With smart phone in hand, you can instantaneously find out just about anything. Unfortunately, online search results aren’t always accurate. Case in point: there’s an idea floating on the World Wide Web that root canal treatments cause cancer.
Sounds ludicrous? Yes, but like other strange ideas this one has historical roots (pardon the pun). In the early 20th Century, a dentist named Weston Price propagated the idea that leaving a “dead” organ in the body caused health problems. By his view, a root canal-treated tooth fell into this category and could potentially cause, among other things, cancer.
But concern over root canal treatment safety is on shaky ground: dentistry examined Dr. Price’s ideas over sixty years ago and found them wanting. But first, let’s look at what a root canal treatment can actually do for your health.
Tooth decay is an infection that first attacks the outer tooth enamel and then continues to advance until it infects the inner pulp. It can then travel through the root canals to the roots and bone. Without intervention, the infection will result in tooth loss.
We use a root canal treatment to save the tooth from this fate. During the procedure we remove and disinfect all of the diseased or dead tissue within the pulp and root canals. We then fill the empty chamber and canals with a special filling and seal the tooth to prevent any further infection. And while technically the procedure renders a tooth unable to respond to thermal sensitivity or tooth decay, the tooth is still alive as it is attached to the periodontal ligament and its blood supply and nerve tissue. The tooth can still “feel” if you bite on something too hard and it doesn’t affect the tooth’s function or health, or a patient’s overall health for that matter.
As to Dr. Price’s theory, extensive studies beginning in the 1950s have examined the potential health risk of root canal treatments. The latest, a 2013 patient survey study published in a journal of the American Medical Association, not only found no evidence linking root canal treatment to cancer, but a lower risk of oral cancer in 45% of patients who had undergone multiple root canal treatments.
While root canal treatments do have potential side effects, none are remotely as serious as this online “factoid” about cancer. It’s far more likely to benefit your health by saving your tooth.
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 Safety.”
You’re ready to have that missing tooth replaced with a dental implant or other life-like restoration. But we may first have to address another problem — moving the teeth around the missing tooth space back to where they should be.
That empty space is the primary reason those teeth are no longer in the right position. Through their attachment to the periodontal ligament that lies between them and the bone, teeth are able to move slightly over time in response to mouth changes. This same mechanism, however, may also cause teeth to “drift” toward each other across the empty space left by a missing tooth; too much drift and there won’t be enough room for the replacement tooth.
A fairly straightforward orthodontic treatment can restore drifted teeth to their original position to make room for the replacement. There is one situation, however, that can complicate this treatment — if you also have periodontal (gum) disease, a plaque-induced bacterial infection. During normal tooth movement bone dissolves (resorbs) in front of the tooth in the direction of movement, while new bone forms behind it to help stabilize the tooth in its new position. Gum disease, however, can weaken the bone around these teeth, inhibiting the natural rebuilding process of bone and connective tissue that could jeopardize the success of the orthodontic treatment.
It’s important, then, to first treat and bring the gum disease under control to restore health to both the gums and bone. It’s also just as important during orthodontic treatment to prevent another infection flare-up through renewed brushing and flossing and regular office cleanings and checkups. Choosing clear aligners over traditional braces to move the teeth could also help — unlike fixed braces that often make oral hygiene difficult, clear aligners can be removed to allow easier cleaning of teeth and gums.
Depending on your situation, the process for preparing your mouth for a tooth replacement can involve several procedures and healing time. But the end result — a brand new tooth that looks amazing — will be something to smile about.
While we often associate tooth decay with cavities forming in a tooth’s visible or biting surfaces, the occurrence of this all too common disease isn’t limited to those areas. Cavities can develop in any part of a tooth exposed to bacteria.
Gum recession, the shrinking back of the gums from the teeth, can cause such exposure in areas normally covered by the gums. Because these areas are usually more vulnerable to infection when exposed, cavities can develop at or right below the gum line. Because of their location it can be difficult to fill them or perform other treatments.
One way to make it less difficult is to perform a crown lengthening procedure. While the term sounds like we’re increasing the size of the tooth, we’re actually surgically altering the gums to access more of the affected tooth surface for treatment. It’s typically performed in a dental office with local anesthesia by a general dentist or a periodontist, a specialist in the gums.
During the procedure, the dentist starts by making small incisions in the gums to create a tissue “flap” that can be lifted out of the way. This exposes the underlying bone, which they then reshape to support the gum tissue once it’s re-situated in its new position. The dentist then sutures the gums back in place. Once the gums heal, the decayed area is ready for treatment.
