Dental patients have amazing options for tooth replacement. Dental implants, for example, can replace the entire tooth, root and crown, giving patients a new tooth nearly as good as the old one.
Nearly—but not exact. Even implants can't match the full benefits of a natural tooth, including one in less than perfect shape. Our first goal as dentists, then, is to save a diseased tooth if at all practical before considering replacing it.
That often involves a root canal treatment to address decay threatening a tooth's interior. The procedure requires drilling into the tooth to access its innermost pulp, cleaning out the pulp and root canals, and then filling the empty spaces. Since all dentists are trained in basic root canal treatment, your general dentist may be able to perform it.
But some dental situations call for more advanced endodontics, the dental specialty for treating disease and other problems inside a tooth. So, in what situations would you see an endodontist?
When your dentist refers you. Your dentist wants you to receive the level of treatment necessary to save your tooth. After examination, they may determine your situation would be better served by the advanced training, equipment and techniques (including surgery) of an endodontist.
When your tooth has complications. Patients often need an endodontist when existing factors complicate treatment of advanced tooth decay. A patient may have dental pain that's difficult to pinpoint, requiring the diagnostic resources of an endodontist. It's also common for a tooth's root canal network to be highly intricate, and which respond better to treatment with specialized endodontic tools and techniques.
When root canal treatment fails. Most root canal treatments are successful in protecting the tooth from further infection. That said, it's still possible for a root-canaled tooth to become re-infected or develop more problems. Again, an endodontist and their “tool chest“ re-treating a root-canaled tooth may be the best option for saving it.
You also don't have to wait for a referral—you can see an endodontist if you believe they would be best to treat your decayed tooth. You can find one near you by visiting an online endodontist directory at www.aae.org/find. An endodontist may be the lifesaver your diseased tooth needs.
The timing around losing a tooth may not always sync with your financial ability. It's not unusual for people to postpone getting a dental implant—by far the best option for replacing a missing tooth—because of its expense.
So, if you have to postpone dental implants until you can afford them, what do you do in the meantime to keep your smile intact? One affordable option is a temporary restoration known as a flexible removable partial denture (RPD).
Composed of a kind of nylon developed in the 1950s, flexible RPDs are made by first heating the nylon and injecting its softened form into a custom mold. This creates a gum-colored denture base to which prosthetic (false) teeth are affixed at the exact locations for missing teeth.
Differing from a permanent RPD made with rigid acrylic plastic, a nylon-based RPD is flexible and lightweight, making them comfortable to wear. They're kept in place with small nylon extensions that fit into the natural concave spaces of teeth. And, with a bit of custom crafting, they can look quite realistic.
RPDs are helpful in another way, especially if you're waiting for an implant down the road: They help preserve the missing tooth space. Without a prosthetic tooth occupying that space, neighboring teeth can drift in. You might then need orthodontic treatment to move errant teeth to where they should be before obtaining a permanent restoration.
Flexible RPDs may not be as durable as acrylic RPDs, and can be difficult to repair or reline if needed to adjust the fit. Though they may not stain as readily as acrylic dentures, you'll still need to clean them regularly to help them keep looking their best. This also aids in protecting the rest of your mouth from dental disease by removing any buildup of harmful bacterial plaque on the RPD.
But even with these limitations, patients choose RPDs for the simple fact that they're affordable and temporary. And the latter is their greatest benefit—providing you a “bridge” between losing a tooth and replacing it with a durable dental implant.
If you would like more information on tooth replacement options, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures.”
Most dental problems are caused by tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, easily preventable with dedicated daily hygiene and regular dental care. But there are a few other rare conditions to be on alert for that could pose just as serious a threat to your dental health.
One of these is a phenomenon called root resorption. Put simply, certain cells arise within a tooth root that eat away and dissolve (resorb) tooth structure. Left unchecked, it could eventually lead to the tooth's demise.
Although its exact cause remains elusive, we suspect root resorption is associated with trauma to the gum ligaments earlier in life, perhaps from an injury or too much force applied during orthodontics. Other possible contributing factors include teeth-grinding habits or internal tooth bleaching procedures.
Root resorption in adults isn't that common, so your chances of experiencing it are low. But it is still possible, so you should be on the lookout for potential signs: Early on, it may appear as faint pink spots on teeth where the enamel has filled with the destructive cells eating away at the tooth. In time, these spots can increase to form cavities.
More than likely, though, your dentist may detect the problem during a dental exam. That's why regular dental cleanings and checkups are essential—a routine exam is a prime opportunity to uncover conditions like root resorption that silently undermine your teeth.
