Complete Family Dentistry Blog - Waukesha , WI
Posts for: October, 2014
Today’s dentist can not only treat most dental diseases and conditions, but can almost prevent disease completely. Our true needs as a society, however, go beyond the dentist’s chair — to the lack of availability and affordability of care for every American.
That’s of grave concern to dentists — so much so that dentistry itself is already changing to meet these challenges.
In one of the most visible changes, we’re seeing accelerated technological advancement that could lower costs and extend our range of care. Advances in 3-D digital imaging are giving dentists amazingly detailed views of patients’ mouths that surpass the accuracy of traditional imaging. Telecommunications and the internet are enabling dentists in distant locations to examine patients and even review dental x-rays to guide treatment, providing a new level of care access for patients.
The means for delivering that care are also changing as the traditional paradigm of the solo practice becomes more difficult for new dentists to achieve. With educational debt and practice setup costs reaching as high as $1 million — before earning their first dollar — many dentists are joining larger groups or dental corporations. In these arrangements, practitioners don’t have the burden of overhead expenses and can concentrate mainly on their clinical work. On the downside, patients seeing multiple providers may not easily build that all important dentist-patient relationship that’s the hallmark of a solo practice. This alternative model could, however, increase the number of practicing dentists over time, making dental care more widely available.
Finally, we’re beginning to see greater collaboration between physicians and dentists. There’s an emerging understanding of the true interconnection of the body’s various systems: diseases of the mouth can affect other diseases of the body, and vice-versa. We’re also experiencing a growing development in salivary diagnosis, using this vital oral fluid to detect conditions and disease in other parts of the body. Dentists and physicians will be working more closely than ever to treat the whole person, not just individual systems — a collaboration that will improve patient care all around.
As these changes continue to emerge in dentistry, you may soon see their effects during your visits. One thing, however, won’t change — the commitment of dentists to provide the highest level of care, for both your oral and general health.
Our “baby” teeth begin appearing around six months of age — by age 10 or 13, they’ve largely been replaced by our permanent teeth. Though their lifespan is relatively short, baby teeth play an important role in our dental development. In fact, saving a damaged baby tooth is an extremely important treatment goal even though they will be eventually lost.
Baby teeth perform a number of functions as our mouth and facial structure develops during our formative years (infancy to early adulthood). Besides providing a means to chew food, baby teeth aid speech by providing contact points for the tongue while speaking. They help us relate to others socially through smiling and other facial gestures. And, in relation to our long-term development, they serve as both guides and “placeholders” for our permanent teeth until they’re ready to erupt.
Thus, a permanent tooth’s development could be stymied if its counterpart baby tooth is lost prematurely. It could come in misaligned or not erupt fully if adjacent teeth have drifted into the open space. The resulting malocclusion (bad bite) could require long-term orthodontic treatment with higher costs than treatments to save the baby tooth and avoid the misalignment.
There are various treatments to prevent and save at-risk baby teeth. Even a badly decayed tooth might be saved with a pulpotomy, a similar treatment to a root canal but less invasive. This is often followed with a stainless steel crown to cover the remaining tooth and restore some of its form and function.
If it’s not feasible to save a baby tooth, we may recommend installing a space maintainer that prevents other teeth from drifting into the resulting space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt. This orthodontic appliance usually consists of a metal band cemented to an adjacent tooth with an attached stiff wire loop that extends across the gap and rests against the tooth on the other side. Although effective, space maintainers can break or become dislodged, require extra monitoring and are often cosmetically unappealing.
In any event, the primary goal should be to save a baby tooth, if possible. Doing so will prevent more serious long-term problems for permanent teeth.
If there was an “Unsung Hero” award for dental procedures, the root canal treatment would win hands-down. Much aligned in popular culture, today’s root canal treatment is actually a valuable tool for saving teeth that would otherwise be lost. And contrary to popular belief, root canal treatments don’t cause pain — they relieve it.
To help you understand its true worth, here are some common questions and answers about the root canal treatment.
What problem does a root canal treatment fix?
A root canal treatment stops a bacterial infection that has invaded the innermost part of a tooth — the pulp — and is advancing toward the end of the root through small passageways known as root canals. Most people first notice the problem as a sharp pain in the affected tooth that may suddenly dissipate in a few days. The infection has attacked the inner pulp tissue, rich in nerve fibers; when the nerve fibers die they stop sending pain signals. The infection, however, hasn’t died: as it advances, you may then begin to experience pain when you bite down or when you encounter hot foods. You may also notice tenderness and swelling in nearby gums.
How does the procedure stop the infection?
A root canal treatment removes all the infected or dead tissue and cleanses the pulp chamber. We enter the pulp chamber through a small access hole created in the tooth’s biting surface. After tissue removal, we then “shape” and prepare the empty chamber and root canals (often with the aid of microscopic equipment) to be filled with a special filling. After filling, the tooth is then sealed to prevent re-infection (most often, we need to install a permanent crown at a subsequent visit for maximum protection).
How much pain can I expect during and after the procedure?
During the procedure, none — the tooth and surrounding gums are fully anesthetized before we begin the procedure. Afterward, you may experience mild discomfort for a few days that can be relieved with over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen.
What’s the ultimate value for a root canal treatment?
The procedure can save a tooth severely damaged by the infection. Even covered by an artificial crown, a living tooth continuing to exist and function normally within the mouth is usually more conducive for optimum oral health than an artificial tooth replacement.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment.”