One of the most effective techniques for saving decayed or injured teeth is the root canal treatment. Yet when many people hear they need it, they become nervous at the prospect.
Much of this stems from a common misunderstanding that undergoing a root canal is painful. It’s not — today’s anesthetics are quite effective in numbing pain during a procedure, and mild pain relievers like ibuprofen are usually sufficient to manage any discomfort afterwards.
In fact, a root canal treatment relieves pain caused by decay within a tooth. As decay progresses, it can enter the interior known as the pulp, which contains bundles of nerves and blood vessels. It attacks these nerves causing pain and infection. If the infection progresses through passageways known as root canals that are in the roots of the tooth, the pain can intensify. More important, the tooth is in danger of loss as the root and connective tissues that hold the tooth in place are injured from the spreading infection.
During a root canal treatment, we access the pulp by drilling a small access hole, usually in the biting surface or in the rear of a front tooth. Once we enter the pulp chamber we remove all the contaminated tissue. Once thoroughly cleansed, we fill the empty chamber and canals with a special filling (usually gutta percha) to prevent future infection. The access hole is then sealed and at a subsequent visit we strongly recommend placing a permanent crown to provide further protection from damage to the tooth.
Root canal treatments are quite common. All general dentists have been trained in endodontic treatment and can perform most types of procedures. More difficult cases (like a complex root canal network that may be hard to access) may require the services of an endodontist, a specialist in root canals. Endodontists use advanced techniques and specialized microscopic equipment to treat complicated situations.
It’s actually good news if we recommend you undergo a root canal treatment — it means your tooth has a good chance of survival once it’s disinfected and the decay is removed. But don’t delay: the sooner we can treat your tooth, the better your chances of a healthy outcome.
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 “Common Concerns about Root Canal Treatment.”
When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?
For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.
Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:
- It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
- A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
- Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!
Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!
As in other parts of medicine, lasers are beginning to change the way we provide dental care. More and more dentists are using lasers to make earlier diagnoses of dental disease or provide surgical treatment. One area prime for change is the treatment of teeth with deep decay and in danger of being lost.
For decades now, the best way to save teeth in this condition is with root canal treatment. In this common procedure we access the pulp, remove the infected tissue with specialized hand instruments, and then fill and seal the pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling.
We can now potentially improve the efficiency and increase the success rate of this treatment with laser technology. With their focused light, lasers emit a concentrated burst of energy that's extremely precise. In many instances laser energy can remove the target diseased tissue without damaging nearby healthy tissue.
In this form of root canal treatment, we use lasers to remove tissue and organic debris within the pulp and then shape the root canal walls to better receive the filling. We can also utilize the heat from laser energy to soften and mold the filling, so that it better conforms within the walls of the root canals.
Using lasers in root canal treatments may require less local anesthesia than the traditional approach and also eliminates disturbing or discomforting sounds and vibrations. Dentists who've used the new technology also report less bleeding during the procedure and less pain and occurrences of infection afterwards.
But there are a couple of disadvantages for using lasers in root canal treatment. For one, light travels in a straight line — and many root canal networks are anything but straight. More complex root canal networks may still require the traditional approach. Laser energy could also increase the tooth's inner temperature, which could potentially damage tissues even on the tooth's outer surfaces.
Used in the right circumstances, though, lasers can be an effective means to treat diseased teeth. Â As laser technology continues to advance and becomes a mainstay in dental care, you may soon find it part of your next dental procedure.
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.”
It's no exaggeration — dental implants have revolutionized teeth replacement. Life-like and durable, implants are the closest thing in design and function to a natural tooth.
In fact, there's only one thing better than a dental implant — a real tooth. For function and long-term oral health, you can't beat what nature provided you in the first place. So before you finally decide to remove and replace that problem tooth, consider these other options for saving it.
Root canal therapy. Tooth decay can do more than cause cavities — it can work its way into the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. If it isn't stopped here, it could continue on to the roots and put the tooth in real danger of loss. A root canal treatment removes the infection from the pulp and root canals and replaces the space with a filling. A life-like crown is then bonded or cemented to the tooth to protect it from further infection.
Aggressive treatment for periodontal (gum) disease. This other dental disease is just as damaging as tooth decay. Caused by bacterial plaque, the gums around a tooth become infected and inflamed. As it moves deeper into the tissues and inflammation progresses, it can affect supporting bone causing it to dissolve. To prevent this potential bone loss, it's important to seek out and remove hidden pockets of plaque. This may require surgery to access the roots for plaque and calculus (tartar) removal, but it's well worth it to preserve the tooth.
Bone grafting. As mentioned before, gum disease can ultimately lead to bone loss. But even when bone loss has occurred (a substantial threat to a tooth's survival) we may be able to reverse it with bone grafting techniques. During this procedure we insert grafting material at the loss site along with substances that stimulate growth. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Over time the bone volume increases and helps stabilize a weak tooth.
Of course, your best option is to avoid dental disease in the first place with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. That and treating dental disease in its earliest stages will help ensure you'll have the best teeth possible — your own.
If you would like more information on options for treating diseased 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?”
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.