A tooth with deep decay is in real peril. If the disease isn’t stopped, it can eventually infect the bone and greatly increase the risk of losing the tooth. But tooth decay removal and a root canal treatment can stop advancing decay and resulting infection in its tracks.
During this common procedure we first drill into the tooth to access the inner pulp. After removing the infected pulp tissue, we disinfect and fill the empty chamber and root canals with gutta percha. We then seal the tooth and crown it to protect against re-infection.
But while most root canals are successful and long-lasting, sometimes the tooth becomes re-infected. Here are 3 factors that could affect the long-term success of a root canal treatment.
Early treatment. Like many health problems, the sooner we detect decay and treat it, the better the outcome. A tooth in which the infection has already advanced beyond the pulp is at greater risk for re-infection than one in which the infection is localized in the pulp. Keeping up your regular dental visits as well as seeing the dentist at the first sign of abnormality—spots on the teeth or pain—can increase your chances of early diagnosis.
Tooth complications. Front teeth with their single roots and canals are much easier to access and treat than a back molar with an intricate root canal network. Root canals can also be extremely narrow making them easy to miss during treatment. In cases like this the expertise and advanced equipment of an endodontist (a specialist in root canal treatment) could help increase the odds of success in complex situations.
The aging process. Teeth do wear over time and become more brittle, making them increasingly susceptible to fracture. A previous root canal treatment on an aging tooth might also increase the fracture risk. To avoid this, it’s important for the tooth to receive a crown after the procedure to protect the tooth not only from re-infection but undue stress during chewing. In some situations, we may also need to place a post with a bonded composite buildup within the tooth to give it extra support.
Even if a tooth has these or similar complications, a root canal treatment may still be advisable. The benefits for preserving a decayed tooth often far outweigh the risks of re-infection.
If you would like more information on root canal 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 “Root Canal Treatment.”
Periodontal disease may start in the gums’ superficial layers, but it’s not likely to stay there. As the disease moves deeper it can wreak havoc on tooth roots and bone as well as gum tissue attachments. Teeth with multiple roots are in particular peril because of the “forks” called furcations that form where the roots separate from each other. Infected furcations can be very difficult to treat.
We primarily treat gum disease by removing its main source, a thin film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque that builds up on teeth. To remove it we most often use special hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to vibrate it loose. As the plaque and tartar diminish, the infection begins to wane.
But we can’t be completely successful in stopping the disease if any lingering plaque deposits remain. This especially includes furcations where the infection can cause significant damage to the roots. Although cleaning furcations of plaque can be difficult, it’s not impossible with the aforementioned tools and antimicrobial substances to disinfect the area.
The real problem, though, is access—effectively getting to the furcations to treat them. We may need to perform a surgical procedure called flap surgery where we create a hinged flap in the gum tissue to move it aside and access the root area beneath. Afterward we replace the flap and suture the tissue back in place.
In some cases, the infection may have already caused significant damage to the tissue and underlying bone. We may therefore need to graft gum or bone tissues to these damaged areas to stimulate re-growth. We may also need to surgically reshape the gum attachments around a tooth to make it easier in the future to access and clean the area.
These additional treatments around furcations can be very involved and labor-intensive. That’s why the best outcomes occur if we’re able to start treatment in the early stages of an infection. So, if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums contact your dentist as soon as possible. Treating gum disease as early as possible will help ensure your tooth roots won’t suffer extensive damage.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations? Branching Tooth Roots can be Periodontal Nightmares.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Overbites, underbites, crossbites—these are just a few of the possible malocclusions (poor bites) you or a family member might be experiencing. But no matter which one, any malocclusion can cause problems.
Besides an unattractive smile, a malocclusion makes it more difficult to chew and to keep the teeth and gums clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. Thus correcting a malocclusion improves dental health; a more attractive smile is an added bonus.
This art of correction—moving teeth back to the positions where they belong—is the focus of a dental specialty called orthodontics. And, as it has been for several decades, the workhorse for achieving this correction is traditional braces.
Braces are an assembly of metal brackets affixed to the teeth through which the orthodontist laces a metal wire. The wire is anchored in some way (commonly to the back teeth) and then tightened to apply pressure against the teeth. Over time this constant and targeted pressure gradually moves the teeth to their new desired positions.
The reason why this procedure works is because teeth can and do move naturally. Although it may seem like they’re rigidly set within the jawbone, teeth are actually held in place by an elastic tissue network known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and keeps the tooth secure through tiny fibers attached to both it and the bone. But the ligament also allows teeth to continually make micro-movements in response to changes in chewing or other environmental factors.
In a sense, braces harness this tooth-moving capability like a sail captures the wind propelling a sailboat. With the constant gentle pressure from the wires regularly adjusted by the orthodontist, the periodontal ligament does the rest. If all goes according to plan, in time the teeth will move to new positions and correct the malocclusion.
In a way, braces are the original “smile makeover”—once crooked teeth can become straight and more visually appealing. More importantly, though, correcting a poor bite improves how the mouth works, especially while eating, and keeping things clean. A straighter smile isn’t just more attractive—it’s healthier.
If you would like more information on correcting misaligned teeth, 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”
A relatively easy and inexpensive way to improve your smile is to whiten your teeth. In fact, you may even be able to do it yourself at home. Although there are differences between at-home and professional whitening, the former can still be effective.
That effectiveness, though, might be dependent on how well you understand what home whitening can do and what it can’t. So before you purchase your kit, here are a few things to know about DIY teeth whitening.
Home kits are safe—when used as directed. Although nothing in life is completely risk-free, home whitening kits are relatively safe. But only if you follow the directions: If you overuse the bleaching solution beyond its intended use, you could wind up with permanent damage to your tooth enamel that can be costly to treat.
Bleaching solutions are relatively mild. Nearly all home kits use carbamide peroxide, a form of hydrogen peroxide, as their bleaching agent. Home kits usually contain no more than 10% of this agent, much lower than professional solutions. Used as directed, this amount of bleaching agent poses little to no risk to dental or general health. On the other hand, the weaker home kit solution does limit the extent of brightness you can achieve compared to stronger professional treatments.
For top results (or certain conditions), consider professional whitening. While you can obtain good results with a home whitening kit, professional whitening provides more precise brightness control and range, and may possibly last longer. That’s because your dentist has more advanced techniques and equipment, as well as stronger bleaching solutions. And, if your discoloration originates inside your teeth, a home kit won’t help—only a dentist can address that kind of discoloration.
Even if you decide to “go solo,” your dentist can still give you advice on what to look for in a home kit, as well as tips for the actual procedure. But whether you whiten at home or let your dentist do it, teeth whitening can take years off your smile and give you a more attractive look.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 Whitening Safety Tips: Are Bleaching Products Safe?”
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