If you've ever had a run-in with cavities, you know the drill (no pun intended): After getting a local anesthetic for pain, the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. It's an effective treatment protocol we've been using for well over a century.
It does, however, have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn't cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.
But advances in dental tools, technology and techniques are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why.
Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in its earliest stages. By doing so, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we're beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it's visible to the naked eye.
Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it's undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We're also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don't require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.
These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you're in the dentist's chair.
If you would like more information on effectively treating dental 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
You know you should see the dentist about that nagging tooth or gum problem, but you keep putting it off. Truth be told, you're a little nervous that your treatment visit might be unpleasant.
In one sense, your concern isn't unreasonable: The teeth and gums abound in nerves that are more than effective in signaling pain. Even minor dental procedures can trigger discomfort. In another sense, though, there's no need to worry, thanks to pain-numbing techniques using local anesthesia.
The term “local” is used because the applied anesthetic only affects the area and surrounding tissues needing treatment. The anesthetic drugs temporarily block nerve electrical impulses from transmitting pain signals to the brain. Unlike general anesthesia, which requires placing a patient in an unconscious state, a patient can be awake, yet feel no sensation around the anesthetized tissue.
Dentists typically use a two-step method to prevent patients from feeling any pain during a procedure. First, they apply a topical local anesthetic to the surface of the gums. Once these top layers have been numbed, they numb the underlying tissues by injecting the anesthetic with a needle. The goal of a topical application is to ensure the patient doesn't feel the prick of the needle used for deep tissue anesthesia.
Dentists follow strict protocols using anesthesia that have been developed over several decades. As a result, local anesthesia has revolutionized dental care and greatly reduced patient discomfort safely and effectively. Its effectiveness has in fact led to a common complaint that the numbness may linger long afterwards. But that also has been addressed with better combinations of anesthetic drugs to reduce the duration of the numbing effect.
And not only does local anesthesia make for a more relaxing and pleasant experience, it also benefits the dental provider. Dentists tend to work more efficiently when they know their patients aren't in discomfort, which can result in better treatment outcomes.
If you've been putting off a trip to the dentist because you think it might be painful or uncomfortable, put those concerns to rest. With the help of local anesthesia, dental treatment can be relaxing and pain-free.
If you would like more information on having a pain-free experience at the dentist, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and for good reason—it's your teeth's first line of defense against wearing and harmful oral bacteria. But although enamel can “take a licking and keep on ticking,” it can lose its mineral content, soften and eventually erode to expose the teeth to bacteria.
Here are 4 tips for protecting your enamel so it keeps on protecting you.
Practice sound brushing techniques. Brushing is necessary for removing bacterial plaque that can trigger dental disease. But how you brush could prove not only ineffective, but also harmful to your enamel. So, be sure you're brushing all tooth surfaces, but not too forcefully or too often (twice a day is enough)—otherwise, you could wear down enamel and damage your gums.
Wait to brush after eating. The acid levels in the mouth go up during eating, causing an immediate softening of enamel. But saliva then goes to work neutralizing acid and helping to restore enamel's mineral content. Since it takes saliva about thirty minutes to an hour to complete this task, wait on brushing at least that long. Otherwise, you might remove tiny traces of temporarily softened enamel.
Avoid eating right before bed. While we sleep, our saliva flow decreases until we wake up. If you eat just before bed, you may not be giving your saliva enough time to neutralize acid before it “goes to sleep” with you for the night. So, give your saliva ample time to neutralize any remaining acid by not eating anymore at least an hour before you turn in.
Limit drinking acidic beverages. Some of our favorite drinks—sodas, energy and sports drinks, and even some juices—can be high in acid. To protect your enamel, reduce your consumption of these types of beverages in favor of water or milk (the calcium in the latter will also benefit your enamel). When you do drink acidic beverages, use a straw to minimize contact of the fluid with your enamel.
Healthy and strong enamel is the key to healthy and strong teeth. It's worth taking these steps to protect this important defense against destructive tooth decay.
If you would like more information on personal dental care, 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
If your dental health isn't in the best of shape, a survey conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) says the cause is likely one of three common oral health problems. The survey asked around 15,000 people across the country what kinds of problems they had experienced with their teeth and gums, and three in particular topped the list.
Here then are the top three oral health problems according to the ADA, how they could impact your health, and what you should do about them.
Tooth pain. Nearly one-third of respondents, particularly from lower-income households and the 18-34 age range, reported having tooth pain at one time or another. Tooth pain can be an indicator of several health issues including tooth decay, fractured teeth or recessed gums. It's also a sign that you should see a dentist—left untreated, the condition causing the pain could lead to worse problems.
Biting difficulties. Problems biting or chewing came in second on the ADA survey. Difficulties chewing can be caused by a number of things like decayed, fractured or loose teeth, or if your dentures or other dental appliances aren't fitting properly. Chewing dysfunction can make it difficult to eat foods with greater nutritional value than processed foods leading to problems with your health in general.
Dry mouth. This is a chronic condition called xerostomia caused by an ongoing decrease in saliva flow. It's also the most prevalent oral health problem according to the ADA survey, and one that could spell trouble for your teeth and gums in the future. Because saliva fights bacterial infections like gum disease and helps neutralize acid, which can lead to tooth decay, chronic dry mouth increases your risk of dental disease.
If you're currently dealing with one or more of these problems, they don't have to ruin your health. If you haven't already, see your dentist for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible: Doing so could help alleviate the problem, and prevent even more serious health issues down the road.
If you would like more information on achieving optimum dental health, 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 “Top 3 Oral Health Problems.”
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