Like other healthcare providers, dentists have relied for decades on the strong pain relief of opioid (narcotic) drugs for patients after dental work. As late as 2012, doctors and dentists wrote over 250 million prescriptions for these drugs. Since then, though, those numbers have shrunk drastically.
That’s because while effective, drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl are highly addictive. While those trapped in a narcotic addiction can obtain drugs like heroine illicitly, a high number come from prescriptions that have been issued too liberally. This and other factors have helped contribute to a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction involving an estimated 2 million Americans and thousands of deaths each year.
Because three-quarters of opioid abusers began their addiction with prescription pain medication, there’s been a great deal of re-thinking about how we manage post-procedural pain, especially in dentistry. As a result, we’re seeing a shift to a different strategy: using a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), particularly ibuprofen and acetaminophen, instead of a prescribed narcotic.
These over-the-counter drugs are safer and less costly; more importantly, though, they don’t have the high addictive quality of an opioid drug. A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) showed that when two NSAIDs were used together, the pain relief was greater than either drug used individually, and better than some opioid medications.
That’s not to say dentists no longer prescribe opioids for pain management following dental work. But the growing consensus among dental providers is to rely on the double NSAID approach as their first-line therapy. If a patient has other medical conditions or the NSAIDs prove ineffective, then the dentist can prescribe an opioid instead.
There’s often hesitancy among dental patients on going this new route rather than the tried and true opioid prescription. That’s why it’s important to discuss the matter with your dentist before any procedure to see which way is best for you. Just like you, your dentist wants your treatment experience to be as pain-free as possible, in the safest manner possible.
Tooth decay can wreak more havoc than just producing cavities. It can work its way into the innermost parts of the tooth — the pulp and tiny passageways called root canals that lead to the tooth's connection with the bone.
If that happens, you'll need more than “drilling and filling.” Without intervention, your tooth could be lost. That intervention is a root canal treatment, a procedure that removes the infection from within the tooth and preserves it from re-infection.
You've probably heard the old belief that root canal treatments are painful. With modern anesthetic techniques to deaden pain, that's not true. In fact, root canal treatments stop the pain caused by infected nerves within the pulp and root canals. More importantly, it saves your tooth.
Root canals can be performed by a general dentist. More extensive decay or complex root canal networks may require the services of an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in root canal anatomy and treatments. Endodontists have advanced techniques and equipment to handle even the most difficult case.
Regardless of who performs it, the basic procedure is the same, as is the goal: to completely remove all diseased tissue within the tooth and seal it with a special filling to prevent re-infection. To access the diseased pulp, we first drill an access hole, usually in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back of a front tooth. We then use specialized instruments to remove the infected tissue and flush out the space with antibacterial solutions.
We then insert a filling called gutta percha into the empty pulp chamber and root canals, seal off the filling with adhesive cement, and close the access hole with filling. These fillings and sealants prevent bacteria from reentering the tooth. For added protection against infection and fracturing, we also recommend placing a full-coverage dental crown. This also enhances the appearance of the tooth, which must be modified during the root canal procedure.
The end result: your once endangered tooth has been preserved for hopefully many years to come. So if we recommend you undergo a root canal treatment, don't wait — the tooth you save may be your own.
Seven out of ten Americans are missing at least one tooth due to decay, periodontal (gum) disease or injury. Unfortunately, the consequences go far beyond a missing tooth — the loss of even one could set in motion a cascade of problems.
Perhaps the most damaging of these problems is bone loss. Like other living tissue, bone has a life cycle — older cells dissolve (resorb) into the body and are replaced by fresher cells. This growth cycle in the jawbone receives stimulation from forces generated by teeth when we chew or bite. If a tooth is no longer present to provide this stimulation, the affected bone cells won’t regenerate at a healthy rate. Over time this causes the volume of bone to diminish, as much as 25% the first year after tooth loss.
The void left by a missing tooth can also adversely affect remaining teeth. Teeth are held in place by a tough but elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. The ligament enables teeth to move gradually in response to mouth changes so that the teeth remain tightly aligned with each other. When there’s a gap from a missing tooth, this tendency will cause the teeth on either side to move (or “drift”) toward the open space. Although a natural phenomena, it can result in a malocclusion (poor bite).
That’s why it’s important to replace a missing tooth with a life-like replica — not just for appearance’s sake, but also to improve function and prevent the rise of these other problems. While many options exist (from removable dentures to fixed bridges) the choice most preferred by dentists and patients is the dental implant.
An implant replaces the tooth root as well as the crown, because it’s imbedded securely into the jawbone. Because of a natural affinity with titanium, the principal metal used in implants, bone cells will grow to its surface. Not only will this anchor the implant more securely, it will slow or even stop bone loss.
If you have a missing tooth, you should visit us as soon as possible to consider your options for a replacement. A new tooth will help stop even greater problems from occurring.
If you would like more information on effects and treatment of tooth loss, 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
The American marketplace usually offers us plenty of buying choices — sometimes it seems too many. A case in point: the toothpaste aisle at your local supermarket.
It can be a bit overwhelming with all the razzle-dazzle packaging and exciting claims of “Whiter Teeth!” or “Fresher Breath!” But toothpaste really isn't that complicated, if you keep in mind its primary goal: to help you with your toothbrush remove disease-causing plaque from teeth surfaces.
And the vast majority can, thanks to ingredients you'll find in just about every brand. All toothpastes, for example, contain some form of abrasive material that boosts the mechanical action of brushing to remove plaque. This isn't new: the ancient Egyptians used ox-hoof ashes, burnt eggshells and pumice as abrasives. Today you'll find hydrated silica (originating from sand), hydrated alumina or calcium carbonate as abrasives on the ingredient list.
You also need some form of detergent to help loosen and break down substances that won't dissolve in water. Toothpaste detergent is much milder than that which you use on your dishes. The most common is sodium lauryl sulfate, a foaming agent found in shampoo and other beauty products. It's been used safely for half a century in toothpaste, although it can irritate the inner linings of some people's mouths. If this is a problem for you, you should look for toothpaste with a different detergent.
There is also a myriad of other ingredients, including binders, humectants (which help the toothpaste retain moisture) and flavorings. You may also find bleaching agents that help brighten your teeth, although they may not be strong enough to remove deep staining, something we would need to help you with.
And let's not forget one other frequent ingredient: fluoride. This natural chemical strengthens enamel and helps fight tooth decay as part of a disease prevention strategy. It's perhaps the most valuable ingredient you'll find in toothpaste, so make sure it's in your chosen brand.
If you want to simplify your decision, choose toothpaste with the seal of acceptance from the American Dental Association. The seal indicates the claims of the toothpaste manufacturer have been independently verified. You can trust those brands to help keep your teeth clean and free from disease. In the end, that's really what you want from your toothpaste.
If you would like more information on the right toothpaste for you, 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 “Toothpaste: What's in it?”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.