Root canals often get a bum rap. Although the procedure saves millions of teeth every year, it's often erroneously portrayed as an unpleasant experience. And if that wasn't enough, a long-discredited medical theory has found new life on the internet asserting root canals are a health danger.
First off, root canals play an immensely important role in treating teeth with advanced decay. If not promptly treated, a cavity can turn into a major infection of the interior tooth pulp and root canals, and ultimately the supporting bone. Teeth with this level of decay are not long for this world.
A root canal treatment stops this disease process in its tracks. After numbing the tooth and surrounding gums, we drill a small hole into the tooth's interior and then remove all of the infected tissue within the pulp and root canals. After disinfecting these areas, we fill them with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha.
After sealing off the access hole—and later capping the tooth with a life-like crown—the tooth is secure from further decay. And, by the way, the procedure doesn't hurt, thanks to local anesthesia. If anything, any pain caused by the decay attacking the tooth's nerves has now been alleviated.
So, what about the idea floating on the Web that root canals are dangerous? The "root" for this conjecture is a theory by Weston Price, an early 20th Century dentist, that leaving a "dead" body part in the body leads to various health problems (including cancer). That would include a root-canaled tooth, which has had the living tissue in the pulp removed.
There's just one problem—Weston's theory was fully investigated in the 1950s and overwhelmingly discredited. The supposed cancer threat was also reviewed in a 2013 study, which found no link between root canals and increased cancer risk. In fact, dental patients who had undergone several root canals had a diminished risk.
Like all other health procedures, root canals have some risks of complication. But those complications are far from life-threatening—it's tooth-saving benefits are often worth the risk. So, fear not if your dentist says you need a root canal. It won't hurt and it won't endanger your health—and it could save your tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal therapy, 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 Canal Safety.”
There are plenty of hilarious videos of groggy patients coming out of wisdom teeth surgery to keep you occupied for hours. While many of these have turned everyday people into viral video stars, every now and then it really is someone famous. Recently, that someone was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
The NFL star underwent oral surgery to remove all four of his third molars (aka wisdom teeth). His wife, performer and supermodel, Ciara, caught him on video as he was wheeled to recovery and later uploaded the clip to Instagram. As post-wisdom teeth videos go, Wilson didn't say anything too embarrassing other than, "My lips hurt."
Funny videos aside, though, removing wisdom teeth is a serious matter. Typically, the third molars are the last permanent teeth to erupt, and commonly arrive late onto a jaw already crowded with other teeth. This increases their chances of erupting out of alignment or not erupting at all, remaining completely or partially submerged within the gums.
This latter condition, impaction, can put pressure on the roots of adjacent teeth, can cause abnormal tooth movement resulting in a poor bite, or can increase the risk of dental disease. For that reason, it has been a common practice to remove wisdom teeth preemptively, even if they aren't showing any obvious signs of disease.
In recent years, though, dentists have become increasingly nuanced in making that decision. Many will now leave wisdom teeth be if they have erupted fully and are in proper alignment, and they don't appear to be diseased or causing problems for other teeth.
The best way to make the right decision is to closely monitor the development of wisdom teeth throughout childhood and adolescence. If signs of any problems begin to emerge, it may become prudent to remove them, usually between the ages of 16 and 25. Because of their location and root system, wisdom teeth are usually removed by an oral surgeon through one of the most common surgeries performed each year.
This underscores the need for children to see a dentist regularly, beginning no later than their first birthday. It's also a good idea for a child to undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. Both of these types of exams can prove helpful in deciding on what to do about the wisdom teeth, depending on the individual case.
After careful monitoring throughout childhood and adolescence, the best decision might be to remove them. If so, take it from Russell Wilson: It's worth becoming the star of a funny video to protect both current and future dental health.
Although the air we breathe has one destination—the lungs—it can arrive there via two possible routes: through the nose or the mouth. In terms of survival, it matters little through which path air travels—just so it travels one of them!
In terms of health, though, breathing through the nose is more beneficial than through the mouth, and is our default breathing pattern. The nasal passages filter minute noxious particles and allergens. Air passing through these passages also produces nitric oxide, a gaseous substance that relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.
On the other hand, chronic mouth breathing during childhood can impact oral health. While breathing through the nose, the tongue rests against the roof of the mouth and thus becomes a mold around which the upper jaw and teeth develop. But mouth breathing places the tongue on the lower teeth, which deprives the upper jaw of support and can lead to an abnormal bite.
So why would people breathe through their mouth more than their nose? Simply put, it's more comfortable to do so. Because breathing is so critical for life, the body takes the path of least resistance to get air to the lungs. If obstructions caused by allergic reactions or swollen tonsils or adenoids are blocking the nasal pathway, the action moves to the mouth.
But chronic mouth breathing can often be treated, especially if addressed in early childhood. This may require the services of an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) and possible surgical intervention to correct anatomical obstructions. It's also prudent to have an orthodontist evaluate the bite and institute corrective interventions if it appears a child's jaw development is off-track.
Even after correcting obstructions, though, it may still be difficult for a child to overcome mouth breathing because the body has become habituated to breathing that way. They may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), which retrains the muscles in the face and mouth to breathe through the nose.
Chronic mouth breathing isn't something to be ignored. Early intervention could prevent future oral and dental problems and help the person regain the overall health benefits for nose breathing.
If you would like more information on overcoming chronic mouth breathing, 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 “The Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”
Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations?”
We Americans spend billions on oral hygiene products each year, primarily to fight tooth decay and gum disease. But there's also a secondary motive—to freshen our breath. Our obsession with our breath's olfactory quality has even given rise to National Fresh Breath Day on August 6.
Bad breath is usually not a serious health issue, but it can be a big deal in other respects. In a recent Match.com survey, more than a third of its 5,000 respondents said fresh breath was their top concern during a date.
Romance aside, bad breath can also adversely affect other social and career relationships. Given that, it's no wonder we buy mints and mouthwashes by the ton. Unfortunately, much of what people purchase only masks breath odor without addressing the underlying cause.
While serious conditions like diabetes, liver disease or cancer can give rise to it, the primary source of bad breath is oral bacteria. Many of the hundreds of bacterial strains inhabiting our mouths generate volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) with a smell akin to rotten eggs or decaying animal or vegetable matter. The longer these bacteria remain in the mouth, the more VSCs and their unpleasant odors they create.
Bacteria mainly thrive in a thin film of food particles known as dental plaque. It can build up quickly on tooth and gum surfaces, particularly with ineffective or non-existent oral hygiene. Dental plaque also causes tooth decay or gum disease, which may also contribute to unpleasant mouth odors.
Chronic dry mouth, in which the body isn't producing enough saliva, also encourages bacterial growth. Among its many functions, saliva's antibacterial compounds reduce bacterial populations. Without sufficient saliva, though, VSC-producing bacteria can run amok.
There's nothing wrong with swishing some mouthwash or popping a breath mint before a big meeting. But if you really want to alleviate bad breath, it's better to take direct action against the oral bacteria causing it.
The best thing you can do is maintain a daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. This should also include cleaning the top surface of your tongue, which can be a prime hiding place for bacteria, particularly at the back of the tongue. You can simply brush your tongue with your toothbrush or use a special tongue scraper.
You should also keep up regular dental visits, which include cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). You should also see the dentist to treat any occurring dental diseases or conditions, including chronic dry mouth.
Fresh breath has everything to do with a clean, healthy mouth. Keeping it so can help you avoid those embarrassing odors.
If you would like more information about how to better keep your breath fresh, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
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