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There’s one sure thing about tooth decay: you can’t ignore it. In fact, the best outcomes result from finding it early and treating it before it enters the pulp in the center of the tooth, often a filling or similar treatment.
If it does advance to the pulp, you may need a root canal treatment to save the tooth. This is a moderately invasive procedure where we access the pulp and root canals, tiny passageways leading to the root and supporting bone. We then remove all the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling. Later we’ll crown the tooth for added protection against future infection or fracture of the tooth.
But there’s also another less-invasive method than a root canal called pulp capping. It’s only appropriate to use, however, if the pulp has become exposed or almost exposed by decay, but hasn’t yet shown signs of disease.
Pulp capping can be either direct or indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the healthy pulp has been exposed by the disease process. We first isolate the tooth from the rest of the mouth to prevent contamination and then proceed to remove all of the tooth’s decayed dentin structure. We then apply a biocompatible material directly over the pulp to protect it from further decay and to facilitate healing. We then restore the tooth, usually with a filling, to its proper function and life-like appearance.
When the pulp is threatened by decay but not yet exposed, we may then use the indirect method. In this approach we first remove most of the decayed dentin, but leave a small amount next to the pulp to keep it covered. We then treat this remaining dentin with a material to help it heal and re-mineralize, followed by a temporary filling of the tooth. A few months later we’ll remove this filling and inspect the treated dentin. If it has regenerated sufficiently, we remove any remaining decay and permanently restore the tooth.
As we said, pulp capping is only used with patients with deep decay whose pulp tissue is healthy. But when we can use it we can avoid some of the permanent alterations that often come with a root canal treatment and still save the tooth.
If you would like more information on treatments for 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that May Save a Decayed Tooth.”
People with diabetes have special concerns when it comes to dental care. In fact, 1 in every 5 cases of total tooth loss is linked to this widespread health condition. November is National Diabetes month, so it’s a good opportunity for us to answer some frequently asked questions about oral health and diabetes.
Q. Can I get a dental implant to replace a missing tooth even if I have diabetes?
A number of studies have shown that people with diabetes can be good candidates for dental implants, but there are some concerns regarding dental implant treatment, which involves minor surgery. Wounds tend to heal more slowly in people with diabetes, who are also more infection-prone than those without diabetes. In diabetic individuals with poor glucose control, research has also shown that it takes longer for the bone to heal after implant placement. We will take these (and other) factors into account when planning your implant treatment. However, in many situations even poorly controlled diabetes does not necessarily preclude dental implant treatment.
Q. I’ve heard people with diabetes have a higher risk for gum disease. Is that true?
Yes. Research shows that people with diabetes are more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease, especially when their diabetes is poorly controlled. The reverse is also true: untreated periodontal disease can worsen blood sugar levels. So it’s important to manage both of these inflammatory conditions. If you notice the early signs of gum disease, such as inflamed or bleeding gums, please bring this to our attention. Early gum disease (gingivitis) is much easier to treat than more advanced forms—which can eventually lead to tooth loss.
Q. If I have diabetes, how can I protect my oral health?
Keep doing your best to control your blood sugar levels with exercise and a healthy diet—and stick to an effective daily oral hygiene routine, which includes both brushing and flossing and coming in for regular dental checkups and cleanings. Make sure to let us know what medications you are taking and update us on any changes. If you notice any mouth sores, swelling or inflammation, bring this to our attention as soon as possible.
Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Even with wear and tear from years of eating and biting they can continue to function properly and look attractive well into your senior years.
Teeth are resilient thanks in part to enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. But the gums also contribute to this resilience: besides attractively framing the teeth, they protect the dentin and roots below the enamel covering.
Unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or “recede” from their normal place. Not only does this look unattractive, the recession can also expose teeth to disease and cause tooth sensitivity to temperature changes or biting pressure.
There are a number of causes for gum recession, some of which you may have little control over. If, for example, your teeth come in off center from their bony housing, the gum tissues may not develop around them properly. You might also have inherited a thinner type of gum tissue from your parents: thinner tissues are more delicate and susceptible to recession.
But there are other causes for which you have more control. Over-aggressive brushing (too hard for too long), ironically, does more harm than good as it can injure your gums and cause them to recede. More likely, though, your recession is a direct result of neglecting proper hygiene for your teeth and gums.
When teeth aren't properly cleaned through daily brushing and flossing, a thin film of bacteria and food remnant called plaque builds up on tooth surfaces. This can trigger periodontal (gum) disease, which subsequently causes the gum tissues to detach from the teeth and often recede.
To reduce your risk of gum disease, you should gently but thoroughly brush and floss daily, and visit us for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. If you have a poor bite (malocclusion), consider orthodontic treatment: malocclusions make it easier for plaque to accumulate and harder to remove.
Above all, if you begin to see signs of gum problems — swelling, bleeding or pain — see us promptly for an examination and treatment. Dealing with these issues early is the best way to ensure your gums continue to do their jobs for the long-term.