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.”
The term “root canal” is a part of our social lexicon, and not always with a positive meaning. But contrary to its negative reputation, a root canal treatment can make all the difference in your dental health.
Here are 3 things you may not know about this important procedure.
A root canal treatment is a “tooth” saver. Decay deep inside the tooth pulp puts the entire tooth at risk. The infection not only destroys nerves and tissue in the pulp, it has a direct path to the root through tiny passageways known as root canals. By cleaning out this infected tissue, then filling the empty pulp chamber and the root canals with a special filling, the procedure stops the disease from further harm and seals the tooth from future infection. Without it, it’s highly likely the tooth will be lost and other teeth threatened by the infection.
A root canal doesn’t cause pain — it relieves it. The biggest misconception about root canal treatments is their supposed painfulness. That’s just not true, thanks to anesthetic techniques that numb the teeth and gums — and any discomfort afterward is quite manageable with mild anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. The procedure actually stops the real pain, caused by the infection damaging and finally killing the tooth’s nerves, when it stops the infection.
Root canal treatments are even more effective thanks to recent advancements. Not all infected tooth situations are the same: some teeth have smaller offset passageways called accessory canals that grow off a larger root canal that can be quite difficult to detect and access. Missing them can leave the door open for re-infection. In recent years, though, endodontists, specialists in root canal disorders, have improved the way we address these complications using advanced technologies like specialized microscopic equipment and new filling techniques. The result: a lower risk of re-infection and a higher chance of long-term success.
Hopefully, you’ll continue to enjoy good dental health and won’t need a root canal treatment. But if you do, rest assured it won’t be the unpleasant experience you might have thought — and will be a welcomed solution to pain and threatening tooth loss.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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.”
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.”
Baby (primary) teeth look and function much like their permanent counterparts. Besides having a visible crown, they also have roots that maintain contact with the jawbone.
But there are some differences, the biggest one being the normal process whereby primary tooth roots dissolve or, in dental terms, resorb. Root resorption eventually leads to the tooth coming loose to make way for the permanent tooth.
Adult tooth roots can also resorb — but it's decidedly not normal. If adult root resorption isn't promptly treated, it could also lead to tooth loss — but there won't be an incoming tooth to take its place.
Although it can begin inside a tooth, adult root resorption usually begins on the outside. One type, external cervical resorption (ECR), begins around the neck-like area of the tooth not far below the gum line. Its initial signs are small pink spots where the tooth enamel has eroded; those pink cells within the space are doing the damage.
We don't fully understand the mechanism behind ECR, but there are some factors that often contribute. People with periodontal ligament damage or trauma, sometimes due to too much force applied during orthodontic treatment, have a high risk of ECR. Some bleaching techniques for staining inside a tooth may also be a factor.
The key to treating ECR is to detect it as early as possible before it does too much root damage. Regular checkups with x-rays play a pivotal role in early detection. Advanced stages of ECR might require more advanced diagnostics like a cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) scan to fully assess the damage.
If the lesion is small, we can surgically remove the cells causing the damage and fill the site with a tooth-colored filling. If ECR has spread toward the pulp, the tooth's inner nerve center, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment.
Either of these methods intends to save the tooth, but there is a point where the damage is too great and it's best to remove the tooth and replace it with a life-like dental implant or other restoration. That's why it requires vigilance through regular, semi-annual dental visits to detect the early signs of root resorption before it's too late.
If you would like more information on adult tooth root resorption, 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 Resorption.”
Determining which of your teeth is causing your toothache isn’t always easy — or even if it’s a tooth at all. The pain could be coming from a tooth, the gums, or both. Only a thorough dental examination can pinpoint the exact cause and best course of treatment.
If a decayed tooth is the problem, the pain may be coming from nerves and other tissue deep within the tooth’s pulp. The symptoms could be dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, specific to one area or spread out. It’s even possible for the pain to suddenly subside after a few days. This doesn’t mean the infection has subsided, but rather that the infected nerves have died and no longer transmit pain. Pain can also radiate from the actual source and be felt somewhere else — the pain in your sinuses, for example, could actually originate from an infected back tooth.
If the source is periodontal (gum) disease, the infection has begun in the gum tissues. As they become more inflamed they lose their connectivity with the teeth, bone loss occurs and the gums may “recess” or draw back. This exposes the tooth root, which without the protective cover of the gum tissues becomes highly sensitive to changes in temperature or pressure. As a result you may encounter sharp pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold, or bite down.
Treating these issues will depend on the actual infection source. An infected tooth often requires a root canal treatment to clean out the pulp and root canals of dead or infected tissue, fill them with a special filling, and seal and crown the tooth to prevent future infection. If the source is gum disease, we must manually remove the bacterial plaque causing the disease from all tooth and gum surfaces to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal. In advanced cases, surgical procedures may be necessary to repair damage and encourage new gum and bone growth.
Where dental disease has spread from tooth to gums or vice-versa, you may need treatments for both areas to address your overall condition. Whatever the treatment course, we can put an end to your tooth pain and restore health to your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the sources of mouth pain, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
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