Periodontal (gum) disease is sometimes called a “silent” malady — meaning that its symptoms don’t generally announce themselves with great fanfare (or pain, as conditions like tooth decay and root canal issues often do). Yet this disease is estimated to affect almost half of the adult population in the United States, causing deterioration of the gums and the bone surrounding the teeth… and possibly leading to bacterial infections, loss of teeth, and even systemic (whole-body) problems.
So what exactly is periodontal disease? Actually, it’s the broad name for a group of related diseases which attack the soft tissue of the gums and the tooth-supporting bone. Most periodontal diseases are caused by the buildup of harmful bacteria in a biofilm (thin, sticky layer), which coats teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. And yes, that means if you don’t brush and floss daily, you’re much more likely to develop gum disease.
Even the most attractive smile could have gum disease lurking beneath it. How do you know if you may be affected? Some early warning signs include redness or inflammation of the edges of the gums, a bad taste in your mouth or bad breath, plus any degree of bleeding when you brush your teeth (brushing should never cause gums to bleed). As the disease progresses, you may develop painful inflammation or a pus-filled abscess, bone loss, loose teeth… and eventually tooth loss.
But don’t wait until then to seek treatment! If you see your general dentist regularly, and if he or she notices signs of gum disease, you may be referred to a periodontist. But you don’t need a referral — you can simply make an appointment and come in for a check-up. That may be wise if you have noticed any warning signs — especially if it has been a while since you’ve had an exam. Periodontal disease may be a silent malady, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it affect your oral health.
If you would like more information about periodontal disease, call our office for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “When To See A Periodontist” and “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease.”
Electric-powered toothbrushes have been in use for decades, and continue to enjoy wide popularity. But since their inception in the 1950s, there’s been a continuous debate not only about the best choice among powered toothbrushes, but whether powered toothbrushes are as effective in removing plaque as manual toothbrushes.
These debates are fueled by a large body of research over many years on powered toothbrushes. For instance, an independent research firm known as the Cochrane Collaboration has evaluated over 300 hundred studies of powered toothbrushes (over a thirty-year span) using international standards to analyze the data.
Surprisingly, they found only one type of powered toothbrush (using a rotation-oscillation action) that statistically outperformed manual toothbrushes in the reduction of plaque and gingivitis. Although from a statistical point of view the difference was significant, in practical terms it was only a modest increase in efficiency.
In all actuality, the most important aspect about toothbrushes in effective oral hygiene isn’t the brush, but how it’s used — or as we might say, “it’s not the brush so much as the hand that holds it.” The fact remains, after first flossing, a manual toothbrush can be quite effective in removing plaque if you brush once or twice a day with a soft-bristle brush using a gentle brushing motion.
Although a powered toothbrush does much of the work for you, it still requires training to be effective, just as with a manual toothbrush. We would encourage you, then, to bring your toothbrush, powered or manual, on your next cleaning visit: we would be happy to demonstrate proper technique and give you some useful tips on making your brushing experience more effective.
Remember too: brushing your teeth and flossing isn’t the whole of your oral hygiene. Although a critical part, brushing and flossing should also be accompanied with semi-annual professional cleanings to ensure the removal of as much disease-causing plaque as possible.
If you would like more information on types of toothbrushes, 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 “Manual vs. Powered Toothbrushes.”
If you think you'd rather wrestle a pack of porcupines than go to the dentist for a root canal treatment — then maybe it's time to think again! This common procedure has been the butt of jokes for a long time. Let's set the record straight by answering some common questions about the much-maligned procedure.
Q: What is a root canal?
A: Coursing through the central part of each root is a hollow space or canal, which contains the pulp tissue. The pulp tissue contains the nerves which respond to temperature changes transmitted through the tooth. When the temperatures are extreme the nerves signal sensitivity and pain. It's also shorthand for the dental procedure that is performed when the pulp tissue that fills these canals develops a disease.
Q: Why do I need to get a root canal?
A: Because an infection or inflammation has developed deep inside one or more of your teeth. When the living pulp tissue — which contains nerves and blood vessels — becomes inflamed or infected, it can cause intense pain. It also releases bacterial toxins, which can lead to further problems.
Q: What happens if I don't get a root canal?
A: Your acute pain may temporarily go away, but the infection won't. It will eventually travel through the tooth's roots into the surrounding tissues. If left untreated, it may result in an abscess or even a systemic infection. That's why you need to take care of it now.
