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.”
Dental implants are considered the best tooth replacement option available. An implant replaces the root of a tooth and allows for the replacement of the crown via attachments or abutments. They not only look like a real tooth, they function like one too.
Implants, though, for some are a significant investment and may be well beyond a person's financial means if they've experienced a sudden tooth loss. For that reason, many opt for a less expensive tooth replacement option like a removable partial denture.
Later when they can afford it, a person might consider an implant. But this could pose a complication. When a tooth is missing for some time, the underlying bone doesn't rejuvenate normally because it no longer receives stimulation from the tooth. Over time, the amount of bone may diminish. Restorations like dentures can't stop this bone loss and actually aggravates it.
For proper positioning, an implant requires a certain amount of bone volume. So, it's quite possible when the time comes to replace the old restoration with an implant that there may not be enough bone available.
We may be able to overcome this bone loss with bone grafting and regeneration. A specialist such as a periodontist or oral surgeon accesses the area surgically and inserts bone graft material, usually processed material that's completely safe. Properly placed, the bone graft serves as a scaffold that, along with growth stimulators, encourages bone cells to grow.
When the bone grafting has healed enough, we're then able to place the implant. Once imbedded in the bone, one of the implant's unique qualities comes into play. The imbedded post is made of the metal titanium, which is not only bio-compatible with body tissues, it also has an affinity with bone. Bone cells will easily grow and adhere to the implant surface. This further boosts bone growth in the area and strengthens the implant's hold.
These extra procedures to build back lost bone do add to the cost and time for installing an implant. But if you're ready for a more permanent restoration for a missing tooth — not to mention better bone health — the extra time and money will be well worth it.
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.”
Our bodies wage a continuous war against enemies too small to be seen with the naked eye. If we’re healthy, our immune system will stop the vast majority of these microbial agents.
But some of them, viruses in particular, are so small and with certain characteristics that they can slip past our immune systems. Prevention — removing the opportunity for these viruses to gain entry into our bodies in the first place — is a key component in controlling infection.
Healthcare facilities, including dental offices, are primary battlegrounds in this war. In recent years, the stakes have increased as viral infections that cause the liver disease hepatitis (B and C) and HIV that causes the auto-immune disorder AIDS are on the rise. Although different in effect, these viruses spread in much the same way — when the blood of an infected person comes in contact with the bloodstream of another person.
The risk for this exposure is higher in situations when there’s a break in the skin. Blood transfusion, surgery centers and similar facilities with invasive procedures require high standards of protection to prevent viral transmission between people.Â This includes dental clinics — even a routine hygienic cleaning can become a conduit for viral infection.
As a result, the more than 170,000 dental providers across the country have adopted strict infection control standards that conform to the National Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, as well as state and local regulations. These standards detail such issues as wearing protective equipment and clothing (like disposable gloves, gowns or facemasks), cleaning and sterilizing instruments, or disposing of bio-hazardous waste.
High infection control standards are also promoted by the professional boards and organizations of dental providers, like the American Dental Association, and are a requirement for continued membership.Â As a result, infection occurrences from dental visits or procedures are extremely rare.
We understand you may have concerns. We’re glad to discuss with you our procedures for infection control and how we’re following the highest standards to keep you and our staff safe. We’re making sure the care you receive for your teeth and gums doesn’t lead to another health problem.
If you would like more information on dental infection control practices, 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 “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
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