It's not an exaggeration to say the modern root canal treatment has saved millions of teeth over the last century. Without this procedure, there's not a lot we can do to stop advanced tooth decay from infecting and destroying a tooth.
What's more, a root canal treatment could extend the life of a tooth for decades. Notice we said could—although most root canals do have satisfactory outcomes, there's still a chance a tooth may become re-infected. Here are 3 possible causes for an unsuccessful root canal treatment, and what you can do to lessen their impact.
The severity of the infection. Tooth decay usually begins at the enamel layer, softened by the acid produced by bacteria. Untreated, the infection can then spread through the next tooth layer of dentin until finally infecting the innermost pulp. From there the infection can move through the root canals to the bone, dramatically increasing the danger to the tooth. Root canal treatments have a higher chance of success the earlier they're performed in the disease progression, so see your dentist at the first sign of pain or other tooth abnormality.
The root canal network. An effective root canal procedure eliminates all dead or diseased tissue in both the pulp chamber and the root canals (these are then filled to prevent future infection). But this may prove difficult with teeth that have intricate root canal networks because of a higher risk of overlooking some of the canals. It may be best in such cases for an endodontist, a specialist in treating interior tooth issues, to perform the procedure using their advanced techniques and microscopic equipment.
The age of the tooth. Root canal treatment can weaken a tooth's structural integrity, especially with older teeth. This can make them more susceptible to fracture and a higher chance of infection. We can avoid this outcome by placing crowns on root-canaled teeth: The crown provides structural strength to the tooth and can add further protection against infection. Older teeth may also benefit from the placement of a small support post within it to further add stability before applying the crown.
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: How Long Will It last?”
Your tooth enamel’s main nemesis is oral acid: normally produced by bacteria, foods or beverages, acid can dissolve enamel’s mineral content and cause erosion and decay. But acid might be a bigger problem for you if you also have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is a digestive condition in which stomach acid backs up into the digestive tract. Normally, a ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus prevents stomach acid from coming up into it. But if it weakens, this powerful acid can splash up into the esophagus and irritate its more delicate lining and result in a burning sensation known as heartburn or acid indigestion.
The problem for teeth, though, is that GERD could cause stomach acid to potentially come up into the mouth. Because of its high acidic pH (2.0 or less), stomach acid can cause major erosion in tooth enamel, leaving them pitted, yellow and sensitive. If not caught and treated early, some of your teeth could be damaged to the point that they have a questionable prognosis.
There are some things you can do to minimize GERD’s effect on your dental health. First and foremost, see a doctor about managing your symptoms, which might include medication. Be sure you also inform your dentist that you have GERD and what medications you’re taking.
One way to lessen the effect of higher acid in the mouth is to stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid. You can do this by drinking plenty of water, taking a saliva booster or chewing xylitol-sweetened gum. You can also rinse with plain water or water mixed with baking soda (1/2 teaspoon to a cup of water), or chew an antacid tablet to help balance your mouth’s pH level.
And don’t forget to look out for your enamel. Be sure you’re practicing daily brushing and flossing and using fluoride hygiene products to strengthen it. Your dentist can also apply topical solutions or prescribe special rinses with higher concentrations of fluoride.
GERD can be an unpleasant experience that escalates into major problems. Don’t let it compromise your dental health.
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Millions of people wear some form of removable oral appliance. The range is pretty extensive, from orthodontic clear aligners and retainers to full or partial dentures. But while they may vary in purpose, they all require the same thing: regular cleaning and maintenance.
And there's a right way to care for them, and a wrong way. The right way ensures you'll get the most out of your appliance—the wrong way might drastically curtail their longevity. Here, then, are 4 things you should and shouldn't do to keep your appliance in tip top condition.
Clean it properly. Only use cleaning agents appropriate for an oral appliance's materials. That means avoiding the use of toothpaste—the abrasives in it won't harm tooth enamel, but they can scratch some appliance materials. Instead, use dish detergent, hand soap or a recommended cleaner with a little warm water. Also, use a different brush than your regular toothbrush.
Avoid hot water and bleach. Hot or boiling water and bleach kill bacteria, but they will also damage your appliance. Hot water can warp an appliance's soft plastic and alter its fit. Bleach can blanch plastic meant to mimic gum tissue, making them less attractive; even worse, it can break down appliance materials and make them less durable.
Protect your appliance. When you take out your appliance, be sure to store it high out of reach of curious pets or young children. And while cleaning dentures in particular, place a small towel in the sink—if they slip accidentally from your hand, there's less chance of damage if they fall on a soft towel rather than a hard sink basin.
Don't wear dentures 24/7. Dentures can accumulate bacterial plaque just like your teeth. This can increase your risk of an oral infection, as well as create unpleasant mouth odors. To minimize this, take your dentures out at night while you sleep. And be sure you're cleaning them daily by hand, soaking them in an appropriate solution or with an ultrasonic cleaner.
Your oral appliance helps keep your dental health and function going. Help your appliance continue to do that for the long haul by taking proper care of it.
If you would like more information on how best to maintain your oral appliance, 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 “10 Tips for Cleaning Your Oral Appliance.”
If you've been dealing with a tooth that needs to be removed—or it's already missing—you may be looking to replace it with a dental implant. And it's a great choice: No other restoration can provide the appearance and function of a real tooth like an implant.
You and your smile are ready for it. The question is, though, are your gums and underlying bone ready? These dental structures play a critical role in an implant's stability and eventual appearance. A problem with them may make placing an implant difficult if not impossible.
An implant requires around 2.0 millimeters of bone thickness surrounding the implant surface for adequate support and to minimize the chances of gum recession. But tooth loss often leads to bone loss that can drop its thickness below this threshold. This can make placing an implant problematic.
Fortunately, though, we may be able to address the lack of sufficient bone through bone grafting. By placing grafting material within the empty socket, we create a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Over time this subsequent growth may be enough to maintain an adequate thickness of bone for an implant to be placed.
The gums may also pose a problem if they've shrunk back or receded from their normal positions, as often happens because of gum disease (which may also have precipitated the tooth loss). Again, grafting procedures can help ensure there's adequate gum coverage for the implant. And healthier gums may also help protect the underlying bone from loss.
There are several techniques for placing gum tissue grafts, depending on how much recession has taken place. One procedure in particular is often used in conjunction with implant placement. A small layer of synthetic collagen material or gum tissue referred to as pa dermal apron is included with the implant when its placed. Settling into the bone socket, this apron helps thicken the gum tissues, as well as preserve the underlying bone.
During your preliminary exams, we'll assess your bone and gum health to determine if we should take any steps like these to improve them. It may add some time to the implant process, but the end result will be well worth it.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Immediate Dental Implants.”
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