As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can 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.”
While it's possible for a teenager to lose a tooth from decay, it's more common they'll lose one from an accidental knockout. If that happens to your teenager, there are some things you should know to achieve a good outcome.
Our top concern is to preserve the underlying bone following tooth loss. Like other tissues, bone has a life cycle: older cells dissolve and are absorbed by the body (resorption), then replaced by new cells. The biting pressure generated when we chew helps stimulate this growth. But bone around a missing tooth lacks this stimulation and may not keep up with resorption at a healthy rate.
This can cause a person to lose some of the bone around an empty tooth socket. To counteract this, we may place a bone graft at the site. Made of bone minerals, usually from a donor, the graft serves as a scaffold for new bone growth. By preventing significant bone loss we can better ensure success with a future restoration.
Because of its lifelikeness, functionality and durability, dental implants are considered the best of the restoration options that can be considered to replace a missing tooth. But placing an implant during the teen years is problematic because the jaws are still growing. If we place an implant prematurely it will appear to be out of alignment when the jaw fully matures. Better to wait until the jaw finishes development in early adulthood.
In the meantime, there are a couple of temporary options that work well for teens: a removable partial denture (RFP) or a fixed modified bridge. The latter is similar to bridges made for adults, but uses tabs of dental material that bond a prosthetic (false) tooth to the adjacent natural teeth to hold it in place. This alleviates the need to permanently alter the adjacent natural teeth and buy time so that the implant can be placed after growth and development has finished.
And no need to worry about postponing orthodontic treatment in the event of a tooth loss. In most cases we can go ahead with treatment, and may even be able to incorporate a prosthetic tooth into the braces or clear aligners.
It's always unfortunate to lose a tooth, especially from a sudden accident. The good news, though, is that with proper care and attention we can restore your teenager's smile.
If you would like more information on how to treat lost teeth in teenagers, 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 “Dental Implants for Teenagers.”
Porcelain veneers are a great way to enhance an unattractive smile. But are they appropriate for teenagers? The answer usually depends on a patient’s current development stage and the type of veneer used.
Veneers are thin layers of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth. But even though quite thin, they can appear bulky if we don’t first remove some of the tooth’s enamel surface. This is irreversible, so the tooth may require a restoration from then on.
This could be a major issue for teens whose permanent teeth are still developing. During this period the tooth’s central pulp is relatively large and the dentin layer not fully developed. As a result, the pulp’s nerves are often closer to the surface than in an adult tooth. This increases risk of nerve damage during veneer preparation; if nerve damage occurs, the tooth could ultimately require a root canal treatment to save it.
On the other hand, some types of veneers don’t require tooth alteration (or only very little) beforehand. These “no-prep” or “minimal prep” veneers are best for certain situations like abnormally small teeth, so we must first determine if using such a veneer would be appropriate for your teen.
In effect, we’ll need to weigh these and other factors before determining if veneers are a safe choice for your teen. That being the case, it may be more advisable to consider more conservative cosmetic techniques first. For example, if enamel staining is the main issue, you could consider teeth whitening. Although the often amazing results eventually fade, whitening could still buy some time until the teeth have matured to safely apply veneers.
Slight deformities like chipping can often be corrected by bonding tooth-colored composite material to the tooth. In artistic hands it’s even possible to create a full veneer effect with very little if any tooth preparation. How much we can apply, though, depends on tooth size, and it won’t be as durable as a porcelain veneer.
With that said, veneers could be the right solution to enhance your teen’s smile. But, we’ll need to carefully consider their dental situation to ensure their new smile remains a healthy one.
Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ), located where your lower jaw meets the skull, play an essential role in nearly every mouth function. It’s nearly impossible to eat or speak without them.
Likewise, jaw joint disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD) can make your life miserable. Not only can you experience extreme discomfort or pain, your ability to eat certain foods or speak clearly could be impaired.
But don’t assume you have TMD if you have these and other symptoms — there are other conditions with similar symptoms. You’ll need a definitive diagnosis of TMD from a qualified physician or dentist, particularly one who’s completed post-graduate programs in Oral Medicine or Orofacial Pain, before considering treatment.
If you are diagnosed with TMD, you may then face treatment choices that emanate from one of two models: one is an older dental model based on theories that the joint and muscle dysfunction is mainly caused by poor bites or other dental problems. This model encourages treatments like orthodontically moving teeth, crowning problem teeth or adjusting bites by grinding down tooth surfaces.
A newer treatment model, though, has supplanted this older one and is now practiced by the majority of dentists. This is a medical model that views TMJs like any other joint in the body, and thus subject to the same sort of orthopedic problems found elsewhere: sore muscles, inflamed joints, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems. Treatments tend to be less invasive or irreversible than those from the dental model.
The newer model encourages treatments like physical therapy, medication, occlusive guards or stress management. The American Association of Dental Research (AADR) in fact recommends that TMD patients begin their treatment from the medical model rather than the dental one, unless there are indications to the contrary. Many studies have concluded that a majority of patients gain significant relief with these types of therapies.
If a physician or dentist recommends more invasive treatment, particularly surgery, consider seeking a second opinion. Unlike the therapies mentioned above, surgical treatments have a spotty record when it comes to effectiveness — some patients even report their conditions worsening afterward. Try the less-invasive approach first — you may find improvement in your symptoms and quality of life.
If you would like more information on treating TMD, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
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