During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
While mouth pain can certainly get your attention, what exactly hurts may be difficult to identify. It might seem to emanate from a single tooth, or a group of teeth. Then again, it might not be clear whether it's coming from teeth or from the gums.
Still, it's important to pinpoint the cause as much as possible to treat it correctly. One of the main questions we often want to answer is whether the cause originates from within a tooth or without.
In the first case, tooth decay may have entered the pulp at the center of the tooth. The pulp contains nerve bundles that can come under attack from decay and transmit pain signals. Incidentally, if the pain suddenly goes away, it may simply mean the nerves have died and not the infection.
The decay can also spread into the root canals leading to the root and supporting bone, and then make the jump into the gum tissues. One possible sign of this is the one mentioned earlier—you can't quite tell if the pain is from the tooth or the surrounding gums.
The root canals could also serve as a transportation medium for infection in the other direction. In that case, gum disease has advanced into the bone tissues around a tooth near its roots. The infection can then cross into the tooth. Again, both a tooth and the gum tissue around it can become diseased.
We have effective treatments for individual occurrences of interior tooth decay or gum disease: The former usually requires a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill and seal the tooth from future infection; we alleviate gum disease by removing the dental plaque causing it and helping the gum tissues to heal. But combined tooth and gum infection scenarios are more difficult to treat, have a poorer prognosis and may require specialists.
To reduce the risk of either tooth decay or gum disease developing into this greater problem, it's best to take action at the first sign of trouble. So, see your dentist as soon as possible when you encounter oral pain or if you notice swollen or bleeding gums. The earlier we treat the initial outbreak of disease, be it tooth decay or gum disease, the better your chances of a successful and happy outcome.
If you would like more information on tooth pain, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Here's some good news: Teenagers are less likely than adults to lose teeth to dental disease. But there's also a flip side. Teens can still lose teeth, more likely from traumatic injury.
Fortunately, there are several options for replacing lost teeth like dentures or bridges. But the choice considered best by most dentists and patients is a dental implant. An implant tooth looks and functions like the real thing—and it's durable, capable of lasting for years, if not decades.
But there's a hitch with teens getting an implant: Even though they may have all their permanent teeth by adolescence, their jaws are still growing and developing. Natural teeth, with their attachment to the jaws by way of a periodontal ligament, can keep pace with this growth—but implants can't.
That's because an implant doesn't have this attachment to gum tissue like natural teeth, but to the jawbone alone. Hence, an implant tooth can't keep up with jaw development, and may eventually look like it's "sunk" into the gums in relation to the teeth around it.
It's best, then, to wait until a teen's jaws have fully developed before attempting an implant. In the meantime, though, they don't have to endure a smile marred by missing teeth, but can replace them with a temporary restoration. The two most common options are a partial denture or a modified bridge.
The partial denture is a lightweight version that's quite affordable. Although not as durable as other types of dentures, the appliance is only intended to last until the patient is old enough for a permanent implant.
The modified bridge is a prosthetic tooth with strips of dental material extending behind it that are bonded to the backs of the teeth on either side to hold it in place. It's likewise not as durable as a traditional bridge, but it can fill the bill until time to place an implant.
Although this adds an additional step in a teen's restorative journey after losing a tooth, it's necessary—waiting to place an implant after jaw maturity will help ensure a long-lasting result. In the meantime, a temporary tooth replacement will help them to enjoy a normal smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teens, 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 “Dental Implants for Teenagers.”
Instagram, America's humongous digital photo and video album, is chock-full of the silly, mundane, and poignant moments of people's everyday lives. That includes celebrities: Tom Hanks buying a used car; Ryan Reynolds sporting tiny sunglasses; Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran taking a hike. And then there's former Olympic alpine skier, Lindsey Vonn—posting a video of her recent dental visit.
Winner of several World Cup competitions and the first woman to gain the gold for downhill racing at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vonn broke her two front teeth during a—you guessed it—skiing competition a few years ago. This past September, she went to the dentist to update her restoration and gave her followers a fascinating firsthand look at dental bonding, a technique for repairing a chipped or broken tooth.
Although dental bonding has been around for decades, it's taken a leap forward in the last few years because of improvements in bonding material. A mixture of plastic and glass components, composite resins can produce a strong and durable result when bonded to teeth. To begin the technique, the tooth's surface is prepared so that the composite resin can better adhere. Along with an adhesive agent, the bonding material is applied as a paste, which makes it easier to shape and sculpt for the most realistic look. This is usually done layer by layer, with each individual layer hardened with a curing light.
The technique allows us not only to achieve the right tooth shape, but also to incorporate your natural tooth color. We can tint the composite resin as we work so that your restored tooth blends seamlessly with the rest of your natural teeth. The result: A “new” tooth that's both beautiful and natural-looking.
What's more, dental bonding is more affordable than veneers or crowns and can often be done in a single visit. You will, however, need to exercise care with your new restoration. Although highly durable, it can be damaged if you bite into something hard. You'll also need to watch foods and beverages like tea or coffee that can stain the dental material.
Even so, we can help you regain the smile you once had before you took your teeth skiing—Lindsey Vonn-style—or whatever you were doing that resulted in a “whoopsie.” All it takes is a call for an appointment to start you on the path to a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information about cosmetic dental enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
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