Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Malocclusions (bad bites) may cause more than an appearance problem — with teeth and jaws not working together properly, you’re at higher risk for dental disease or accelerated tooth wear. Fortunately, most malocclusions can be corrected through orthodontics, a specialty for moving teeth to better functioning and more attractive positions.
If you’re considering orthodontic treatment for a malocclusion, here are the basics on 3 of the most common orthodontic appliances used for straightening misaligned teeth.
Metal Braces. These appliances have a proven track record for correcting most forms of malocclusion. Braces consist of metal brackets bonded to the front teeth and an anchor band to the back teeth. A thin metal wire passes through the brackets to attach to the bands in the back. Gradually increased tension in the wire incrementally moves the teeth to the desired position.
Clear Bracket Braces. While metal braces do an effective job of tooth movement, they leave less to be desired in appearance. Made of polymer material rather than metal, clear bracket braces offer a more appealing look. But while they’re similar in construction to the metal version, they’re more susceptible to breakage. Wearers must be extra cautious and avoid hard foods or extreme physical sports contact.
Clear Aligners. The previous appliances are fixed and can’t be removed by the wearer. Clear aligners take a different approach with removable plastic trays that fit snugly over the dental arch. A series of trays are computer generated to carefully match the patient’s mouth structure, each incrementally smaller than the previous one in the series. After wearing the first tray for two or three weeks, the wearer changes to the next (and slightly smaller) tray in the series, repeating the process until all the trays have been worn. Of the three options, the clear aligners offer the best appearance; however, they’re best suited for cases that don’t require complex movements.
We can advise you which option is best for you after a complete evaluation, factoring in age, lifestyle and the complexity of your malocclusion. Regardless of the choice, the aim is the same — achieving a healthier mouth, better function and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic 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 “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying: “Take care of your dentures and your dentures will take care of you.” Well, maybe it’s not that old—but it’s still a sensible notion. Maintaining your dentures by routinely cleaning them and having them checked for fit will improve their longevity.
There’s one other thing you should include on your maintenance routine—avoid wearing your dentures 24/7, especially while you sleep. This bad habit could lead to some unpleasant consequences.
For one, wearing dentures continuously can accelerate bone loss in the jaw that eventually causes your dentures to lose their comfortable fit. Bone loss is a natural consequence of tooth loss because the bone no longer receives the stimulation to grow transmitted by the teeth during chewing. Dentures can’t transmit this stimulus; what’s more, the pressure they place on the gums and underlying bony ridges could make bone loss worse. You can relieve this gum pressure at night by taking them out.
Dentures can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that cause disease, irritation and unpleasant mouth odors. Taking dentures out at night deprives these microorganisms of a prime opportunity to carry on business as usual—and it’s also a great time to clean your dentures. People who sleep with their dentures in their mouth are more likely to have gum or oral yeast infections and higher levels of proteins produced by white cells that increase inflammation. That could contribute to other diseases throughout the body.
Besides taking your dentures out at night, you should also practice other daily hygiene tasks. Remove your dentures after eating and rinse them with clean water. Brush your dentures daily with a soft-bristled brush and dish or antibacterial soap or dental cleanser (no toothpaste—it’s too abrasive for denture surfaces). Be sure you clean your gums and tongue every day too. When your dentures are out, store them in clean water or preferably an alkaline peroxide-based solution.
Removing your dentures at night and these other good habits will help extend the life and fit of your dentures. It could also help keep the rest of you healthy.
If you would like more information on denture 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 “Sleeping in Dentures: A Habit that Can Cause Health Problems.”
Even with picture perfect teeth, you may still be unhappy with your appearance. The problem: too much of your upper gums show when you smile.
There’s no precise standard for a “gummy smile”—it’s often a matter of perception. As a rule of thumb, though, we consider a smile “gummy” if four or more millimeters of upper gum tissue show while smiling. In any event if you perceive you have a gummy smile, it can greatly affect your self-confidence and overall well-being.
The good news is we can often correct or at least minimize a gummy smile. The first step, though, is to find out why the gums are so prominent.
There are a few possible causes: the most obvious, of course, is that there’s more than normal gum tissue present. But the cause could be the front teeth didn’t fully erupt in childhood and so the gums appear more prominent. Other causes include the upper lip moving too far upward when smiling (hypermobile) or an elongated upper jaw that’s out of proportion with the face.
Finding the exact cause or combination of causes will determine what approach we take to minimize your gummy smile. If too much gum tissue or not enough of the teeth show, we can use a surgical procedure called crown lengthening to expose more of the crown (the visible part of a tooth), as well as remove excess gum tissues and reshape them and the underlying bone for a more proportional appearance.
A hypermobile upper lip can be treated with Botox, a cosmetic injection that temporarily paralyzes the lip muscles and restricts their movement. But for a permanent solution, we could consider a surgical procedure to limit upper lip movement.
Surgery may also be necessary for an abnormal jaw structure to reposition it in relation to the skull. If, on the other hand it’s the teeth’s position and not the jaw causing gum prominence, we may be able to correct it with orthodontics.
As you can see, there are several ways varying in complexity to correct a gummy smile. To know what will work best for you, you’ll need to undergo an orofacial examination to determine the underlying cause. It’s quite possible there’s a way to improve your smile and regain your self-confidence.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
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