Here's the bad news: One of your teeth has tooth decay. But here's even worse news: The decay has entered the pulp and root canals in the heart of the tooth. You're well on your way to losing that tooth.
But cheer up—root canal therapy might save your decayed tooth. We use root canal therapy to remove the infection from within a tooth and then fill the resulting empty spaces to prevent further infection. This routine procedure has saved millions of teeth.
But alas, along the way root canals somehow became a cultural symbol for unpleasantness. In reality, there's nothing further from the truth—the procedure itself is painless, and may even stop any pain caused by tooth decay.
So, let's take the mystery out of root canal therapy—the more you know, the less wary you'll feel. Here's what to expect if you undergo this tooth-saving procedure.
Preparation. We start by numbing the tooth and surrounding gums with local anesthesia. While we're waiting for the anesthesia to take full effect, we isolate the tooth with a dental dam to prevent cross-contamination to other teeth.
Access. Next, we drill a small opening into the tooth to access the pulp and root canals. If it's one of the large back teeth, we drill the hole in the tooth's biting surface; in a narrower front tooth, we make the access opening in the rear surface.
Removal. We remove tissue from the pulp and root canals using special instruments. Afterward, we thoroughly disinfect the pulp and canal interiors with an antibacterial solution to ensure we've stopped the infection.
Filling. After re-shaping the root canals, we fill them and the pulp chamber with gutta percha, a rubber-like material ideal for this type of dental situation. We then fill and seal the access hole. In a few weeks, you'll return to have a permanent crown installed to further protect the tooth.
You may have some minor discomfort that's usually manageable with mild pain relievers, and should dissipate over a few days. The good news, though, is that we've more than likely saved a tooth that might have otherwise been lost.
If you would like more information on treating a decayed tooth, 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 Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Imagine that the IRS wants to audit you, but the dog ate your receipts. Or you hit a $50 million Lotto jackpot, but your ticket went through the wash. Or maybe you're about to see your new dentist, but you don't have your past dental records.
Humdrum as they may seem, records are important—so much so that they have their own month. That's right: April is Records and Information Management Month. Though perhaps not as exciting as National Poetry Month, this is still a good time to consider how records keep your life and health on track—especially regarding your mouth.
Your dental records contain information on all your office visits, imaging (yep, all those x-rays), diagnoses and treatments. Just like other healthcare records, they're privacy-protected under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Your dental records may also contain information about other aspects of your overall health that could impact your long-term dental care. With all that information, dental records are important to your ongoing care, and should be available wherever you receive treatment—even if you change to a new dentist.
Which can happen? Your long-time dentist may retire—or maybe you move to another state. You may just decide you'd be happier with another dentist. But regardless of why your provider changes, your dental needs don't.
Without your records, your new dentist starts your care virtually from scratch, having to generate a new patient history and perform additional x-rays or examinations. And they won't have the benefit of nuances available to a dentist who may have treated you for a long time. But with your dental records in hand, they can often pick up where your other dentist left off without missing a beat.
It's in your oral health's best interest, then, to ensure your dental records transfer from your former dentist to your new one. Legally, these records are the property of the dentist, but you're entitled to a copy or to have them transmitted directly to another provider. You may, however, have to pay for any supplies and labor involved with printing, copying or mailing the records.
Do you feel awkward asking your former dentist to send your records to a new one? Not a problem—ask your new dentist to request them for you. Even if you have an unpaid balance, your former dentist is legally required to comply with the transfer.
When it comes to your oral health, “What is past is prologue.” The dental care you receive today and tomorrow depends on the care you received yesterday. Your dental records help make sure it's a seamless progression.
If you would like more information about the importance of dental records, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
The mouth is a crowded place with nerves, blood vessels and sinus cavities sharing common space with the teeth and gums. Although important in their own right, these structures can also hinder treatment for complex dental situations like dental implant surgery or impacted teeth.
