Over a lifetime, teeth can endure temperatures ranging from freezing to near boiling, biting forces of as much as 150 pounds per square inch and a hostile environment teeming with bacteria. Yet they can still remain healthy for decades.
But while they’re rugged, they’re not indestructible — they can incur serious damage from tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, two of the most prevalent oral infections. If that happens, you could be faced with the choice of removing the tooth or trying to save it.
Because today’s restorations like dental implants are quite durable and amazingly life-like, it might seem the decision is a no-brainer — just rid your mouth of the troubled tooth and replace it. But from a long-term health perspective, it’s usually better for your gums, other teeth and mouth structures to try to save it.
How we do that depends on the disease and degree of damage. Tooth decay, for example, starts when high levels of acid soften the minerals in the outer enamel. This creates a hole, or cavity, that we typically treat first by filling with metal amalgam or, increasingly, composite resins color-matched to the tooth.
If decay has invaded the pulp (the innermost layer of the tooth), you’ll need a root canal treatment. This procedure removes infected material from the pulp and replaces the empty chamber and the root canals with a special filling to guard against another infection. We then cap the tooth with a life-like crown for added protection.
Gum disease, on the other hand, is caused by dental plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces), and requires a different approach. Here, the strategy is to remove all of the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) we can find with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment, and often over several sessions. If the infection extends deeper or has created deep pockets of disease between the teeth and gums, surgery or more advanced techniques may be necessary.
Though effective, some of these treatments can be costly and time-consuming; the tooth itself may be beyond repair. Your best move is to first undergo a complete dental examination. From there, we can give you your best options for dealing with a problem tooth.
If you would like more information on the best treatment approach for your 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
There are instances when a general dentist will remove (extract) a problem tooth. At other times, though, the same dentist may refer a patient needing an extraction to an oral surgeon. Why the difference?
The procedure performed by a general dentist is referred to as a “simple tooth extraction.” “Simple” doesn’t mean easy and requiring no skill or expertise — it certainly does. In this case, the term refers to the anatomy of the tooth being extracted, particularly its roots.
Teeth that respond well in a simple extraction have an uncomplicated root system. The path of removal, usually with a single root involved, is fairly straight and without extreme angles. In the hands of a skilled and experienced dentist, it can be removed with little to no discomfort.
Dentists actually must use finesse to remove a tooth from its socket. The tooth is held in place with tiny collagen fibers that extend from a tough, elastic gum tissue known as the periodontal ligament, which lies between the teeth and the bone. With some manipulation, a dentist can loosen these fibers, which then makes removing the tooth much easier. All of this can usually be performed with local anesthesia.
Of course, to determine if a tooth can be removed this way, we must conduct a thorough dental examination first, including x-ray imaging to determine the exact nature and location of the roots. If the exam reveals the root system is more complex, or that there are defects to the bone or the tooth that could make a simple extraction difficult (resulting, for example, in not removing the crown and root in one piece), then the tooth may need to be removed surgically.
Such situations require the skill and resources of an oral surgeon. These specialists perform a number of surgical procedures related to the mouth and face; as procedures go, extraction is among the most routine. Using local anesthesia and post-operative pain management, undergoing a surgical extraction involves only minimal discomfort and a very short recovery time.
After examining your tooth we’ll recommend the best course for extraction, whether simple or surgical. In either case, we’ll see that your problem tooth is extracted as efficiently and painlessly as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth extractions, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Simple Tooth Extraction?”
Whether she’s singing, dancing or acting, Jennifer Lopez is a performer who is known for giving it all she’s got. But during one show, Lopez recently admitted, she gave a bit more then she had planned.
“I chipped my tooth on stage,” she told interviewers from Entertainment Tonight, “and had to finish the show….I went back thinking ‘Can I finish the show like this?’”
With that unlucky break, J-Lo joins a growing list of superstar singers—including Taylor Swift and Michael Buble—who have something in common: All have chipped their teeth on microphones while giving a performance.
But it’s not just celebs who have accidental dental trouble. Chips are among the most common dental injuries—and the front teeth, due to their position, are particularly susceptible. Unfortunately, they are also the most visible. But there are also a number of good ways to repair chipped, cracked or broken teeth short of replacing them.
For minor to moderate chips, cosmetic bonding might be recommended. In this method, special high-tech resins, in shades that match your natural teeth, are applied to the tooth’s surface. Layers of resin, cured with a special light, will often restore the tooth to good appearance. Best of all, the whole process can often be done in just one visit to the dental office, and the results can last for several years.
For a more permanent repair—or if the damage is more extensive—dental veneers may be another option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that cover the entire front surface of one or more teeth. Strong, durable and natural-looking, they can be used to repair moderate chips, cracks or irregularities. They can also help you get a “red-carpet” smile: brilliant white teeth with perfectly even spacing. That’s why veneers are so popular among Hollywood celebs—even those who haven’t chipped their teeth!
Fortunately, even if the tooth is extensively damaged, it’s usually possible to restore it with a crown (cap), a bridge—or a dental implant, today’s gold standard for whole-tooth replacement. But in many cases, a less complex type of restoration will do the trick.
Which tooth restoration method did J-Lo choose? She didn’t say—but luckily for her adoring fans, after the microphone mishap she went right back up on stage and finished the show.
If you have a chipped tooth but you need to make the show go on, 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.”
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.”
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.”
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