Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
“My tooth hurts…or maybe more than one. Or, it might be my gums.”
If you're having trouble describing the pain in your mouth, don't feel bad. Although our body's pain mechanism is great for alerting us to a problem, it can't always tell us the true cause and location of that problem.
That's especially true of tooth pain. It could be a sign, for instance, of decay within a tooth's inner pulp. When under attack, the nerves in the pulp often send out pain signals that could be sharp, dull, continuous, intermittent, seeming to come from one tooth or several.
If this is the case, depending on how deep the decay is, you could need a filling to resolve the problem or, if it's more extensive, possibly a root canal treatment to save the affected tooth. If you need a root canal, after removing the pulp's diseased tissue, the procedure calls for filling the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent future infection.
Another possibility for the pain is gum disease that has also infected the tooth. Gum disease usually begins with the bacteria in dental plaque, a thin biofilm that builds up on tooth surfaces, which infect the gums. If not treated promptly, the infection can advance below the gum line to the tooth roots and supporting bone. From there, it could invade the tooth and travel through the root canals to the interior pulp.
In this scenario, we'll need to treat the gum disease by removing plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) deposits from all tooth and gum surfaces. This is usually done manually with hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment, but it may also require surgical access to infected areas around the roots. If the tooth's nerve has become involved, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment as described above.
There are three key points to take from these two tooth pain scenarios. First, the only way to determine the true cause of your pain (and what treatment you'll need) is with a dental exam. Second, the sooner your pain is diagnosed and you begin treatment, the better your outcome—so see your dentist at the first sign of pain or other symptoms like swollen or bleeding gums.
And finally, you may be able to prevent these and other dental problems by removing disease-causing plaque through daily brushing and flossing and professional teeth cleaning every six months. Prevention through effective oral hygiene may help you avoid a future bout of mysterious tooth pain.
If you would like more information on treating 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.”
Over 26 million Americans have diabetes, a systemic condition that interferes with maintaining safe levels of blood sugar in the bloodstream. Over time, diabetes can begin to interfere with other bodily processes, including wound healing—which could affect dental care, and dental implants in particular.
Diabetes affects how the body regulates glucose, a basic sugar derived from food digestion that's the primary source of energy for cell development and function. Our bodies, though, must maintain glucose levels within a certain range — too high or too low could have adverse effects on our health. The body does this with the help of a hormone called insulin that's produced as needed by the pancreas to constantly regulate blood glucose levels.
There are two types of diabetes that interfere with the function of insulin in different ways. With Type I diabetes the pancreas stops producing insulin, forcing the patient to obtain the hormone externally through daily injections or medication. With Type II diabetes, the most common form among diabetics, the body doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't respond adequately to the insulin that's present.
As mentioned, one of the consequences of diabetes is slow wound healing. This can have a profound effect on the body in general, but it can also potentially cause problems with dental implants. That's because implants once placed need time to integrate with the bone to achieve a strong hold. Slow wound healing caused by diabetes can slow this integration process between implant and bone, which can affect the entire implantation process.
The potential for those kinds of problems is greater if a patient's diabetes isn't under control. Patients who are effectively managing their diabetes with proper diet, exercise and medication have less trouble with wound healing, and so less chance of healing problems with implants.
All in all, though, it appears diabetics as a group have as much success with implants as the general population (above 95 percent). But it can be a smoother process if you're doing everything you can to keep your diabetes under control.
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.”
If you're well past your teen years, you probably have several reasons for not straightening your crooked smile: the expense, the time and the embarrassment of being a 30-, 40- or 50+- something wearing braces. But we have five reasons why adult orthodontic treatment can be a smart choice: Tom Cruise, Kathy Bates, Carrie Underwood, Danny Glover and Faith Hill.
That's right: Each of these well-known entertainers and performers—and quite a few more—underwent treatment to improve a poor dental bite. And not as teenage unknowns: Each on our list wore braces or clear aligners as famous adults (the paparazzi don't lie!).
Here are a few of the reasons why these celebrities chose to change their smile through orthodontics—and why you can, too.
Age isn't a factor. Straightening misaligned teeth isn't reserved only for tweens and teens—there are a growing number of adults well into their middle and senior years undergoing orthodontic treatment. As long as your teeth are relatively sound and your gums are healthy, it's altogether appropriate to undergo bite correction at any age.
A boost to your dental health. Gaining a more attractive smile through orthodontics is in some ways an added benefit. The biggest gain by far is the improvement straightening your teeth can bring to your long-term health. Misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean of dental plaque, which can increase your disease risk. They also may not function as well as they should while chewing food, which can affect your digestion.
Traditional braces aren't the only way. If the thought of displaying all that hardware makes you cringe, it's not your only option. One of the most popular alternatives is clear aligners, custom plastic trays that are nearly invisible on your teeth—and you can take them out, too. Another method growing in popularity are lingual braces: All the hardware is behind the teeth and thus out of sight. And you can, of course, opt for traditional braces—just ask Tom Cruise!
Oh, yes—a new smile! Orthodontics was truly the first “smile makeover.” It can improve your appearance all by itself, or it can be part of a comprehensive plan to give you an entirely new look. While the gains to your health are primary, don't discount what a more attractive smile could do for you in every area of your life.
The best way to find out if orthodontics will work for you is to visit us for an initial exam and consultation. Just like our A-list celebrities, you may find that orthodontics could be a sound investment in your health and self-confidence.
If you would like more information about orthodontic treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “The Magic of Orthodontics: The Original Smile Makeover.”
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