Periodontal disease may start in the gums’ superficial layers, but it’s not likely to stay there. As the disease moves deeper it can wreak havoc on tooth roots and bone as well as gum tissue attachments. Teeth with multiple roots are in particular peril because of the “forks” called furcations that form where the roots separate from each other. Infected furcations can be very difficult to treat.
We primarily treat gum disease by removing its main source, a thin film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque that builds up on teeth. To remove it we most often use special hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to vibrate it loose. As the plaque and tartar diminish, the infection begins to wane.
But we can’t be completely successful in stopping the disease if any lingering plaque deposits remain. This especially includes furcations where the infection can cause significant damage to the roots. Although cleaning furcations of plaque can be difficult, it’s not impossible with the aforementioned tools and antimicrobial substances to disinfect the area.
The real problem, though, is access—effectively getting to the furcations to treat them. We may need to perform a surgical procedure called flap surgery where we create a hinged flap in the gum tissue to move it aside and access the root area beneath. Afterward we replace the flap and suture the tissue back in place.
In some cases, the infection may have already caused significant damage to the tissue and underlying bone. We may therefore need to graft gum or bone tissues to these damaged areas to stimulate re-growth. We may also need to surgically reshape the gum attachments around a tooth to make it easier in the future to access and clean the area.
These additional treatments around furcations can be very involved and labor-intensive. That’s why the best outcomes occur if we’re able to start treatment in the early stages of an infection. So, if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums contact your dentist as soon as possible. Treating gum disease as early as possible will help ensure your tooth roots won’t suffer extensive damage.
If you would like more information on treating gum 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 “What are Furcations? Branching Tooth Roots can be Periodontal Nightmares.”
Dental crowns are an essential means for restoring damaged or unattractive teeth. A well-crafted crown not only functions well, it looks and blends seamlessly with the rest of the natural teeth.
Crowns are artificial caps that cover an entire visible tooth, often used for heavily decayed or damaged teeth or as added protection after a root canal treatment. Most crowns are produced by a dental lab, but some dentists are now creating them in-office with computer-based milling equipment. On the whole, the various crowns now available function adequately as teeth—but they can vary in their appearance quality.
In the early to mid 20th Century the all-metal crown was the standard; but while durable, it could be less than eye-pleasing. Although more life-like dental porcelain existed at the time, it tended to be brittle and could easily shatter under chewing stress.
Dentists then developed a crown that combined the strength of metal with the attractiveness of porcelain: the porcelain fused to metal or PFM crown. The PFM crown had a hollow, metal substructure that was cemented over the tooth. To this metal base was fused an outer shell of porcelain that gave the crown an attractive finish.
The PFM reigned as the most widely used crown until the mid 2000s. By then improved forms of porcelain reinforced with stronger materials like Lucite had made possible an all-ceramic crown. They’re now the most common crown used today, beautifully life-like yet durable without the need for a metal base.
All-ceramics may be the most common type of crown installed today, but past favorites’ metal and PFM are still available and sometimes used. So depending on the type and location of the tooth and your own expectations, there’s a right crown for you.
However, not all crowns even among all-ceramic have the same level of aesthetic quality or cost—the more life-like, the more expensive. If you have dental insurance, your plan’s benefits might be based on a utilitarian but less attractive crown. You may have to pay more out of pocket for the crown you and your dentist believe is best for you.
Whatever you choose, though, your modern dental crown will do an admirable, functional job. And it can certainly improve your natural tooth’s appearance.
If a pain you’ve been feeling goes away, you might believe the problem that caused it is gone too. But that doesn’t mean it has, especially with a tooth. An excruciating toothache that suddenly stops should still be examined. Here’s why.
Tooth decay often works its way into a tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp, which contains bundles of nerves and other tissue. The infection attacks the nerves, which send pain signals to the brain. As the infection persists, though, the nerves will eventually die and will no longer be capable of sending pain signals — hence the “mysterious” end of your toothache.
Although the pain has stopped, the infection is very much active in the tooth and will continue to work its way through the root canals to the jaw. And ultimately, the pain will return as the infection invades the bone.
But there’s good news: a tooth in this condition can be saved with a procedure known as root canal therapy. We drill a small hole in the tooth to access the pulp, usually through the biting surface of back teeth or in the rear in front teeth. Once inside the pulp chamber, we clean out the infected and dead tissue. We then fill the empty pulp chamber and the root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole. In a few weeks the tooth receives a life-like crown to further protect it from re-infection and fracture years later.
A straightforward root canal treatment can be performed by a general dentist. If there are complications like a complex root canal network, however, then the skills and specialized equipment of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals) may be needed.
A root canal treatment resolves the real cause of a toothache that suddenly stopped, as well as puts an end to future pain and infection related to the tooth. More importantly, it can save your tooth and add many more years to its life.
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 “A Severe Toothache.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Often as children grow older, their participation in sports or similar activities increases. While generally encouraged, this greater activity does increase injury risk, especially to the mouth.
In fact, the late childhood to early adulthood demographic is the most prone portion of the population to incur dental injuries. To complicate matters, their dental development is often incomplete, posing a number of treatment obstacles for an injured tooth.
For example, the primary means for preserving an injured adult tooth is a root canal treatment: damaged or diseased tissue within the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, is removed and the empty chamber and root canals filled and sealed to prevent infection. But while a fully matured tooth can function without the nerves and blood vessels of the pulp, a developing tooth needs these tissues for continued tooth formation. Otherwise, tooth development can stall and cause problems later on.
The most common solution for younger teeth is to remove any damaged tooth structure without disturbing the pulp if at all possible followed by a filling. That’s contingent, though, on whether we find the pulp unexposed or undamaged—if it is, we’ll try to remove only damaged or diseased pulp tissue and leave as much healthy tissue intact as possible. To aid with healing and tissue re-growth, we may also place medicinal stimulators between the pulp and the filling.
Jaw development may also pose a challenge if the injured tooth is too far gone and must be removed. Our best choice is to replace it with a dental implant; but if we install the implant while the jaw is still growing, it may eventually appear out of place with the rest of the teeth. It’s best to postpone an implant until full jaw maturity in early adulthood.
In the meantime we could provide a temporary solution like a removable partial denture or a modified bonded bridge that won’t permanently alter nearby teeth. These methods can adequately restore the function and appearance of missing teeth until the jaw is mature enough for an implant.
While injuries with young permanent teeth do pose extra challenges, we have effective ways to address them. With the right approach, the outcome can be just as successful as with a mature tooth.
If you would like more information on dental care in the formative years, 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.”
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