What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the month of May? Balmy breezes? Sweet-smelling flowers? How about root canal treatment?
The last item might seem out of place…but for the last ten years, Root Canal Awareness week has been celebrated in May. So let’s take a closer look at this important—and often misunderstood—dental procedure.
What we commonly call a “root canal” is a special treatment that can save diseased teeth which might otherwise be lost. But the root canal itself is actually a set of hollow, branching passages deep inside the hard outer tissue of the tooth. The tiny “canals” contain the tooth’s soft pulp, including nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. These tissues help teeth grow during childhood but aren’t necessary in healthy adult teeth—and, what’s worse, they can become infected via deep cavity or a crack in the tooth’s outer layers.
When bacteria infect the pulp tissue, the inflammation often causes intense discomfort. In time, the harmful microorganisms can also pass through the tooth’s root and into the tissue of the jaw, resulting in a painful abscess. Eventually, if it isn’t treated, the tooth will likely be lost.
Root canal treatment is designed to remove the infection, relieve the pain…and save the tooth. It is usually performed under anesthesia for your comfort. To begin the procedure, a small hole is made in the tooth’s enamel to give access to the pulp; then, tiny instruments are used to remove the diseased tissue and disinfect the tooth. Finally, it is sealed up against re-infection. Following treatment, a cap (or crown) is often needed to restore the tooth’s full function and appearance.
Despite some rumors you may have heard, root canal treatment is neither very painful nor likely to cause other health problems. So if you come across these discredited ideas, remember that dentists and dental specialists called endodontists perform some 25 million root canal procedures every year—and this treatment method has been validated for decades.
Of course, like any medical procedure, root canal treatment is not 100% successful. While the procedure has a very high success rate, it’s possible that additional treatments will be needed in some cases. However, the alternative—extracting the tooth—has similar potential downsides; plus a replacement tooth will be needed to avoid the health and lifestyle troubles caused by missing teeth. But one thing is certain: Ignoring disease in the tooth’s soft tissues isn’t a good move, because the infection won’t go away on its own—and down the road it will only get worse.
So this May, while you’re taking time to smell the flowers, spare a thought for the often-misunderstood root canal. If you’d like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Recently, a number of new filling materials that mimic tooth color have come into popular use and, so far, have proven more durable than past versions. Even so, the traditional metal-based dental amalgam remains a viable choice, especially for less visible back teeth and their higher biting forces.
Used for more than a century, dental amalgam is a metal alloy composed of silver, mercury, tin and copper. The mixture is carefully proportioned so that potentially hazardous mercury is kept to a minimum and bonded with the other metals. Amalgam in its initial form is quite pliable so that it can be molded into the tooth structure under repair. Afterward it sets hard to form a durable filling that can withstand the daily force generated when we bite and chew food.
Besides durability, dental amalgam rarely causes an allergic reaction in a patient, and it’s easy for trained dentists to apply. On the downside, however, it can cause temporary temperature sensitivity in the tooth just after filling, and the tooth itself may require some removal of healthy structure to help keep the filling in place. And from an aesthetic point of view, its metallic appearance is considered unattractive especially for front teeth.
The presence of mercury in amalgam has also raised concerns over the years. “Free” mercury — atoms that escape through vapor emitted by the metal — can enter the bloodstream and potentially harm the nervous system. But after extensive study and research, U.S. and international health bodies including the American Dental Association have concluded any free mercury released during chewing is extremely low and well below any harmful levels. These studies have also found no ill effects in either children or adults with dental amalgam fillings.
Deciding on the type of filling material to use — dental amalgam or a newer composite resin, resin ionomer or glass ionomer — depends on a number of factors including the location of the teeth to be filled, the extent of decay and your personal preferences. Taking these into account, we’ll be happy to discuss which type of filling will suit you best for repairing decayed teeth.
If you would like more information on filling material options including dental amalgam, 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 “Silver Fillings — Safe or Unsafe?”
Daily fatigue or complaints of your snoring from family have led you to see your doctor about the problem. After an exam and a test session in a sleep lab, your problem now has a name — obstructive sleep apnea.
This common sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat over-relax during sleep. The relaxed tissues obstruct air flow to the trachea (windpipe) and cause “apnea,” where you cease to breathe. The lack of oxygen causes you to wake, even for a micro-second, to begin breathing again. This may occur multiple times throughout the night, diminishing the quality of your sleep and leading not only to drowsiness and daily fatigue but also contribute to cardiovascular disease or other systemic conditions.
The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine while you sleep. The machine delivers pressurized air to a face mask you wear while you sleep; the additional pressure keeps the airway open. However, a CPAP machine does have a few disadvantages, including discomfort while attached to the machine, nasal congestion and dryness, or claustrophobia. These effects can be so pronounced for some patients, they’re unable to adjust themselves to the machine.
If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, there may be an alternative — a custom-fitted oral appliance we manufacture for you to wear in your mouth while you sleep. The appliance pulls the lower jaw forward resulting in a wider opening of the airway. In addition to being less cumbersome than a CPAP mask, an oral appliance is easier to wear, compact in size for easy travel and doesn’t require electricity.
While an oral appliance is an effective alternative to a CPAP machine for many patients, it does have a few disadvantages including problems with saliva flow (too much or too little), muscle or teeth soreness and minor tooth or jaw movement. Still, an oral appliance might be the right solution to relieve your sleep apnea over the long-term.
If you would like more information on treatments for sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Sleep Apnea FAQs.”