Q: Will it be painful?
A: Generally, a root canal procedure is no more painful than getting a filling. In fact, it starts the same way: An anesthetic is given to numb the tooth and the surrounding area. Then a small hole is made through the tooth's chewing surface and down into the canal. Diseased pulp tissue is removed through the hole via a set of tiny instruments. Finally, the root canal is cleaned, disinfected, filled with inert biocompatible material and sealed up.
Q: What happens after that?
A: Your tooth may be sensitive for a few days after the treatment, but the acute pain will be gone. Over-the-counter pain relievers generally work well for pain relief at this point. To restore your tooth to its fully-functioning state, a crown or other restoration is usually needed after root canal treatment. Properly done, the restored tooth can last as long as any of your natural teeth.
Q: Is there an alternative?
A: Yes. You can relieve the pain by having the tooth removed. But you don't want to go there. Tooth loss can lead to unwanted side effects, like migration of teeth, bone loss and eventually the inability to chew properly. It's far better to save your natural teeth when you can.
If you would like more information about root canals, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment” and “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”
Your son has fallen and hit his face against a hard surface. Not only is he in pain but now there is also a chip missing from his front tooth. He is worried that his smile will never be the same. What should you do?
Answer: If you can find that missing chip, sometimes we can bond the fragment back on to the tooth. The tooth should be evaluated and repaired as soon as possible, although in the absence of other signs and symptoms of injury, and if your child is not in acute pain, it can probably wait up to 12 hours.
If the fragment can't be found, then the tooth can be restored with tooth-colored filling materials, which are also physically bonded to the natural tooth. Done well, these “composite resin” fillings can last for years and look perfectly natural. They may eventually need to be replaced with something more permanent.
If the chipped tooth is a child's primary (baby) tooth rather than a permanent (adult) tooth, the treatment will be similar.
However, a blow to a tooth can cause damage to the pulp — the living tissue within the tooth, which can become infected and die. If the damage to a primary tooth is too extensive it may be better to remove it to avoid damage to an underlying and developing permanent tooth. A place-holding appliance called a space maintainer may be used. If it is a permanent tooth it may need root canal treatment.
If a tooth is not chipped but is loosened or tender to the touch, it may require temporary stabilization, called splinting, until it has healed. Sometimes no treatment is required. If there has been a fracture to the tooth's root (the part below the gum line) it may heal by itself, or it may require further treatment especially if it is a permanent tooth, depending on the individual situation.
It is important to evaluate teeth that have been hit or damaged as a result of injury to ensure that they remain healthy and functional. We will keep track of the tooth or teeth, with observation, x-rays when necessary and monitoring over time to make sure no permanent damage has been done.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to discuss your questions about repairing a chipped tooth. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Without a doubt, an effective root canal treatment can extend the life of a tooth for many years. But sometimes even a well-maintained tooth can fall prey to disease months or even years after a root canal treatment. While there are a number of reasons to account for this failure, a common one is so tiny it could have easily been missed during the first treatment.
A root canal is an open space within the tooth that contains the pulp. The pulp is a connective tissue with a network of nerve fibers connected to the root that alert the brain to environmental changes involving the tooth. It is most important during the tooth’s early development, but becomes less important as we age. The pulp is susceptible to infection from tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which if left untreated can threaten the tooth’s survival. During a root canal treatment, we enter these spaces, clear out the diseased pulp and fill the canal with a bio-compatible filling; we then seal it off to deter further decay.
The treatment could ultimately fail, though, because of accessory or lateral canals missed during the procedure. Like a tree with smaller branches growing out of its larger limbs, accessory canals are smaller access ways that branch off of the main root canals. These accessory canals, which can occur anywhere along a main canal, can be quite small and not easily detected during an initial root canal treatment. They are especially susceptible to infection due to gum disease if they open into the periodontal membrane, the main attachment point between teeth and bone.
If we suspect the presence of accessory canals (either initially or after ensuing problems following a root canal treatment), this could require the skills of an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in the treatment of a tooth’s interior. Accessory canals are treated in much the same way as larger canals, but may require an endodontist’s specialized microscopic equipment and filling techniques. Effective treatment of these smaller accessory canals will certainly improve the chances of a successful, long-term outcome for the tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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.”
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