Advanced tooth decay is a serious dental problem that can threaten an affected tooth's survival. But for decades now dentists have reliably used root canal treatment to better a decayed tooth's odds. This routine procedure performed with dental drill and special hand tools removes infected tissue inside a tooth and replaces the voids with a filling to prevent future infection.
But now there's a new way to perform a root canal—with a surgical laser. Lasers, amplified and focused light beams, aren't new to healthcare—they're an integral feature of many routine medical treatments and surgeries. But their use is relatively new to dentistry, and to endodontics (treating the interior of teeth) in particular.
Lasers can be used in root canal treatment to perform a number of tasks. They can remove diseased tissue and other debris from the innermost tooth pulp. They can be used to clean and shape root canal walls in preparation for filling. And they can also be used to soften and mold the filling material to fit more precisely within a tooth's particular root canal network.
Although laser-assisted root canal therapy isn't yet widespread, laser's limited use to date has given us a fair picture of both their advantages and disadvantages. As with other medical laser applications, lasers are very precise in removing diseased tissue without too much disruption of healthy tissue. There's less need for anesthesia than with dental drills, and lasers are a lot less noisy and jarring. Patients by and large experience less bleeding, as well as less discomfort or infection afterward.
But because laser light can only travel in a straight line, they're difficult to use in many tightly curved root canals. In these cases, the traditional methods are better suited, although a laser can be used in conjunction with other tasks. Temperature with lasers must also be carefully managed lest the high heat that's often generated damages natural tissues.
Although lasers won't be replacing traditional treatment methods for decayed teeth in the foreseeable future, there's hope they'll become more commonplace as technology and techniques continue to advance. Lasers can only improve what already is an effective means of saving teeth.
If you would like more information on treatments for advanced 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 “Laser-Assisted Root Canal Treatment.”
Your teeth are sound and healthy—but appearance-wise, they're nothing to write home about. It's nothing major: a chip, some heavy staining or perhaps a slight gap between the front teeth. But whatever the blemish, it bothers you every time you look in the mirror.
There's an affordable way to improve your smile without a lot of extensive treatment: porcelain veneers. These thin layers of dental porcelain are bonded to the teeth's exterior to mask the blemishes beneath. All you and others can see, though, are beautiful teeth blending seamlessly with the rest of your natural teeth.
Changing your smile with veneers begins with a consultation with your cosmetic dentist. During your visit you'll discuss what you would like to improve and how you would like your smile to appear afterward. It's helpful to take along magazine photos or other images of how you'd like your teeth to look.
After making impressions and getting other necessary measurements, your dentist may then be able to show you what your new veneers will look like. One way is through computer software that superimposes your proposed new look onto a photograph of your face. Your dentist may also be able to create test veneers with acrylic or other dental materials and apply them to your teeth. These aren't your permanent veneers, but they can still give you a realistic view of your future smile.
Once your measurements are on the way to the dental lab to custom create your veneers, your dentist must prepare your teeth for bonding. Although veneers are quite thin, they may still appear bulky when bonded to the teeth. To create a more natural look, you'll probably need some of the enamel layer of your teeth removed to accommodate the extra width. Even though this is a small amount, it will permanently alter your teeth and require some form of restoration from then on.
After your veneers arrive, the dentist will attach them with a translucent cement that will bond them seamlessly to the natural teeth. You and others won't be able to see where the veneer ends and the natural tooth begins. What you will see, though, is a new look for your teeth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
While the sport of golf may not look too dangerous from the sidelines, players know it can sometimes lead to mishaps. There are accidents involving golf carts and clubs, painful muscle and back injuries, and even the threat of lightning strikes on the greens. Yet it wasn’t any of these things that caused professional golfer Danielle Kang’s broken tooth on the opening day of the LPGA Singapore tournament.
“I was eating and it broke,” explained Kang. “My dentist told me, I've chipped another one before, and he said, you don't break it at that moment. It's been broken and it just chips off.” Fortunately, the winner of the 2017 Women’s PGA championship got immediate dental treatment, and went right back on the course to play a solid round, shooting 68.
Kang’s unlucky “chip shot” is far from a rare occurrence. In fact, chipped, fractured and broken teeth are among the most common dental injuries. The cause can be crunching too hard on a piece of ice or hard candy, a sudden accident or a blow to the face, or a tooth that’s weakened by decay or repetitive stress from a habit like nail biting. Feeling a broken tooth in your mouth can cause surprise and worry—but luckily, dentists have many ways of restoring the tooth’s appearance and function.
Exactly how a broken tooth is treated depends on how much of its structure is missing, and whether the soft tissue deep inside of it has been compromised. When a fracture exposes the tooth’s soft pulp it can easily become infected, which may lead to serious problems. In this situation, a root canal or extraction will likely be needed. This involves carefully removing the infected pulp tissue and disinfecting and sealing the “canals” (hollow spaces inside the tooth) to prevent further infection. The tooth can then be restored, often with a crown (cap) to replace the entire visible part. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted (removed).
