Posts for: April, 2016
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.”
Controlling discomfort during dental work is one of our top priorities. Advances in anesthesia over the last century have made that objective easier to attain, especially for routine procedures.
The term anesthesia means “without feeling or pain.” It refers to the use of substances to prevent a patient’s nervous system from sensing pain. There are two basic types: general, through intravenous injection (IV) or gas inhalation that places a patient in an unconscious state; and local, which only affects the part of the body involved in the procedure while the patient remains conscious.
The latter type has become very important in dentistry, especially for mild to moderate procedures. Because teeth and gum tissues are rich in nerves, patients can have a heightened level of sensitivity that can increase anxiety and discomfort during dental work. Local anesthesia reduces that discomfort and relaxes both patient and dental provider.
We typically administer local anesthesia in two ways: by applying the anesthetic to the outside tissue surface (with a cotton swab, patch or spray) or by injection. The first type, topical anesthesia, is most often used to eliminate the pricking discomfort of the needle used to inject the main anesthetic. Using both applications eliminates any painful sensation at all — the only thing you might feel is a slight pressure during the procedure.
As mentioned before, local anesthesia benefits us as well as you. Knowing you’re at ease and comfortable allows us to better focus on the procedure — we’re not rushed to finish to spare you further discomfort. A relaxed, unhurried atmosphere is essential to a successful outcome for any dental procedure.
We’ve also found solutions for another issue with local anesthesia that concerns patients: the length of time the numbing effect lingers after a procedure. In response, the dental profession has developed different types of anesthesia that reduce this after effect considerably. We’re also more selective about what procedures actually require anesthesia — some, like routine teeth cleaning or work on the outer enamel (which doesn’t contain nerves), can usually be performed without it.
All in all, local anesthesia reduces your level of discomfort and increases our ability to be thorough in performing your dental work. You’ll not only find the experience more pleasant, but it will also enhance the quality of your care.
If you would like more information on alleviating pain and discomfort during dental work, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”