Root canal treatments are the go-to procedures dentists use to treat a tooth with advanced internal decay that has resulted in the pulp (nerve) dying. And for good reason: root canals are responsible for saving millions of teeth that would otherwise be lost.
In the basic root canal procedure, dentists make access into a tooth's interior with a small hole drilled into the crown. They then remove all diseased tissue within the pulp chamber and root canals. These now empty spaces are then filled, and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent further infection.
This is usually a straightforward affair, although it can be complicated by an intricate root canal network. In those cases, the skills and microscopic equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canals, may be needed to successfully perform the procedure.
But there are also occasional cases where it may be inadvisable to use a conventional root canal procedure to treat an endodontic infection. For example, it may be difficult to retreat a root canal on a restored tooth with a crown and supporting post in place. To do conventional root canal therapy, it would be necessary to take the restoration apart for clear access, which could further weaken or damage the remaining tooth's structure.
In this and similar situations, a dentist might use a different type of procedure called an apicoectomy. Rather than access the source of infection through the tooth's crown, an endodontist approaches the infection through the gums. This is a minor surgical procedure that can be performed with local anesthesia.
Making an incision through the gums at the level of the affected root, the endodontist can then remove any infected tissue around the root, along with a small portion of the root tip. They then place a small filling and, if necessary, grafting material to encourage bone growth around the area. The gums are then sutured in place and the area allowed to heal.
An apicoectomy is another way to attempt saving a tooth that's well on its way to demise. Without it or an attempt at a conventional root canal treatment, you might lose your tooth.
If you would like more information on treating advanced 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
Bad news at your last dental visit: You have a decayed tooth. And not just in the enamel—the decay has invaded the tooth's inner pulp and the resulting infection is threatening the supporting bone structure.
You're thinking that tooth is toast. Then comes the good news: your dentist believes the tooth can be rescued with a root canal treatment.
But then you begin thinking about how often Uncle Sid says he'd rather undergo a colonoscopy than have a root canal. Is the procedure really as painful and uncomfortable as popular culture says it is? What is a root canal really like?
First step: Things go numb. Uncle Sid is wrong: A root canal treatment is painless because your dentist will first make sure the entire area involving the tooth is anesthetized. This does involve injecting the local anesthetic deep within the tissues, but you won't even feel the needle prick thanks to topical anesthesia applied to the surface gums.
Second step: Drilling deep. After applying a protective dam to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors, your dentist will drill a small access hole through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp and root canals. If it's one of the larger back teeth, the access hole is usually drilled in the tooth's biting surface; in a front tooth, the hole is usually located on the tongue side.
Third Step: Removing diseased tissue. Using special instruments, your dentist will remove the diseased tissue in the pulp and root canals, essentially stopping the infection and any tooth pain you've been experiencing. The empty pulp chamber and canals are often then disinfected with a special antibacterial solution.
Fourth Step: Protecting the tooth. After some shaping, the pulp chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling to prevent further infection. The access hole is then filled and sealed to complete the procedure. At some point in the future, the tooth typically will need a crown to add support and further protection.
You may have some minor discomfort afterward, but this can usually be managed with a mild pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. After a week or so, you'll be good as new—and so will 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
If you’ve suffered from problems with your jaw joints, known collectively as temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), then you know how uncomfortable and painful they can be. You may also have heard about the use of Botox injections to ease TMD discomfort.
Before you seek out Botox treatment for TMD, though, you should consider the current research on the matter. Far from a “miracle” treatment, the dental profession is still undecided on the effects of Botox to relieve TMD pain symptoms — and there are other risks to weigh as well.
Botox is an injectable drug with a poisonous substance called botulinum toxin type A derived from clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that causes muscle paralysis. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved small dose use for some medical and cosmetic procedures, like wrinkle augmentation. The idea behind its use for TMD is to relax the muscles connected to the joint by paralyzing them and thus relieve pain.
The FDA hasn’t yet approved Botox for TMD treatment, although there’s been some use for this purpose. There remain concerns about its effectiveness and possible complications. In the first place, Botox only relieves symptoms — it doesn’t address the underlying cause of the discomfort. Even in this regard, a number of research studies seem to indicate Botox has no appreciable effect on pain relief.
As to side effects or other complications, Botox injections have been known to cause pain in some cases rather than relieve it, as with some patients developing chronic headaches after treatment. A few may build up resistance to the toxin, so that increasingly higher dosages are needed to achieve the same effect from lower dosages. And, yes, Botox is a temporary measure that must be repeated to continue its effect, which could lead to permanent paralyzing effects on the facial muscles and cause muscle atrophy (wasting away) and even deformity.
It may be more prudent to stick with conventional approaches that have well-documented benefits: a diet of easier to chew foods; cold and heat applications; physical therapy and exercises; pain-relief medications and muscle relaxers; and appliances to help control grinding habits. Although these can take time to produce significant relief, the relief may be longer lasting without undesirable side effects.
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Every year 150,000 people, mostly women over age 50, find out they have a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia. For many it begins as an occasional twinge along the face that steadily worsens until the simple act of chewing or speaking, or even a light touch, sets off excruciating pain.
The source of the pain is the pair of trigeminal nerves that course along each side of the face. Each nerve has three separate branches that provide sensation to the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
The problem arises when areas of the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating covering on nerves, becomes damaged, often because of an artery or vein pressing against it. As a result, the nerve can become hypersensitive to stimuli and transmit pain at even the slightest trigger. It may also fail to stop transmitting even after the stimulation that caused it is over.
Although the condition may not always be curable, there are various ways to effectively manage it. The most conservative way is with medications that block the nerve from transmitting pain signals to the brain, coupled with drugs that help stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing.
If medication isn't enough to relieve symptoms, there may be some benefit from more invasive treatments. One technique is to insert a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent them from firing. Another microsurgical procedure attempts to relocate the nerve away from a blood vessel that may be compressing it.
The latter procedure has some higher risks such as facial numbness or decreased hearing, and is often better suited for younger patients. Older patients may benefit more from the needle insertion procedure previously mentioned or a directed beam of high-dose radiation to alter the nerve.
To learn the best options for you, you should first undergo a neurological exam to verify you have trigeminal neuralgia and to rule out other causes. From there, you and your doctor can decide the best course of treatment for your age and individual condition.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be an unpleasant experience. But there are tried and true ways to minimize its effect on your life.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
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