A root canal treatment is a commonly known but often misunderstood procedure. Contrary to popular belief, these treatments aren't painful — in fact, they often stop a toothache. More importantly, a “root canal” can give a tooth on the verge of loss another lease on life.
Still, if you've never experienced a root canal treatment before, you probably have questions. Here are the answers to a few of the most common.
Why do they call it a “root canal”? This is the popular shorthand term for a procedure that removes diseased tissue from a decay-infected pulp, the innermost part of a tooth and the actual root canals themselves. Root canals are the narrow, hollow channels that run from the tip of the root to the pulp and are also involved in the procedure.
Why do I need one? Once infected, the pulp's bundles of blood vessels, nerves and other tissues become diseased. This often results in a painful toothache that can also suddenly disappear once the nerves within the pulp die. But there's still a problem: If we don't clean out the diseased and dead pulp tissue, the infection could spread through the root canals to the bone and endanger the tooth's survival.
What happens during the procedure? After deadening the tooth and surrounding gums with local anesthesia, we enter the pulp through an access hole we create. Using special instruments we remove the diseased tissue and shape the root canals to seal them with a filling material called gutta percha. Sealing the access hole is then necessary to prevent re-infection. Later we'll cap the tooth with a porcelain crown to restore its appearance and add further protection against fracture or cracking of the tooth.
Who can perform a root canal treatment? In many cases a general dentist can perform the procedure. There are some complex situations, however, that require a root canal specialist with additional training, expertise and equipment to handle these more difficult cases. If your tooth is just such a case it's more than likely your general dentist will refer you to an endodontist to make sure you get the right kind of care to save it.
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 “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Here’s a sobering statistic: you have a 50/50 chance over your lifetime for developing periodontal (gum) disease. And it’s much more serious than irritated gums: if not treated aggressively you could experience bone loss, which can not only lead to tooth loss but actually increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Initially, you may not notice any symptoms unless you know what to look for: mainly red and puffy gums that frequently bleed during brushing and flossing. As the infection advances into the underlying support structures that hold teeth in place you may also notice receding gums (moving away from your teeth causing them to look longer), pus around the gums or lingering bad breath or taste. And one or more loose teeth are a definite sign the supporting structures have weakened severely.
So, how does gum disease happen? It starts with bacteria. Your mouth contains millions of these and other microorganisms, most of which are friendly and even beneficial. Unfortunately, a fraction of them can infect and harm tissues like the gums and underlying bone. Your mouth’s defenses can normally handle them if their numbers remain low. But a bacterial population explosion can quickly overwhelm those defenses.
Bacteria are like any other life form: they need a secure environment and food. Disease-causing bacteria establish the former by utilizing proteins and other components of saliva to form a sticky biofilm on teeth known as plaque. Within the safe haven of dental plaque bacteria quickly multiply and form a complex and concentrated ecosystem feeding on remnant food particles, especially sugar and other carbohydrates.
The key to gum disease prevention (as well as treatment) is to deprive bacteria of their home and food source by removing plaque and its more hardened form calculus (tartar). You can manage plaque buildup by brushing and flossing daily, seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings to remove any remaining hard-to-reach plaque and calculus, and eating a nutritious diet with fewer sweets or other carbohydrate-rich snacks.
You can further lower your disease risk by avoiding smoking and other tobacco products and moderating your consumption of alcohol. And be sure to see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any signs of infection with your gums. Taking these steps can help you avoid gum disease’s destructiveness and help preserve a healthy and attractive smile.
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be a priority.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
Teeth-replacing dental implants not only look life-like, they’re made to last. For one thing, the metals and dental materials used in them are impervious to bacterial infection.
But that doesn’t mean implants are impervious to failure. Implants depend on the bone and other natural mouth structures for support. If the bone becomes weakened due to disease, the implant could become unstable and ultimately fail.
Peri-implantitis, the condition that can lead to this kind of failure, is a major concern for implant longevity. It’s a type of periodontal (gum) disease triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up quickly in the absence of adequate brushing and flossing. The gum tissues around the implant become infected and inflamed.
If the infection isn’t properly treated with renewed oral hygiene and clinical plaque removal, it could spread below the gum line and begin to damage the underlying gum tissues and bone. This could destroy the all-important connection between the titanium implant post and the bone. The implant could eventually loosen and become completely detached from the bone.
The key is early intervention before the bone becomes damaged. Besides plaque removal we may also need to apply antibiotics in some form to control the growth of disease-causing bacteria. If the disease has fairly advanced we may also need to consider surgical repair to strengthen the attachment between implant and bone.
You can help to avoid peri-implantitis altogether by practicing consistent daily brushing and flossing around all your teeth including the implant, and seeing your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum swelling, redness or bleeding. Staying on top of your gum health will help not only the natural tissues and remaining teeth in your mouth, it will help preserve your implants for decades to come.
You know the basics for a healthy mouth: daily oral hygiene and regular dental checkups. But there are other elements unique to you that also factor into your oral care: the mouth and facial structure you inherited from your parents (like a poor bite) and your past history with dental disease. Both of these help define your individual risk factors for potential dental problems.
That’s why you need a treatment strategy personalized to you to achieve the best health possible for your teeth and gums. We create this plan by using a detailed and thorough 4-step process.
Step 1: Identify your unique risk factors. To find your risk factors for dental disease, we carefully assess your history and other areas of oral function and health: the soundness of your supporting bone and gum structures; your teeth’s structural integrity and any effects from decay, enamel erosion or trauma; functional issues like a poor bite, a jaw joint disorder or a grinding habit; and problems with appearance like disproportional gums.
Step 2: Prioritize risk factors and form the treatment plan. Once we’ve identified your individual risk factors, we assess how each could impact you and whether any require immediate treatment. Any current dental disease should be treated immediately to minimize and prevent further damage. Depending on severity, other issues like bite problems or unattractive teeth may be scheduled for later treatment.
Step 3: Execute the treatment plan. With our priorities in place, we then proceed with treating your teeth and gums, the most pressing needs first. Throughout this step, our goal is to bring your oral health to the highest level possible for you.
Step 4: Monitoring and maintaining health. Once we’ve achieved an optimum level of health, we must remain vigilant about keeping it. So we monitor for any emerging problems and perform preventive treatments like clinical cleanings to help maintain that healthy state. This also means regularly repeating our 4-step process to identify and update any new, emerging risks and incorporate them into our treatment strategy.
While this process may seem overly methodical, it can actually result in more efficient and cost-effective treatment. It’s the best way to ensure good health for your teeth and gums throughout your lifetime.
If you would like more information on creating a long-term dental care plan, 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 “Successful Dental Treatment: Getting the Best Possible Results.”
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