Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease pose the most common dangers to dental health. But there are some rare conditions that can also place teeth at risk to be on the lookout for during regular dental checkups.
One such condition is root resorption in an adult tooth, in which the root itself or its surface breaks down and is absorbed by the body. Resorption occurs naturally in a primary (“baby”) tooth so it can loosen and give way for an incoming permanent tooth. Â Resorption still occurs in a limited form with young permanent teeth but should eventually stop.
Sometimes, though, it doesn’t, either from the inside of the tooth out (internal resorption) or more often from the outside in, usually around the neck-like (or “cervical”) portion of the tooth. This more common occurrence, External Cervical Resorption (ECR), can first appear as pink spots on the enamel and then progress into cavity-like areas. If not found and treated promptly, damage can occur quickly and lead to tooth loss.
We don’t fully understand the exact nature and causes for ECR, but we have identified risk factors for its development. Excessive orthodontic force on the teeth or any other trauma can cause damage to the periodontal ligament (which holds teeth in place with the jaw bone). Teeth grinding habits and some dental procedures like internal tooth whitening can also be risk factors.That being said, though, the vast majority of people who experience these issues don’t develop ECR.
Although the causes aren’t fully understood, we can still treat it: the key to success is early detection. You probably won’t notice early signs of ECR, but we can often detect spots from routine x-rays. We can then remove the tissue cells within the lesions causing the damage and restore the area with a tooth-colored filling material. If ECR has extended near the tooth’s interior pulp layer, then a root canal treatment may be needed.
Needless to say, the more extensive ECR occurs in the roots, the less likely the tooth can be saved and may need to be extracted. It’s important, therefore, to maintain regular dental checkups (at least twice a year) to increase your chances of catching a developing problem early.
If you would like more information on root resorption in adult 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
A traditional root canal procedure can be a “life-saver” for a decayed or injured tooth. But while it’s usually the best course for a damaged adult tooth, variations of the procedure are advisable for a new permanent tooth in a child or young adolescent.
This is because the inner pulp, the focus of the treatment, plays an important role in a young tooth’s development. When it first erupts a tooth’s dentin layer, the living tissue that makes up most of the body and roots of the tooth, hasn’t fully formed. The pulp increases the dentin layer over time in conjunction with jaw development.
Because a full root canal treatment removes all of the pulp tissue, it could interrupt any remaining dentin development in a young tooth. This could lead to poorly-formed roots and a less healthy tooth. For an immature permanent tooth, then, we would use variations of a root canal treatment depending on the nature and extent of the injury, the patient’s overall health and medications they may be taking.
Our main objective is to expose or remove as little of the pulp tissue as possible when treating the tooth. If the pulp hasn’t been exposed by the decay or injury, we may only need to remove the softened decayed or injured dentin while leaving harder dentin nearer the pulp intact. If, however, the pulp has become partially exposed by disease or injury, we would then perform a pulpotomy in which we remove only the exposed tissue and then place calcium hydroxide or mineral trioxide aggregate (MTA) to stimulate dentin growth that will eventually patch the exposure site.
In cases where decay or injury has rendered an immature tooth’s pulp tissue unsalvageable, we may use a procedure known as apexification that seals off the open, cylindrical root end of the tooth. This will allow bone-like tissue to grow around the root to serve as added support for the tooth. Although it can save a tooth in the short run, the tooth’s long-term survival chances may be lower.
By using these and other techniques we may be able to save your child’s immature tooth. At the very least, such a technique could postpone replacing the tooth until a more opportune time in adulthood.
If you would like more information on treating damaged teeth in children, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
After treating you for periodontal (gum) disease for some time, we may suggest you see a periodontist, a specialist in gum conditions and diseases. There are a number of reasons for a referral, including the specific type of gum disease you may have developed.
Here are 4 more reasons why seeing a periodontist might be advantageous at this stage in your dental care.
Advanced treatment. All dentists are skilled in basic treatment procedures for gum disease, particularly removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that cause and sustain infections. But if your disease has advanced deeper below the gum line and has resulted in infection-filled void pockets between teeth and gums or in gum recession (the tissues shrinking back from the teeth), you may need more advanced techniques and equipment provided by a periodontist.
