Posts for: February, 2014
Tooth decay can be relentless: left untreated it can work its way into a tooth’s inner core — the pulp chamber or better known as the root canal. Once this occurs, the best course of action to save the tooth may be a root canal treatment to clean out the diseased pulp (nerve) and seal the canal from further decay.
So, what signs and symptoms might you encounter if decay has invaded a tooth’s root canal? When the pulp is first infected you may experience acute pain; over time, however, the pain may suddenly dissipate. This doesn’t mean the tooth has healed itself — quite the contrary, it may mean the infected pulp tissue, including the nerves, has died. Once the nerves die, they no longer transmit pain signals to the brain.
While the pain may cease, the infection hasn’t and will continue to travel from the end of the tooth root into the bone. At this point, you may encounter pain whenever you bite on the tooth. This time the pain is originating in nerves located in the periodontal ligament that surrounds the tooth root and joins the tooth with the jawbone. This can lead to an acute abscess (with accompanying pain) or a chronic abscess that may have no pain symptoms at all. As the decay progresses you may eventually suffer bone and tooth loss.
The important point here is that you may or may not notice all the signs and symptoms that indicate deep decay within a tooth. That’s why it’s important to undergo a thorough dental examination if you have any symptoms at all, especially acute pain that “mysteriously” disappears.
A root canal treatment and removal of the decayed tooth structure will stop the progress of tooth decay and preserve the tooth. The longer you delay, though, the greater the risk your tooth will eventually lose the battle with tooth decay and infection will continue to spread.
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 “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”
Did you know that you probably do at least one thing during the course of an average day that puts your healthy smile at risk? These are some of the more common offenders:
Coffee, Soda, and Sports Drink Consumption
If you really can’t give them up, try to consume these beverages with restraint. Their high acidity and/or sugar content can erode protective tooth enamel, making your pearly whites more prone to staining and decay. Even natural fruit juices should be consumed in moderation as they tend to be high in sugar and sometimes acidity (e.g. orange juice). Your best bet? Water, of course. It won’t damage your teeth and thanks to fluoridation may even help remineralize and fortify your enamel.
Brushing Immediately After Eating
If you were told to brush after every meal, forget it. Acids in foods and beverages can soften your enamel, and brushing may actually accelerate erosion. Wait at least an hour to brush, which is the time it generally takes for your oral pH to normalize and your tooth enamel to reharden. However, it is advisable after eating to floss and rinse out your mouth with plain water or a mineralized dental wash to help wash away food particles.
Jaw Clenching, Tooth Grinding, Pencil Chewing
These and similar “parafunctional” behaviors — outside the uses for which teeth are designed — can cause undue tooth wear and exert stresses that can cause chips and fractures. They can affect other parts of the oral system, too, potentially resulting in jaw joint pain and muscle spasms, headaches and other head and neck ailments.
It’s hard to cut out all high-sugar/high-acid foods and beverages, so where complete elimination isn’t possible, focus on moderation and try to consume them only during mealtime. Jaw clenching and other parafunctional behaviors are often subconscious and may be harder to control; in such cases an unobtrusive device like a clear occlusal (bite) guard can alleviate the problem.
If you would like more information about tooth damage and prevention please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Decay” and “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
Periodontal or gum disease is a serious condition that could lead to tooth and bone loss. Unfortunately, you may not even realize you have it — the disease in its early stages can be difficult to detect. If you know what to look for, however, a few signs can tell you something isn’t quite right.
Bleeding gums after brushing, for example, are a likely indication that your gum tissues are inflammed due to an infection caused by bacterial plaque. Coupled with chronic inflammation from the body’s response to the infection, the unhealthy tissues bleed easily.
As the disease progresses, you may also notice changes in your gums’ appearance: redness at the gum line, as well as some slight swelling. Receding gums expose more of the tooth below the enamel crown. As roots become exposed to the oral environment, you’ll begin to notice painful sensitivity to hot or cold. In time, the disease may cause bone loss producing other signs like loose teeth or teeth shifting from their original position.
In some cases, gum disease can cause a painfully acute abscess. This occurs when the bacterial infection becomes isolated in a pocket of space between the teeth and gums. As the body attempts to fight the infection, its defenses are overwhelmed and the abscess becomes painful, swollen and filled with pus.
If you encounter any of these signs, it’s important to take action quickly to minimize the damage and stop the disease’s progress. Our first priority is to remove as much bacterial plaque and calculus as possible and may consider antibacterial and antibiotic treatments. This may take more than one session, but it’s necessary in stopping the disease.
Long-term success, though, will depend on improved oral hygiene (brushing and flossing), regular office cleanings to remove difficult to reach plaque and calculus, and checkups to monitor the condition of your gums. You can also lower the risk of reoccurrence with improvements in diet and life-style (such as quitting smoking). Instituting better hygiene and lifestyle habits, as well as keeping alert to any signs of recurring disease will go a long way in preserving your teeth and overall oral health.
If you would like more information about periodontal disease and its effect on your 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 “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease.”
A substantial amount of research has recently pointed up the connection between oral health and systemic (whole-body) health. But recently, one study went a step further: It seems to show that having certain dental-health issues in middle age — for example, tooth loss and gum disease — could signal a deterioration in cognitive function.
Study author Gary Slade, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, summed it up: “We were interested to see if people with poor dental health had relatively poorer cognitive function, which is a technical term for how well people do with memory and with managing words and numbers,” he said in an interview with U.S. News and World Report. “What we found was that for every extra tooth that a person had lost or had removed, cognitive function went down a bit. The same was true [for] patients with severe gum disease.”
Does this mean that losing teeth is a little like losing brain cells? Not really, because it isn’t clear which condition occurred first… or even if one caused the other. For example, it could be that a poor diet is responsible for both poor dental health and a decline in cognitive ability; on the other hand, there could be a genetic link between both conditions. Or, it could simply mean that people with cognitive difficulties don’t take good care of their teeth.
Still, the association is intriguing — especially because it echoes some previous studies, which indicate that systemic inflammation could be a major cause of both problems. What’s the oral-systemic connection? No one is exactly sure yet, but research suggests a relationship between periodontal disease and other diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The common link may be bacteria: The same microorganisms that cause problems in the mouth might be able to spread through the body, producing a low-grade inflammation — one that’s waiting for the right conditions to burst into fire.
So, should you rush out and grab everything off the drugstore’s oral health products shelf? Well, we wouldn’t necessarily go that far… but here’s a more sensible suggestion: Take good care of your teeth and gums. Both tooth decay and periodontal disease can cause a number of problems with your health — yet both can be treated effectively… and they’re largely preventable!
If you haven’t visited our office in a while, why not come in for an exam? When you do, ask us what’s the best way to keep your smile looking great and feeling clean and healthy. Our goal is to help you maintain proper oral hygiene — for life. If you would like more information about oral health and systemic diseases, call our office for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart & Gum Diseases.”