During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
While mouth pain can certainly get your attention, what exactly hurts may be difficult to identify. It might seem to emanate from a single tooth, or a group of teeth. Then again, it might not be clear whether it's coming from teeth or from the gums.
Still, it's important to pinpoint the cause as much as possible to treat it correctly. One of the main questions we often want to answer is whether the cause originates from within a tooth or without.
In the first case, tooth decay may have entered the pulp at the center of the tooth. The pulp contains nerve bundles that can come under attack from decay and transmit pain signals. Incidentally, if the pain suddenly goes away, it may simply mean the nerves have died and not the infection.
The decay can also spread into the root canals leading to the root and supporting bone, and then make the jump into the gum tissues. One possible sign of this is the one mentioned earlier—you can't quite tell if the pain is from the tooth or the surrounding gums.
The root canals could also serve as a transportation medium for infection in the other direction. In that case, gum disease has advanced into the bone tissues around a tooth near its roots. The infection can then cross into the tooth. Again, both a tooth and the gum tissue around it can become diseased.
We have effective treatments for individual occurrences of interior tooth decay or gum disease: The former usually requires a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill and seal the tooth from future infection; we alleviate gum disease by removing the dental plaque causing it and helping the gum tissues to heal. But combined tooth and gum infection scenarios are more difficult to treat, have a poorer prognosis and may require specialists.
To reduce the risk of either tooth decay or gum disease developing into this greater problem, it's best to take action at the first sign of trouble. So, see your dentist as soon as possible when you encounter oral pain or if you notice swollen or bleeding gums. The earlier we treat the initial outbreak of disease, be it tooth decay or gum disease, the better your chances of a successful and happy outcome.
If you would like more information on tooth pain, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Besides straight and translucent teeth, an attractive smile has another important component: balance. In a great smile, the visible areas of the teeth and gums are in balanced proportion to one another.
But what is the ideal proportion between teeth and gums? Although aesthetic appeal is largely “in the eye of the beholder,” dental professionals typically consider a properly sized tooth to be around 10 mm in visible length. As for the upper gums, no more than 4 mm of tissue should show when smiling. Teeth appearing shorter than 10 mm or the gums displaying more than 4 mm can create an effect called a “gummy smile.”
Fortunately, there are different approaches for correcting a gummy smile, depending on what's causing the appearance of gumminess. Not only are there different causes, but they can be diverse in nature.
Obviously, an actual excess of gum tissue can cause a smile to look gummy—but so can shortened teeth. One possible solution called crown lengthening could help correct either possibility. During the procedure, we remove any excess gum tissue or reposition the gums after reshaping the underlying bone to reveal more of the tooth crown. Worn or shortened teeth can also be made to look longer with porcelain veneers.
A gummy smile could also be caused by a hypermobile lip, in which the lip rises higher than normal while smiling. We may be able to prevent this temporarily by injecting Botox into the lip muscles, which paralyzes them and inhibits their ability to move upward. A more permanent approach is to surgically restrict the upward movement of the lip muscles.
The gums may also seem too prominent if the upper jaw is longer in proportion to the face. One way to correct this is orthognathic surgery, a procedure that moves the upper jaw to a higher position on the skull. This can reduce the jaw profile with the face and subsequently affect how much of the gums show while smiling.
These solutions range from relatively minor to significantly invasive. The first step, though, is to find out what's really behind your gummy smile before taking the next step to make it more attractive.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
There's still much about the underlying nature of chronic jaw joint dysfunction we have yet to unravel. Treating these conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs) may therefore require some experimentation to find what works for each individual patient.
Most TMD therapies are relatively conservative: eating softer foods, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers or undergoing physical therapy. There have been some surgical techniques tried to relieve jaw pain and dysfunction, but these have so far had mixed results.
Recently, the use of the drug Botox has been promoted for relieving jaw pain, albeit temporarily. Botox contains tiny amounts of botulinum toxin type A, a poisonous substance derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause muscle paralysis. It's mainly used to cosmetically smooth out small wrinkles around facial features.
Because of these properties, some physicians have proposed Botox for TMD treatment to paralyze the muscles around the jaw to reduce pain and discomfort. While the treatment sounds intriguing, there are a number of reasons to be wary of it if you have TMD.
To begin with, the claims for Botox's success in relieving jaw pain have been mainly anecdotal. On the other hand, findings from randomized, double-blind trials have yet to show any solid evidence that Botox can produce these pain-relieving effects.
But even if it lived up to the claims of TMD pain relief, the effect would eventually fade in a few weeks or months, requiring the patient to repeat the injections. It's possible with multiple Botox injections that the body will develop antibodies to fight the botulinum toxin, causing the treatment to be less effective with subsequent injections.
Of even greater concern are the potential side effects of Botox TMD treatment, ranging from headaches and soreness at the injection site to more serious muscle atrophy and possible facial deformity from repeated injections. There's also evidence for decreased bone density in the jaw, which could have far-reaching consequences for someone with TMD.
The best approach still seems to lie in the more conservative therapies that treat TMD similar to other joint disorders. Finding the right combination of therapies that most benefit you will help you better manage your symptoms.
If you would like more information on treatments for TMD, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”
QB sensation Johnny Manziel has had a varied career in professional football. After playing two seasons for the NFL Cleveland Browns, he quarterbacked for a number of teams in the Canadian Football League. More recently, he joined the Zappers in the new Fan Controlled Football league (FCF). But then with only a few games under his belt, he was waylaid by an emergency dental situation.
It's unclear what the situation was, but it was serious enough to involve oral surgery. As a result, he was forced to miss the Zappers' final regular-season game. His experience is a reminder that some dental problems can't wait—you have to attend to them immediately or risk severe long-term consequences.
Manziel's recent dental problem also highlights a very important specialty of dentistry—oral surgery. Oral surgeons are uniquely trained and qualified to treat and correct a number of oral problems.
Tooth extraction. Although some teeth can be removed by a general dentist, some have complications like multiple roots or impaction that make regular extractions problematic. An oral surgeon may be needed to surgically remove these kinds of problem teeth.
Disease. Oral surgeons often intervene with diseases attacking areas involving the jaws or face. This includes serious infections that could become life-threatening if they're not promptly treated by surgical means.
Bite improvement. Some poor bites (malocclusions) arise from a mismatch in the sizes of the jaws. An oral surgeon may be able to correct this through orthognathic surgery to reposition the jaw to the skull. This may compensate for the difference in jaw sizes and reduce the bite problem.
Implants. Dental implants are one of the best ways to replace teeth, either as a standalone tooth or as support for a fixed dental bridge or a removable denture. In some cases, it may be better for an oral surgeon to place the implants into a patient's jawbone.
Reconstruction. Injuries or birth defects like a cleft lip or palate can alter the appearance and function of the face, jaws or mouth. An oral surgeon may be able to perform procedures that repair the damage and correct oral or facial deformities.
Sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is usually caused by the tongue relaxing against the back of the throat during sleep and blocking the airway. But other anatomical structures like tonsils or adenoids can do the same thing. An oral surgeon could address this situation by surgically altering obstructing tissues.
It's likely most of your dental care won't require the services of an oral surgeon. But when you do need surgical treatment, like Johnny Manziel, these dental specialists can make a big difference in your oral health.
If you would like more information about oral surgery, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.