If found early, we can often treat root resorption effectively. We can often expose a small affected area with minor gum surgery, remove the harmful cells and fill any cavities with a tooth-colored filling. In some cases, we may recommend orthodontics beforehand to encourage a buildup of bone around the root by moving the affected tooth outward from the jawbone. If the resorption has affected the tooth pulp, you may also need a root canal treatment.
There is also the possibility with advanced resorption that the best course of action is to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant. So, keep up your regular dental visits—early detection and intervention can stop this destructive dental condition from destroying your tooth.
If you would like more information on root resorption, 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 Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
We're all tempted occasionally to use our teeth in ways that might risk damage. Hopefully, though, you've never considered anything close to what singer, songwriter and now social media persona Jason Derulo recently tried in a TikTok video—attempting to eat corn on the cob spinning on a power drill. The end result seemed to be a couple of broken front teeth, although many of his followers suspected an elaborate prank.
Prank or not, subjecting your teeth to “motorized corn”—or a host of other less extreme actions or habits—is not a good thing, especially if you have veneers, crowns or other dental work. Although teeth can withstand a lot, they're not invincible.
Here, then, are four things you should do to help ensure your teeth stay healthy, functional and intact.
Clean your teeth daily. Strong teeth are healthy teeth, so you want to do all you can to prevent tooth decay or gum disease. Besides semi-annual dental cleanings, the most important thing you can do is to brush and floss your teeth daily. These hygiene tasks help remove dental plaque, a thin biofilm that is the biggest culprit in dental disease that could weaken teeth and make them more susceptible to injury.
Avoid biting on hard objects. Teeth's primary purpose is to break down food for digestion, not to break open nuts or perform similar tasks. You should also avoid habitual chewing on hard objects like pencils, nails or ice to relieve stress. And, you may need to be careful eating apples or other foods with hard surfaces if you have veneers or composite bonding on your teeth.
Wear a sports mouthguard. If you or a family member are regularly involved with sports like basketball, baseball/softball or football (even informally), you can protect your teeth from facial blows by wearing an athletic mouthguard. Although you can obtain a retail variety in most stores selling sporting goods, a custom-made guard by a dentist offers the best protection and comfort.
Visit your dentist regularly. As mentioned before, semi-annual dental cleanings help remove hidden plaque and tartar and further minimize your risk of disease. Regular dental visits also give us a chance to examine your mouth for any signs of decay or gum disease, and to check on your dental health overall. Optimizing your dental health plays a key part in preventing dental damage.
You should expect an unpleasant outcome involving your teeth with power tools. But a lot less could still damage them: To fully protect your dental health, be sure you practice daily oral care, avoid tooth contact with hard objects and wear a mouthguard for high-risk physical activities.
If you would like more information on caring for your cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
If you're intrigued by the strange and bizarre, here's one to pique your interest: geographic tongue. It's a rare condition that causes the appearance of red patches on the tongue surface, surrounded by grayish-white borders, and which look a lot like continents on a map (hence the name). But although it may look odd, geographic tongue won't harm your health.
The condition is also known as benign migratory glossitis, so named because it's not cancerous and the patches seem to move or “migrate” around the tongue surface. The most common causes are thought to be stress or hormonal disruptions in those predisposed to the condition. Many researchers believe zinc or vitamin B deficiencies in the body contribute to its occurrence. It also seems more prevalent among non-smokers and pregnant women, as well as occurring as a family trait.
The red patches are created by the temporary disappearance of some of the papillae, tiny bumps on the tongue's top surface. The patches can abruptly appear during a flareup and then disappear just as suddenly. But as “angry” as the patches may look, geographic tongue is not considered a health danger. It isn't normally painful, although people can experience stinging or numbing sensations emanating from the patches that can be mildly uncomfortable.
Because it's also rare, you're not likely to encounter it personally. But if you or a loved one does begin to notice red patches on the tongue, there are a few things you can do to lessen any accompanying irritation. For one, cut out foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, eggplant, mint or highly spicy or acidic foods, all of which have been known to increase discomfort. You might also avoid astringents like alcohol or mouthwashes that likewise irritate the patches when they occur.
Although geographic tongue can't be cured, your dentist can help you manage symptoms when they arise with the help of prescribed anesthetic mouthwashes, antihistamines or steroid lozenges. These not only can help lower any discomfort or irritations, they may also lessen the duration of a flareup.
For the most part, geographic tongue usually causes more embarrassment than physical discomfort. But with a little help from your dentist, you can keep it to a minimum. Geographic tongue may be odd, but it's nothing to worry about.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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 “Geographic Tongue: No Cause For Alarm.”
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.