Crown lengthening is also useful for other situations besides treating cavities. If a tooth has broken off at the gum line, for example, there may not be enough remaining structure to support a crown. Crown lengthening can make more of the underlying tooth available for the crown to “grab” onto. It’s also useful in some cases of “gummy smiles,” in which too much of the gum tissue is visible in proportion to the tooth size.
Because crown lengthening often involves removing some of the bone and is thus irreversible, you should discuss this procedure with your dentist in depth beforehand. It could be, though, this minor procedure might make it easier to preserve your teeth and even make them look more attractive.
Sure, it’s big news when celebs tweet selfies from the dental office… if you’re still living in the 20th century. But in Hollywood today, it’s harder to say who hasn’t posted snaps of themselves in the dentist’s chair than who has. Yet the pictures recently uploaded to Twitter by Mark Salling, the actor and singer who regularly appears as Noah “Puck” Puckerman on the popular TV series Glee, made us sit up and take notice.
“Getting my chipped tooth fixed. Also, apparently, I’m a big grinder,” read the caption. The photo showed a set of upper front teeth with visible chips on the biting surface. What’s so special about this seemingly mundane tweet? It’s a great way of bringing attention to a relatively common, but often overlooked problem: teeth clenching and grinding, also called bruxism.
Although bruxism is a habit that affects scores of people, many don’t even realize they have it. That’s because the condition may only become active at night. When the teeth are unconsciously ground together, the forces they produce can wear down the enamel, cause chipping or damage to teeth or dental work (such as veneers or fillings), or even loosen a tooth! While it’s common in children under 11 years old, in adults it can be a cause for concern.
Sometimes, mouth pain, soreness and visible damage alert individuals to their grinding habits; other times, a dental professional will notice the evidence of bruxism during an exam or cleaning: tooth sensitivity and telltale wear and tear on the chewing surfaces. Either way, it’s time to act.
Bruxism is most often caused by stress, which can negatively impact the body in many ways. It may also result from bite problems, the overuse of stimulating substances (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs), and as a side effect of certain medications. Sometimes, simply becoming aware of the habit can help a person get it under control. Common methods of stress reduction include exercise, meditation, a warm bath or a quiet period before bedtime; these can be tried while we monitor the situation to see if the problem is going away.
If stress reduction alone doesn’t do the trick, several other methods can be effective. When bruxism is caused by a minor bite problem, we can sometimes do a minor “bite adjustment” in the office. This involves removing a tiny bit of enamel from an individual tooth that is out of position, bringing it in line with the others. If it’s a more serious malocclusion, orthodontic appliances or other procedures may be recommended.
When grinding is severe enough to damage teeth or dental work, we may also recommend a custom-made night guard (occlusal guard), which you put in your mouth at bedtime. Comfortable and secure, this appliance prevents your teeth from being damaged by contacting each other, and protects your jaw joints from stresses due to excessive grinding forces.
Whether or not you have to smile for a living, teeth grinding can be a big problem. If you would like more information about this condition, call our office to schedule a consultation for a consultation.
It’s absolutely critical to stop tooth decay and repair any damage to tooth structure. Hopefully, we’ve caught it early in the enamel and dentin where we’re able to repair any holes or “cavities” that might have developed by filling them.
But what if the decay has crept deeper into the interior of the tooth? In this case, you’re at a much higher risk of eventually losing the tooth. If the decay has spread into the bone, a root canal treatment is usually your best option.
The first sign that decay has invaded the pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth, and the root canals may be a severe toothache. It’s different from the wince of pain or discomfort caused by sensitivity to temperature or pressure. Inner decay pain is constant and often excruciating. This is because the infection is attacking the nerves bundled within the pulp chamber.
The pain can last for several days, and then suddenly stop altogether. No pain is good news, right? Wrong — the pain has stopped because the infected nerves have finally died and can no longer signal the brain. The infection, though, is very much alive and will continue to advance toward the root where the damage may eventually cause you to lose the tooth.
A root canal treatment removes decay in the pulp chamber and canals. We first drill an access hole to enter the pulp chamber. Once inside, we use special instruments to completely remove all tissue and disinfect the empty chamber. We then fill the chamber and root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole to prevent further decay. A few weeks later we install a custom crown to protect the tooth further.
If you have a toothache, or you’ve had one that suddenly went away, you should schedule an appointment for a dental examination as soon as possible: this is the only way to accurately determine the cause of the pain. If a root canal is deemed necessary, the sooner we perform it, the less chance the infection will cause you to lose your tooth.
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 “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”
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