You might be a bit apprehensive if your dentist recommends a root canal treatment, especially if it's your first. That's understandable: Popular culture has portrayed the root canal as an unpleasant experience.
But as a routine dental procedure, root canal treatments have been responsible for saving millions of decayed teeth. And, with local anesthesia, the procedure is painless. In fact, a root canal treatment stops pain that often results from advanced tooth decay.
So, let's take the mystery out of the root canal. Here's the 411 on this vital but often misunderstood dental procedure.
Why the name “root canal”? The terms for the procedure—root canal therapy, root canal treatment or simply “root canal”—arise from one of the principal parts of the tooth involved, root canals. These are tiny passageways that lead from the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp, to the tooth roots. While treatment often focuses on decay or diseased tissue within the pulp, the root canals can be infected too and must be included in the later filling process.
Who can perform a root canal? All general dentists are trained in basic root canal procedures. Depending on your tooth's condition, your family dentist may be able to perform it. But if your tooth has an intricate root canal network or some other complication, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth and root treatments. Endodontists can perform advanced root canal techniques and have the specialized equipment to handle intricate cases.
What happens during a root canal? Although details may vary depending on the type of tooth and extent of decay, there's a basic process for all root canal procedures. After numbing the tooth and surrounding tissues, the dentist drills into the tooth to access the inner pulp chamber and root canals, then removes the diseased tissue and disinfects the empty chamber and canals. After preparing the canals, the dentist then fills the empty spaces. This, and subsequent sealing and crowning, protects the tooth from future decay.
After the procedure you may have some minor soreness for a few days, which is usually manageable with mild pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. This discomfort will diminish with time, and your tooth will have a new lease on life.
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.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
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?”
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy isn't always easy—and it's even more of a challenge if you're wearing orthodontic appliances like braces. That's why a fair percentage of patients wearing braces also contend with tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
The reason is simple: The orthodontic hardware makes it difficult to fully reach all parts of teeth surfaces with your toothbrush or floss. As a result, you can miss removing some of the accumulated plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles most responsible for dental disease. And it only takes a short amount of time (just days with gum disease) for a bacterial infection to begin.
But while avoiding dental disease is difficult while wearing braces, it's not impossible. Here are 4 ways you can minimize your dental disease risk while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Be diligent with your daily hygiene. Even though it's more difficult, don't slack on daily brushing and flossing. It does require more time to work the brush around and between the wires and brackets, but taking the time will help you clear away more plaque you might otherwise miss. It may also help to switch to a multi-tufted, microfine bristled toothbrush if you're not already using one.
Use a water irrigator. If straight thread flossing is proving too difficult (and even with a floss threader), try using a water irrigator. This device emits a pulsating spray of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque between teeth. Clinical studies consistently show water flossing is effective for reducing plaque in orthodontic patients.
Lower your sugar intake. Sugar left over in the mouth is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay or gum disease. Reducing sugary foods and snacks can help reduce bacterial populations and lower your disease risk. You can also fortify your oral health with healthier foods that contain calcium and other minerals.
Keep up regular dental visits. In addition to your orthodontic adjustments, don't neglect your regular visits with your family dentist. Semi-annual cleanings help remove any plaque and calculus (calcified plaque) you may have missed. Your dentist can also monitor your health and boost your disease prevention through topical fluoride treatments or prescribed antibacterial mouth rinses.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
National Physical Fitness & Sports Month in May, sponsored by the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, is a fitting time to encourage us to play sports. Many of us already feel the Spring itch to get out there and get involved. Unfortunately, an increase in sports or exercise activities also means an increase in potential physical injury risks, including to the face and mouth.
Although COVID-19 protective measures are delaying group sports, there's hope that many leagues will be able to salvage at least part of their season. If so, you should know what to do to keep yourself or a family member safe from oral and dental injuries.
First and foremost, wear a sports mouthguard, a plastic device worn in the mouth to reduce hard impacts from other players or sports equipment. A custom-fitted guard made by a dentist offers the best level of protection and the most comfortable fit.
But even though wearing a mouthguard significantly lowers the chances of mouth injuries, they can still occur. It's a good idea, then, to know what to do in the event of an oral injury.
Soft tissues. If the lips, cheeks, gums or tongue are cut or bruised, first carefully clean the wound of dirt or debris (be sure to check debris for any tooth pieces). If the wound bleeds, place some clean cotton gauze against it until it stops. If the wound is deep, the person may need stitches and possible antibiotic treatments or a tetanus shot. When in doubt, visit the ER.
Jaws. A hard blow could move the lower jaw out of its socket, or even fracture either jaw. Either type of injury, often accompanied by pain, swelling or deformity, requires medical attention. Treating a dislocation is usually a relatively simple procedure performed by a doctor, but fractures often involve a more extensive, long-term treatment.
Teeth. If a tooth is injured, try to collect and clean off any tooth pieces you can find, and call us immediately. If a tooth is knocked out, pick it up by the crown end, clean it off, and place it back into the empty socket. Have the person gently but firmly clench down on it and call the office or go to the ER as quickly as possible. Prompt attention is also needed for teeth moved out of alignment by a hard blow.
Playing sports has obvious physical, mental and social benefits. Don't let an oral injury rob you or a family member of those benefits. Take precautions and know what to do during a dental emergency.
If you would like more information about, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry” and “Dental Injuries: Field-Side Pocket Guide.”
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