Posts for: August, 2018
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
While tooth loss can occur at any age, replacing one in a younger patient requires a different approach than for someone older. It’s actually better to hold off on a permanent restoration like a dental implant if the person is still in their teens.
This is because a teenager’s jaws won’t finish developing until after nineteen or in their early twenties. An implant set in the jawbone before then could end up out of alignment, making it appear out of place — and it also may not function properly. A temporary replacement improves form and function for now and leaves the door open for a permanent solution later.
The two most common choices for teens are a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded fixed bridge. RPDs consist of a plastic gum-colored base with an attached prosthetic (false) tooth matching the missing tooth’s type, shape and jaw position. Most dentists recommend an acrylic base for teens for its durability (although they should still be careful biting into something hard).
The fixed bridge option is not similar to one used commonly with adult teeth, as the adult version requires permanent alteration of the teeth on either side of the missing tooth to support the bridge. The version for teens, known as a “bonded” or “Maryland bridge,” uses tiny tabs of dental material bonded to the back of the false tooth with the extended portion then bonded to the back of the adjacent supporting teeth.
While bonded bridges don’t permanently alter healthy teeth, they also can’t withstand the same level of biting forces as a traditional bridge used for adults. The big drawback is if the bonding breaks free a new bonded bridge will likely be necessary with additional cost for the replacement.
The bridge option generally costs more than an RPD, but buys the most time and is most comfortable before installing a permanent restoration. Depending on your teen’s age and your financial ability, you may find it the most ideal — though not every teen is a good candidate. That will depend on how their bite, teeth-grinding habits or the health of surrounding gums might impact the bridge’s stability and durability.
A complete dental exam, then, is the first step toward determining which options are feasible. From there we can discuss the best choice that matches your teen’s long-term health, as well as your finances.
Radiographic (x-ray) images are an indispensible diagnostic tool in dentistry. One of the most routine and useful types of x-rays dentists take is the so-called bitewing. Here are some things you may want to know about this common diagnostic procedure.
What are bitewing x-rays?
Bitewings reveal the presence and extent of decay in the back teeth, specifically in areas where adjacent teeth touch each other. Unlike other areas of the teeth, these contacting surfaces between adjacent teeth can’t be examined visually. Bitewings can also show areas of bone loss around teeth — a sign of periodontal disease; however, they are not taken for that purpose because bitewings will not show the complete root surface that is surrounded by bone.
Why are they called that?
The name “bitewing” refers to how the film — or sensor, in the case of a digital x-ray — is positioned in the mouth: The patient bites down on a little tab or wing that holds the apparatus in place.
How often do I need them?
This is determined on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of not exposing you to any more radiation than necessary — even the minimal amount found in a series of bitewing x-rays. Your individual susceptibility to caries (tooth decay) and personal dental history will play a major role in determining how frequently you need radiographic examination — and, for that matter, how often you need to come in for routine cleanings and exams.
Are they safe?
The safety of bitewing x-rays is best illustrated with a comparison to the regular daily radiation exposure we get every day from environmental sources, which is about 0.01 millisieverts — the unit of measure we use for radiation. A series of 4 bitewing x-rays exposes you to 0.004 millisieverts of radiation — less than half of the daily exposure. Undetected tooth decay, which can spread quickly through the softer inner layers of teeth, is considered much more dangerous!
If a bitewing x-ray shows that there is tooth decay, what happens next?
If the cavity is very small, we may be able to treat it during the same appointment. If not, we will make a separate appointment to make sure it is taken care of promptly. The sooner tooth decay is treated, the better!