Treating these and similar situations depends on getting an accurate depiction of “what lies beneath.” Conventional x-rays help, but their two-dimensional images don't always give the full picture. There's another way—cone beam computed tomography (CBCT).
Similar to CT scanning, CBCT uses x-ray energy to take hundreds of “sliced” images that are then re-assembled with special software to create a three-dimensional model viewable on a computer screen. CBCT is different, though, in that it employs a scanning device that revolves around a patient's head, which emits a cone-shaped beam of x-rays to capture the images.
A dentist can manipulate the resulting 3-D model on screen to study revealed oral structures from various angles to pinpoint potential obstacles like nerves or blood vessels. The detailed model may also aid in uncovering the underlying causes of a jaw joint disorder or sleep apnea.
CT technology isn't the only advanced imaging system used in healthcare. Another is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which excites hydrogen atoms in water molecules. This produces different vibration rates in individual tissue structures, which are then translated into detailed images of these structures. Unlike CT or CBCT, MRI doesn't use x-ray energy, but rather a magnetic field and radio waves to produce the atomic vibrations.
But while providing good detail of soft tissues, MRI imaging doesn't perform as well as CBCT with harder tissues like bone or teeth. As to the potential risks of CBCT involving x-ray radiation exposure, dentists follow much the same safety protocols as they do with conventional x-rays. As such, they utilize CBCT only when the benefits far outweigh the potential x-ray exposure risks.
And, CBCT won't be replacing conventional x-rays any time soon—the older technology is often the more practical diagnostic tool for less invasive dental situations. But when a situation requires the most detailed and comprehensive image possible, CBCT can make a big difference.
If you would like more information on advanced dental diagnostics, 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 “Getting the Full Picture With Cone Beam Dental Scans.”
Ashley Graham has a beautiful and valuable smile—an important asset to her bustling career as a plus-size model and television host. But she recently revealed on Instagram a “confrontation” between one of her teeth and a frozen oatmeal cookie. The cookie won.
Holding her hand over her mouth during the video until the last moment, Graham explained how she sneaked a cookie from her mom's freezer and took a bite of the frozen treat. Taking her hand from her mouth, she revealed her broken tooth.
Okay, maybe it wasn't an actual tooth that was broken: the denticle in question appeared to have been previously altered to accommodate a porcelain veneer or crown. But whatever was once there wasn't there anymore.
Although her smile was restored without too much fuss, Graham's experience is still a cautionary tale for anyone with dental work (and kudos to her for being a good sport and sharing it). Although dental work in general is quite durable, it is not immune to damage. Biting down on something hard, even as delicious as one of mom's frozen oatmeal cookies, could run you the risk of popping off a veneer or loosening a crown.
To paraphrase an old saying: Take care of your dental work, and it will take care of you. Don't use your teeth in ways that put your dental work at risk, tempting as it may be given your mouth's mechanical capabilities.
Even so, it's unwise—both for dental work and for natural teeth—to use your teeth and jaws for tasks like cracking nuts or prying open containers. You should also avoid biting into foods or substances with hard textures like ice or a rock-hard cookie from the freezer, especially if you have veneers or other cosmetic improvements.
It's equally important to clean your mouth daily, and undergo professional cleanings at least twice a year. That might not seem so important at first since disease-causing organisms won't infect your dental work's nonliving materials. But infection can wreak havoc on natural tissues like gums, remaining teeth or underlying bone that together often support dental enhancements. Losing that support could lead to losing your dental work.
And it's always a good idea to have dental work, particularly dentures, checked regularly. Conditions in the mouth can change, sometimes without you noticing them, so periodic examinations by a trained dental provider could prevent or treat a problem before it adversely affects your dental work.
We're glad Ashley Graham's trademark smile wasn't permanently harmed by that frozen cookie, and yours probably wouldn't be either in a similar situation. But don't take any chances, and follow these common sense tips for protecting your dental work.
If you would like more information on care and maintenance of cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before” and “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
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