wear their retainer as directed. There's also a higher risk of losing one and incurring additional cost to replace it.
But there is another type, the bonded retainer, which stays permanently in the mouth until removed by an orthodontist. It's composed of a thin piece of metal that's firmly attached to the back of the teeth with dental composite material. Not only does a bonded retainer solve the problems mentioned before, it also can't be seen from the outside like a removable retainer.
A bonded retainer does have one disadvantage: because it can't be removed, it can obstruct the teeth during brushing and flossing and require more effort. You won't have as much difficulty with a removable retainer keeping teeth and gums clean. You can overcome this disadvantage, though, with specialized tools like a water flosser or a floss threader to make hygiene easier.
To choose which type of retainer is best for you or your family member, have a talk with your orthodontist. And if you choose a bonded retainer and later have it removed, be sure to switch immediately to a removable one if your orthodontist advises. With either retainer, you'll be able to preserve that hard-earned smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers: What are the Pros and Cons.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can 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.”
Untreated tooth decay can destroy your teeth; prompt action as soon as its diagnosed will help prevent that undesirable outcome. And even if decay has advanced into the tooth's pulp and root canals, there's still a good chance we can stop it with a root canal treatment. Using this procedure, we can clean out the infection and refill the tooth's interior space with a special filling to protect it from further infection.
Although root canal treatments have gained an unwarranted reputation for pain, they rarely cause even the mildest discomfort. More importantly, they work, which is why they're the go-to treatment dentists use for advanced decay.
But sometimes a unique dental situation might make performing a root canal extremely difficult—possibly even doing more harm than good. For example, trying to access the interior of a tooth with a crown restoration might require removing the crown, which could further weaken or damage the tooth. In other cases, the root canals might have become calcified due to trauma or aging and become too narrow to access.
Even so, we may still be able to save a tooth through a minor surgical procedure called an apicoectomy. Rather than access the diseased area through the tooth crown as with a root canal treatment, an apicoectomy makes access to the infected tissue at the root end.
An apicoectomy also differs from a root canal treatment in that we'll need to surgically go through the gum tissue. After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, we'll make a small incision through the gums at the level of the infection. After removing any infected tissue, we would then fill the space with a small filling to prevent re-infection. We then close the incised gum tissues with sutures and allow them to heal.
With the help of fiber optic lighting and surgical microscopes, endodontists (specialists in interior tooth problems) can perform an apicoectomy quickly and with very little trauma at the surgical sight. If you undergo an apicoectomy, you should be back to normal activity in a day or two at the most. And like its sister procedure the root canal, an apicoectomy could help preserve your teeth for many years to come.
If you would like more information on this and other 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.”
A child's toothache is no fun for either the child or the parent. But if you're faced with this situation, don't panic — unless they have a fever or you notice facial swelling, it's unlikely an emergency.
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Find out where it hurts and for how long. Tooth pain can stem from a lot of causes, including decay or a localized area of infection called an abscess. See if your child can tell you if it's coming from one particular tooth or from a general area. Although children can't always judge how long they've hurt, try to get a general idea so you'll know if you need to call us sooner rather than later.
Look for problem signs in the mouth. As you look where they say it hurts, see if you can see brown spots or cavities on any teeth — this would indicate tooth decay. Look also at the gums or inner areas of the mouth for sores or swelling. Unless they've had an injury, this could indicate an abscess.
Try to dislodge any food shards between teeth. It's also possible the pain is coming from a piece of hard food like a popcorn kernel wedged between their teeth. Help them gently floss between the teeth to see if you can dislodge any.
Try to ease the pain. Although you may not need to see us immediately, your child's mouth still aches. You can help relieve it temporarily with a child's dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You can also apply an ice pack to the outside cheek for swelling, but don't apply the ice directly to the skin, which can burn it. And don't rub aspirin or other pain relievers on the gums — they're acidic and can irritate soft tissue.
See us for a full examination. It's wise to have any tooth pain checked — the question is often how soon. You should see us the same day or first thing in the morning if the pain has persisted for more than a day or night, pain relievers haven't eased the pain or they have fever or facial swelling. If the pain is short-lived you can usually wait until the next day — but do get it checked out.
If you would like more information on treating your child's toothache, 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 Child's Toothache.”
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