For less serious chips, dental veneers may be an option. Made of durable and lifelike porcelain, veneers are translucent shells that go over the front surfaces of teeth. They can cover minor to moderate chips and cracks, and even correct size and spacing irregularities and discoloration. Veneers can be custom-made in a dental laboratory from a model of your teeth, and are cemented to teeth for a long-lasting and natural-looking restoration.
Minor chips can often be remedied via dental bonding. Here, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to the surfaces being restored. The resin is shaped to fill in the missing structure and hardened by a special light. While not as long-lasting as other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can often be completed in just one office visit.
If you have questions about restoring chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin.”
Dentists around the world routinely remove diseased or damaged teeth every day. While some extractions require surgery, many don't: Your family dentist can perform these simple extractions, usually with little complication.
The term simple doesn't necessarily mean easy—as we'll note in a moment, it takes a deft and experienced hand to perform this type of extraction. The term in this case refers more to the type and condition of the tooth: The tooth roots are relatively straight and reside in the bone at an accessible angle. There are otherwise no meaningful impediments to removing it straight out.
The idea of “pulling a tooth” out of the jaw isn't the most accurate way to describe the procedure. A tooth is actually held in place within its bony socket by the periodontal ligament, a tough, elastic tissue between the tooth root and the bone that attaches to both through tiny fibrous extensions. The best method is to first loosen the tooth from the ligament's tiny attachments, for which experienced dentists can develop a certain feel. Once released from the ligament, the tooth will usually come free easily from its socket.
Not all teeth, though, can be removed in this manner. Teeth with multiple roots like back molars, and without a straight trajectory out of the socket, can have a complicated removal. Other dental conditions could also prove problematic for simple extraction, such as brittle roots that might fragment during removal.
For these and other complications, your general dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon for the tooth extraction. But even with the surgical component, these more complicated extractions are relatively minor and routine—millions of wisdom teeth, for example, are removed every year in this manner.
If you have a tooth that needs to be removed due to disease or injury, your dentist will first determine the best way to remove it and will refer you, if necessary, for surgical extraction. And whatever kind of extraction you undergo, the dentist performing it will make sure you remain pain-free during the procedure.
While tooth preservation is usually the best course for long-term dental health, it's sometimes best to remove a tooth. If that should happen, your dentist will make sure it's done with as little discomfort to you as possible.
If you would like more information on dental extraction methods, 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 “Simple Tooth Extraction?”
Your child’s current dental care sets the stage for good oral health later in life. It’s essential, therefore, that you know how best to protect their teeth and gums. In recognition of February as National Children’s Dental Health Month, here’s a short true or false quiz to test your knowledge of proper dental care for your child.
- Your child’s dental hygiene begins when their first teeth appear.
False: The bacteria that cause dental disease can take up residence in an infant’s mouth before their first teeth come in. To help curb this bacterial growth, wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, wet cloth after nursing or bottle-feeding.
- Kissing your newborn on the mouth could lead to tooth decay.
True. Any mouth-to-mouth contact with your infant could transfer oral bacteria from you to them. Their immune system isn’t mature enough to handle these “new arrivals,” which can increase their risk for tooth decay. Instead, kiss your child on the cheek or forehead or use other ways to show affection.
- Primary (baby) teeth don’t need the same care from disease as permanent teeth.
False: Although they have a limited lifespan, primary teeth play a huge role in a child’s dental development by protecting the space intended for the incoming permanent teeth. If primary teeth are lost prematurely due to dental disease, it could lead to incoming teeth erupting out of position.
- It’s best to start your child’s regular dental visits around their first birthday.
True: By age one, children already have a few teeth that need preventive or therapeutic care by a dentist. Starting early also gets them used to seeing the dentist and reduces their chances of developing dental visit anxiety.
- Your infant or toddler sucking their thumb isn’t a cause for concern.
True: Thumb-sucking is a nearly universal habit among infants that typically begins to fade around ages 3 or 4. If the habit continues, though, it could begin affecting their bite. It’s recommended that you encourage your child to quit thumb-sucking around age 3.
- The best time to consider your child’s bite health is right before puberty.
False: Signs of an emerging bite problem can begin appearing even before a child starts school. It’s a good idea, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If the orthodontist finds a problem, it may be possible to intervene to correct or minimize it before it goes too far.
One last thing: Your child’s dental care isn’t entirely on your shoulders. We’re here to partner with you, not only providing preventive and therapeutic treatment for your child, but also advising you on their day-to-day dental care and hygiene. Together, we’ll help ensure your child’s dental development stays on track.
If you would like more information about dental care for children, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
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