Let's say you have a diseased tooth you think might be on its last leg. It might be possible to save it, perhaps with a significant investment of time and money. On the other hand, you could have it replaced with a life-like dental implant.
That seems like a no-brainer, especially since implants are as close as we have to natural teeth. But you might want to take a second look at salvaging your tooth—as wonderful as implants are, they can't beat the real thing.
Our teeth, gums and jaws form an intricate oral system: Each part supports the others for optimum function and health. Rescuing a troubled tooth could be the best way to preserve that function, and replacing it, even with a dental implant, a less satisfying option.
How we save it will depend on what's threatening it, like advanced tooth decay. Caused by bacterial acid that creates a cavity in enamel and underlying dentin, decay can quickly spread into the tooth's pulp and root canals, and eventually threaten the supporting bone.
We may be able to stop decay and save the tooth with a root canal treatment. During this procedure, we remove diseased tissue from the pulp and root canals through a drilled access hole, and then fill the empty spaces. We then seal the access and later crown the tooth to protect it against future infection.
A second common threat is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria in dental plaque infect the outer gums and, like tooth decay, the infection quickly spreads deeper into the root and bone. The disease weakens gum attachments to affected teeth, hastening their demise.
To treat gum disease, we manually remove built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). This deprives the infecting bacteria of their primary food source and “starves” the infection. Depending on the disease's advancement, this might take several cleaning sessions and possible gum surgery to access deep pockets of infection around the root.
Because both of these treatment modalities can be quite in-depth, we'll need to assess the survivability of the tooth. The tooth could be too far gone and not worth the effort and expense to save it. If there is a reasonable chance, though, a rescue attempt for your troubled tooth might be the right option.
If you would like more information on whether to save or replace a tooth, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Today's dental restorations are truly amazing. Not only are they life-like and functional, they can endure for many years a hostile environment of bacteria, acid and heavy biting forces.
Even so, you'll still need to take care of your restorations to help them last. Here's how to extend the life of 3 common forms of dental work.
Fillings. We use fillings, both metal amalgam and tooth-colored materials, to repair holes or cavities in teeth caused by tooth decay. Although strong, dental fillings can break if you subject them to abnormally high biting force (like chewing ice). There's also a chance that if a slight separation occurs between the filling and tooth, bacteria can take up residence and reignite the decay process. To prevent this, practice a daily regimen of oral hygiene to clean away bacterial plaque—and reduce sugar in your diet, a prime food source for bacteria.
Veneers. Usually made of thin porcelain, veneers are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other blemishes. But although they're strong, veneers aren't immune to damage. Habits like biting nails, the aforementioned ice chewing or unconsciously grinding your teeth could cause a chipped veneer. And if periodontal (gum) disease causes your gums to recede, the exposed part of the tooth may look noticeably darker than the veneer. To protect your veneers and their appearance, avoid habits like ice chewing, and seek treatment for teeth grinding and dental disease.
Bridgework. Bridges are used to replace one or more missing teeth. Traditional bridges use the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge; for a single missing tooth, implants are a preferable option because they don't require permanently altering the neighboring teeth to support it. With either option, though, you should brush and floss around the restoration to reduce the risk of dental disease. Infections like gum disease or tooth decay could eventually weaken the bridge's supporting teeth or gum disease can damage an implant's gum and bone support.
With any dental restoration, be sure to practice daily oral hygiene, eat a nutritious, low-sugar diet, and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. Taking care of your dental work will help it take care of you for a long time to come.
You've heard it. Your parents heard it—maybe even your grandparents too. Dentists have been alerting people for more than half a century that high sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay.
That message hasn't changed because the facts behind it are the same in the 2020s as they were in the 1950s: The bacteria that cause tooth decay feast on sugar and other leftover carbohydrates in the mouth. This causes them to multiply and increase their production of acid, which softens and erodes tooth enamel.
What has changed though, especially over the last couple of decades, is a growing understanding of how sugar consumption may affect the rest of the body. Just like the evidence of sugar's relationship to tooth decay, current scientific studies are now showing there are strong links between sugar and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
What's startling about what researchers are finding is that cases of these diseases are growing, Especially in younger people. This is a parallel trend to our skyrocketing increases in per capita sugar consumption: the average American now eats the equivalent of 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Health experts generally agree we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day, and children 4.
This is vastly more than we consumed a generation ago. One reason is because processed food manufacturers have increased sugar in their products, hiding under technical, unfamiliar names in ingredient lists. But it's still sugar, and an estimated 74% of processed foods contain some form of it.
But the real surge in sugar has come from our increasing consumption of sodas, as well as energy and sports beverages. These beverages are high in sugar—you can meet your daily allowance with just one 12-oz can of soda. These beverages are now the leading source of sugar in our diets, and, according to experts, a highly dangerous way to consume it.
In effect, dentists of old were on to something: too much sugar is bad for your teeth. It now turns out that it may be bad for your overall health too. Strictly limiting it in your family's diet could help lower your risk of tooth decay and dangerous diseases like diabetes.
Although techniques and materials have changed, dentists still follow basic principles for treating tooth decay that date from the late 19th Century. And for good reason: They work. These principles first developed by Dr. G.V. Black—the "father of modern dentistry"—are widely credited with saving millions of teeth over the last century.
One of the most important of these treatment protocols is something known as "extension for prevention." In basic terms, it means a dentist removes not only decayed tooth structure but also healthy structure vulnerable to decay. But although effective in saving teeth, practicing this principle can result in loss of otherwise healthy tissue, which can weaken the tooth.
But with new advances in dentistry, decay treatment is getting an overhaul. While Dr. Black's time-tested protocols remain foundational, dentists are finding new ways to preserve more of the tooth structure in a concept known as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
Better diagnostic tools. Because tooth decay can ultimately infect and damage the tooth's interior, roots and supporting bone, the best way to preserve more of the tooth structure is to treat it as early as possible. Now, new diagnostic tools like digital x-rays, microscopic magnification and optical scanning are helping dentists detect and treat decay earlier, thus reducing how much tissue is removed.
Better prevention methods. Oral hygiene and regular dental care are our basic weapons in the war with tooth decay. In addition, utilizing topical fluoride in combination with a milk-derived product called CPP-ACP dentists can get more of the cavity-fighting organic compound into the tooth enamel to strengthen it against acid attack.
Better treatment techniques. Using air abrasion (a fine particle spray that works like a miniature sandblaster) and lasers, dentists can now remove decayed structure with less harm to healthy tissue than with a traditional dental drill. And new, stronger dental fillings like those made with composite resins require less structural removal to accommodate them.
With these innovative approaches, dentists aren't just saving teeth, they're preserving more of their structure. And that can improve your overall dental health for the long-term.
If you would like more information on minimally invasive dentistry, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
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