If you've had periodontal (gum) disease, you've no doubt experienced gum inflammation, bleeding or pain. But your gums may not be the only mouth structures under assault — the disease may be damaging the underlying support bone.
Although easing soft tissue symptoms is important, our primary focus is to protect all your teeth's supporting structures — the gums, the attaching ligaments and, of course, the bone. To do so we must stop the infection and reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
Stopping gum disease depends on removing its source — plaque, a thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces, due to poor oral hygiene. We must remove it mechanically — with hand instruments known as scalers or ultrasonic equipment that vibrates the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) loose.
It's not always a straightforward matter, though, especially if the diseased gum tissues have pulled away from the teeth. The slight natural gap between teeth can widen into voids known as periodontal pockets; they fill with infection and can extend several millimeters below the gum line. We must thoroughly cleanse these pockets, sometimes with invasive techniques like root planing (removing plaque from the roots) or surgical access. You may also need tissue grafting to regenerate gum attachment to the teeth.
One of the more difficult scenarios involves pockets where roots divide, known as furcations. This can cause cave-like voids of bone loss. Unless we treat it, the continuing bone loss will eventually lead to tooth loss. Besides plaque removal, it may also be prudent in these cases to use antimicrobial products (such as a mouthrinse with chlorhexidine) or antibiotics like tetracycline to reduce bacterial growth.
Perhaps the most important factor is what happens after treatment. To maintain gum health and reduce the chances of re-infection, you'll need to practice diligent daily hygiene, including brushing, flossing and any prescribed rinses. You should also keep up a regular schedule of office cleanings and checkups, sometimes more than twice a year depending on your degree of disease.
If you would like more information on treatments for 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Most first-time root canal treatments achieve their purpose in saving an internally decayed tooth and extending its life to match those of the patient’s non-decayed teeth. Occasionally, though, a root canal-treated tooth may become re-infected by decay.
There are a number of reasons for this: the permanent crown meant to add further protection against decay may have been delayed, giving bacteria an opening to re-infect the tooth; it’s also possible the original seal for the pulp chamber and root canals after filling wasn’t sufficient to prevent bacterial contamination.
There‘s also another reason that’s very difficult to foresee — the presence of narrow, curved root canals in the tooth that can pose complications during the procedure. Some of these known as accessory or lateral canals branch off the main canals to create a complex network that’s difficult to detect during the initial procedure. If they’re not cleaned out and filled during the procedure any tissue trapped in them can remain infected and ultimately die. If these canals also open into the periodontal membrane at the attachment between the teeth and bone, the infection can spread there and become a periodontal (gum) infection that can trigger future tooth loss.
Fortunately, a reoccurrence of infection isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a tooth. A second root canal treatment can correct any problems encountered after the first treatment, especially complications from accessory canals. It may, though, require the advanced skills of an endodontist, a dental specialist in root canal problems. Endodontists use microscopic equipment to detect these smaller accessory canals, and then employ specialized techniques to fill and seal them.
If you encounter pain or other signs of re-infection for a tooth previously treated with a root canal procedure, contact us as soon as possible. The sooner we can examine and diagnose the problem, the better your tooth’s chances of survival by undergoing a second root canal treatment.
If you would like more information on tooth preservation through 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 “Accessory Canals.”
Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
- brushing the surgical area (if advised by your surgeon);
- rinsing too aggressively;
- drinking through a straw or consuming hot liquid;
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on oral surgery, 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 “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”
While the sport of golf may not look too dangerous from the sidelines, players know it can sometimes lead to mishaps. There are accidents involving golf carts and clubs, painful muscle and back injuries, and even the threat of lightning strikes on the greens. Yet it wasn’t any of these things that caused professional golfer Danielle Kang’s broken tooth on the opening day of the LPGA Singapore tournament.
“I was eating and it broke,” explained Kang. “My dentist told me, I've chipped another one before, and he said, you don't break it at that moment. It's been broken and it just chips off.” Fortunately, the winner of the 2017 Women’s PGA championship got immediate dental treatment, and went right back on the course to play a solid round, shooting 68.
Kang’s unlucky “chip shot” is far from a rare occurrence. In fact, chipped, fractured and broken teeth are among the most common dental injuries. The cause can be crunching too hard on a piece of ice or hard candy, a sudden accident or a blow to the face, or a tooth that’s weakened by decay or repetitive stress from a habit like nail biting. Feeling a broken tooth in your mouth can cause surprise and worry—but luckily, dentists have many ways of restoring the tooth’s appearance and function.
Exactly how a broken tooth is treated depends on how much of its structure is missing, and whether the soft tissue deep inside of it has been compromised. When a fracture exposes the tooth’s soft pulp it can easily become infected, which may lead to serious problems. In this situation, a root canal or extraction will likely be needed. This involves carefully removing the infected pulp tissue and disinfecting and sealing the “canals” (hollow spaces inside the tooth) to prevent further infection. The tooth can then be restored, often with a crown (cap) to replace the entire visible part. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted (removed).
For less serious chips, dental veneers may be an option. Made of durable and lifelike porcelain, veneers are translucent shells that go over the front surfaces of teeth. They can cover minor to moderate chips and cracks, and even correct size and spacing irregularities and discoloration. Veneers can be custom-made in a dental laboratory from a model of your teeth, and are cemented to teeth for a long-lasting and natural-looking restoration.
Minor chips can often be remedied via dental bonding. Here, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to the surfaces being restored. The resin is shaped to fill in the missing structure and hardened by a special light. While not as long-lasting as other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can often be completed in just one office visit.
If you have questions about restoring chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin.”
Keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy may sometimes seem like “one step forward, two steps back.” You do all the right things like daily brushing and flossing, and keeping sugar consumption to a minimum. But they’re still getting too many cavities.
We can add something else to what you’re already doing to decrease their cavity rate: apply a concentrated fluoride mixture (stronger than what’s found in toothpaste or drinking water) directly to their teeth. Studies have shown that topical fluoride is effective at reducing the risk of new cavities in children at high risk for decay, and may even reverse early decay.
Topical fluoride can be applied as a gel, foam or varnish. The particular method used depends on factors like the child’s age or the preference of the dentist. But any of the three methods can deliver a short-term, high dose of fluoride to the teeth.
As a result, the burst of fluoride strengthens tooth enamel against decay, with plenty of evidence of its effectiveness. As such, the American Dental Association recommends periodic topical fluoride applications for children older than 6, and especially those that appear to be at higher risk for decay.
You might, however, be concerned about the long-term health effects of these stronger concentrations of fluoride. Again, research indicates that the only long-term hazard associated with too much fluoride is a condition called fluorosis, which produces heavy tooth staining. Fluorosis, though, is more of an appearance issue and doesn’t harm the tooth itself. And it can be avoided in the case of topical fluoride by performing the procedure correctly and conservatively.
There’s also a short-term risk of a reaction to the fluoride mixture if the child swallows too much during the procedure, which could cause stomach upset and pain, vomiting or headaches. We can avoid this by using precautions like dental dams and other isolation methods to prevent the child from ingesting it.
Using proper precautions and procedures, topical fluoride is a safe and effective way to give your child added protection against decay. Avoiding this destructive disease can help ensure they’ll enjoy good dental health for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on keeping your child’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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.