Posts for: July, 2018
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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.”
Many people consider a root canal treatment to be potentially an unpleasant experience. You might even feel a few butterflies fluttering in your stomach if we were to recommend one for you.
But there’s nothing actually to dread about this common and very effective treatment. The procedure doesn’t cause pain; in fact, it most likely relieves tooth pain. What’s more, it could save a tooth that would be otherwise lost.
The name comes from narrow passageways extending from the tip of the root to the innermost tooth pulp. The pulp contains nerves and other structures once vital to early tooth development. And although they’re not as important in a fully mature tooth, those nerves still function. In other words, they can still feel stimulation or pain.
That shouldn’t be a problem with a healthy tooth. But if tooth decay invades the inner pulp, those nerves now under attack will begin firing. You’ll know something’s wrong. As bad as it feels, though, the toothache isn’t your worst problem: if the decay isn’t stopped, it can spread through the root canals to the bone that could eventually lead to losing the tooth.
A root canal treatment removes the decayed pulp tissue and protects the tooth from re-infection. We first deaden the tooth and surrounding tissues with a local anesthesia and set up a rubber dam around the tooth to protect it from contamination from the surrounding environment. We then drill a small access hole through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp chamber and root canals.
Using special instruments, we remove all the diseased tissue from the pulp and flush out the empty chamber and root canals with antibacterial solutions. After re-shaping the root canals, we fill them and the pulp chamber with gutta-percha, a rubber-like biocompatible material that conforms well to the root canal walls. We seal the gutta-percha with adhesive cement and then fill the access hole. Later, we’ll give the tooth further protection with a custom crown.
After the procedure, you may experience short-term minor discomfort usually manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. The good news, though, is that the excruciating nerve pain from within the tooth will be gone—and your tooth will have a new lease on life.
If you would like more information on saving a problem tooth with 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.”