The sooner you get treated for tooth decay, the less likely you'll lose your tooth. That could mean a simple filling—or you might need a root canal treatment if decay has reached the inner pulp.
There's also another procedure for advanced decay called pulp capping. It's a bit more involved than filling a cavity but less so than a root canal. We can use it if decay has exposed or nearly exposed the pulp, but not yet infected it—otherwise, you may still need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue.
There are two types of pulp capping methods, direct and indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the pulp has been exposed by decay. After isolating the tooth to protect other teeth from contamination, we remove all of the decayed dentin up to the pulp. This may cause some bleeding, which we'll stop, and then clean and dry the tooth area.
We'll then apply a protective biocompatible material directly over the pulp to promote healing and protect it from further infection. We then restore the tooth's appearance and function with a life-like filling.
We use the indirect method, a two-part process separated by six to eight months, when the pulp tissue is close to the surface but not yet exposed. We initially remove the majority of decayed tooth structure, but leave some of it in place next to the pulp chamber. Although this remaining dentin is softened and decayed, we'll treat it with antibacterial chemicals, then cover it with a biocompatible material and a temporary filling.
Over the next several months the treated structure has a chance to re-mineralize as it heals. We then remove the temporary filling and assess the level of healing progress. If the regenerated dentin appears healthy, we can then remove any remaining decay and restore the teeth as we would after a direct pulp capping.
At the very least, pulp capping could buy your affected tooth time before a root canal will finally be needed. Under the right circumstances, it's an effective way to save an otherwise lost tooth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatments, 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that may Save a Decayed Tooth.”
Every year U.S. dentists perform around 25 million root canal treatments and save countless teeth from the ravages of decay. But if you search "root canal" on the Internet, you might encounter an unsettling charge against this tooth-saving treatment—that it causes cancer.
Root canal treatments are routinely used when tooth decay has infected the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. During the procedure, we access the pulp and remove all the infected tissue. We then fill the empty pulp and root canals, seal the access hole and later crown the tooth to prevent further infection. Without this intervention, the decay can continue to advance toward the roots and supporting bone, putting the tooth in imminent danger of loss.
So, is there any credibility to this claim that root canal treatments cause cancer? In a word, no: there's no evidence of any connection between root canal treatments and cancer—or any other disease for that matter. On the contrary: root canals stop disease.
As with other types of urban legends and internet hype, the root canal-cancer connection may have arisen from another discredited idea from the early 20th Century. A dentist named Weston Price promoted the notion that leaving a "dead" organ in the body led to health problems. From his perspective, a root canaled tooth with its removed pulp tissue fit this criterion.
In the mid-1950s, dentistry thoroughly examined Dr. Weston's theory pertaining to treatments like root canals. The Journal of the American Dental Association devoted an entire issue to it and found after rigorous scientific inquiry that the theory had no validity in this regard. Another study in 2013 confirmed those findings. In fact, the later study instead found that patients who underwent a root canal treatment had a 45 percent reduction in oral cancer risk.
Given the freewheeling nature of the Internet, it's best to speak with a dental professional about your oral health before trusting a post or article you've found online. Not only are they more informed than an unverified online source, they would certainly not knowingly subject you to a procedure to save a tooth at the expense of your health.
If you would like more information on root canal 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 “Root Canal Safety.”
You're not just a patient to your dentist—you're also a partner for achieving your best oral health possible. And it takes what both of you do to achieve it.
No doubt your dentist always strives to bring their "A Game" when providing you care. You should carry the same attitude into your personal oral hygiene—to truly master the skill of brushing.
Like its equally important counterpart flossing, brushing isn't mechanically complicated—you need only a minimum of dexterity to perform it. But there are nuances to brushing that could mean the difference between just adequate and super effective.
The goal of both brushing and flossing is to clean the teeth of dental plaque, a built-up film of bacteria and food particles most responsible for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing removes plaque from the broad front and back surfaces of teeth, while flossing removes it from between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach.
While a lot of cleaning tasks require bearing down with a little "elbow grease," that's unnecessary with brushing—in fact, you may increase your risk of gum recession if you brush too vigorously or too often. All you need is to apply a gentle, circular motion along all tooth surfaces from the gum line to the top of the tooth—a thorough brushing usually takes about two minutes, once or twice a day.
Your equipment is also important. Be sure your toothbrush is soft-bristled, multi-tufted and with a head small enough to maneuver comfortably inside your mouth. Because the bristles wear and eventually lose their effectiveness, change your brush about every three months. And be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride to help strengthen your enamel.
One last tip: while it may sound counterintuitive, don't brush immediately after a meal. Eating increases the mouth's acidity, which can temporarily soften the minerals in tooth enamel. If you brush right away you might slough off tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait an hour before brushing to give your saliva time to neutralize the acid and help re-mineralize your enamel.
Unlike your dentist partner, your role in caring for your teeth doesn't require years of training. But a little extra effort to improve your brushing proficiency could increase your chances for a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on best practices for personal oral hygiene, 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 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
As spring weather heats up, so do a lot of outdoor sports like baseball or soccer. Unfortunately, the chances of sports-related injuries increase as well. Your child’s mouth in particular is a prime target for injury—and you need to be prepared.
First and foremost, players should wear a mouthguard during contact sports to reduce their risk of injury. Mouthguards can absorb much of the force generated during impact—and may make the difference between minor bruising and a fractured or knocked-out tooth.
“Boil and bite” mouthguards available from the local pharmacy or sporting goods store are popular because of their cost and availability. These are softened in hot water before the wearer bites down to create a semi-customized fit. An even better option, though, is a custom mouthguard that is made from a precise impression of your child’s teeth that we take in our office. This type of mouthguard costs more, but it provides greater protection and comfort than one from your corner store.
A mouthguard can significantly reduce the risk of injury but won’t eliminate it entirely. If a dental injury does occur, you need to know what to do. This will depend mainly on the type of injury: If the tooth is chipped but not pushed out of position, you can collect any tooth fragments and see us within 12 hours for an examination and possible repairs. If the tooth has moved or is loose, you should see us even sooner—within 6 hours so we can readjust the tooth and, if needed, splint it until it is securely reattached.
A more serious injury is a tooth that has been knocked completely out of its socket. It can often be saved, but you’ll need to act quickly—optimally, within 5 minutes—by reinserting the tooth in its socket. Although it sounds daunting, it’s really a matter of a few simple steps: First, find the tooth and rinse off any debris with clean water. Holding it by the crown (the visible part you are used to seeing) insert the root end into the empty socket. If your placement isn’t “just right,” don’t worry; we can adjust it later, but it will require some pressure to place it in the socket. Have the person bite down on a piece of gauze or clean cloth to hold the tooth in place. Call us immediately. If you cannot reach us, go to an emergency room.
Quick action and prompt follow-up dental care after a mouth injury increase the chance of a happy outcome. Along with proper mouthguard protection, remembering these pointers will help ensure that your family has an enjoyable sports season this year!
If you would like more information about sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
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