Posts for: January, 2017
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.”
Children have a lot of energy that's often channeled through physical activities and sports. Unfortunately, this also increases their risk of injuries, particularly to their teeth.
Injuries to the mouth can endanger permanent teeth's survival. For an older tooth, a root canal treatment might be in order. Not so, though, for a pre-adolescent tooth, even if it is permanent.
A young permanent tooth is still developing dentin, the large layer just below the enamel. This growth depends on the connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves within the pulp in the center of the tooth. Because a root canal treatment removes all of this tissue, it could stunt dentin and root growth and endanger the tooth's future.
Instead, we may need to treat it with one of a number of modified versions of a root canal, depending on what we find. If the tooth's pulp is unexposed, for example, we may need only to remove the damaged dentin, while still leaving a barrier of dentin to protect the pulp. We then apply an antibacterial agent to minimize infection and fill in the area where we've removed tooth structure.
If some of the pulp is exposed, we may perform a pulpotomy to remove just the affected pulp and any overgrown tissue. We then place a substance that encourages dentin growth and seal it in with a filling. If we go deeper toward the root end, we might also perform procedures that encourage the remaining pulp to form into a root end to stabilize the tooth.
If the entire pulp has been damaged beyond salvage, we may then turn to a procedure called an apexification. In this case we clean out the pulp chamber; at the root end we place mineral trioxide aggregate (MTA), a growth stimulator that encourages surrounding bone to heal and grow. We then fill in the root canals and chamber with a special filling called gutta percha to seal the tooth.
The deeper we must penetrate into the pulp, the higher the chances the young tooth's dentin and roots won't form properly, leading to later problems and possible loss. But by employing the appropriate one of these methods, we can minimize the risk and give your child's damaged tooth a fighting chance.
If you would like more information on children and dental injuries, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”