Advanced Cleanings. Regular, twice-a-year office cleanings are part of every dental care program. But depending on the severity of your gum disease (and your own hygiene efforts) you may need more frequent and advanced cleanings to keep recurring infections at bay. A periodontist can provide this, as well as help you develop a daily hygiene plan that meets your needs.
Your general health. There are a number of systemic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or pregnancy that can affect gum health. Many of these issues are tied to tissue inflammation, a major component of chronic gum disease, as well as slower tissue healing. As specialists in the gums and their relationship with the rest of the body, a periodontist can develop a treatment approach that coordinates with these other health issues.
Future restoration preparation. One of our treatment goals with gum disease is to try to prolong the life of natural teeth for as long as possible. In reality, though, some or all of your teeth may have a shortened life expectancy. If a comprehensive dental restoration is in your future, a periodontist can help prepare your gums for the inevitable. They may also be able to repair or restore gum tissues that enhance the appearance of a restoration to create a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on advanced treatment for periodontal 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 “Referral to a Dental Specialist.”
Your regular dental checkups should periodically include an important screening for oral cancer, especially as you grow older. Although oral cancers make up less than 3% of all other types, they’re among the most deadly with a 58% survival rate after five years.
Besides hereditary factors, oral cancer is strongly linked to tobacco use, alcohol abuse or diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a greater concern as we age: 90% of new cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40, heightening the need for regular screenings. These screenings become all the more important because many early sores or lesions can mimic other conditions like canker sores — without early detection, the disease could already be in advanced stages when it’s diagnosed.
An oral screening for cancer involves both sight and touch. We’ll first look for any suspicious lesions and red or white patches in the soft tissues of the face, neck, lips and mouth. We’ll then feel for any abnormal lumps on the mouth floor, the sides of the neck and in gland locations. We’ll also examine all sides of the tongue including underneath, as well as the tissues lining the back of your throat.
If we notice anything that’s concerning we may then perform a biopsy by removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue and have it examined microscopically for the presence of cancer cells. We may also remove any lesions deemed pre-cancerous as an added precaution against possible cancer development.
The American Cancer Society recommends an oral cancer screening annually for people forty years or older and every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 39. Even better, we recommend all adults undergo a screening every year. This, along with ending tobacco use and other lifestyle and dietary changes, will greatly improve your chances of remaining free of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on detecting and treating oral cancer, 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 “Oral Cancer.”
Modern life can be demanding. The body helps us rise to the occasion through responses we collectively call stress.
But while stress can be a good thing, it can also overwhelm us and manifest in some harmful way: bouts of back pain, stomach ulcers or even acne. It could also trigger tooth grinding, often occurring as we sleep. And like other stress relievers, tooth grinding can be detrimental to your health long term.
Teeth-on-teeth contact occurs normally when we eat or speak, or simply as our jaws contact each other with glancing touches hundreds if not thousands of times a day. Such normal contact is beneficial because it stimulates healthy bone growth in the jaw. But if the forces created exceed the normal range as with tooth grinding (up to ten times), it can cause a bevy of problems to the teeth and jaws.
While excessive jaw motion during teeth grinding can cause inflammation and painful spasms in the muscles, the greater danger is to the teeth, which could even fracture from the high amount of force. The more common occurrence, though, is an increased rate of enamel erosion, which causes the tooth to lose vital structure and eventually appear shorter in appearance.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce teeth grinding or its severity. The first order of business is to treat its effects by reducing its symptoms and ongoing damage. We can recommend some behavior modification techniques to alter the frequency of the habit or a night guard to protect the teeth from the intensity of the habit if you’re unable to change the behavior.
A custom-fitted night or occlusal guard, a retainer-like dental appliance made of smooth acrylic plastic is designed so that the lower teeth glide over the guard surface when grinding and can’t make solid contact with the upper teeth. This reduces the generated force and helps protect the teeth.
In the long term, though, you should address the root cause — how you’re handling daily stress. Treatment by a psychotherapist or counselor, for example, could help you develop ways to channel stress in more productive ways.
However your treatment strategy develops, it’s important to address stress and teeth grinding as soon as possible. Controlling it will have long-term benefits for your teeth and smile.
If you would like more information on dealing with stress that causes tooth grinding, 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 “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
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