My Blog

By John G. Masak, DDS
May 20, 2020
Category: Dental Procedures
WhatReallyHappensDuringaRootCanalTreatment

Bad news at your last dental visit: You have a decayed tooth. And not just in the enamel—the decay has invaded the tooth's inner pulp and the resulting infection is threatening the supporting bone structure.

You're thinking that tooth is toast. Then comes the good news: your dentist believes the tooth can be rescued with a root canal treatment.

But then you begin thinking about how often Uncle Sid says he'd rather undergo a colonoscopy than have a root canal. Is the procedure really as painful and uncomfortable as popular culture says it is? What is a root canal really like?

First step: Things go numb. Uncle Sid is wrong: A root canal treatment is painless because your dentist will first make sure the entire area involving the tooth is anesthetized. This does involve injecting the local anesthetic deep within the tissues, but you won't even feel the needle prick thanks to topical anesthesia applied to the surface gums.

Second step: Drilling deep. After applying a protective dam to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors, your dentist will drill a small access hole through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp and root canals. If it's one of the larger back teeth, the access hole is usually drilled in the tooth's biting surface; in a front tooth, the hole is usually located on the tongue side.

Third Step: Removing diseased tissue. Using special instruments, your dentist will remove the diseased tissue in the pulp and root canals, essentially stopping the infection and any tooth pain you've been experiencing. The empty pulp chamber and canals are often then disinfected with a special antibacterial solution.

Fourth Step: Protecting the tooth. After some shaping, the pulp chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling to prevent further infection. The access hole is then filled and sealed to complete the procedure. At some point in the future, the tooth typically will need a crown to add support and further protection.

You may have some minor discomfort afterward, but this can usually be managed with a mild pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. After a week or so, you'll be good as new—and so will your tooth.

If you would like more information on root canal therapy, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”

ReducingYourChildsDentalAnxietyNowCouldBenefitThemforaLifetime

If you're a parent, raising kids can be a great adventure. It can also rev up your stress meter in a heartbeat. One area in particular can give you heartburn: your child's lack of enthusiasm for visiting the dentist.

Dental anxiety in varying degrees in children isn't uncommon. At times, it can be difficult for everyone involved for a child to receive the dental care they need if they're in an upset or agitated state. Fortunately, though, there are things you can do to minimize your child's dental anxiety.

First, start regular dental visits as early as possible, usually around their first birthday. Children who begin seeing the dentist earlier rather than later are more apt to find the sights, sounds and other experiences of a dental office a routine part of life.

You might also consider using a pediatric dentist for your child. Pediatric dentists specialize in child dental care, and have specific training and experience interacting with children. Pediatric dental offices are also usually “kid friendly” with toys, videos, books and interior decorations that children find appealing.

Your attitude and demeanor during a dental visit can also have an effect on your child. Children in general take their cues for how to feel from their caregivers. If you're nervous and tense while with them at the dentist, they may take that as a sign they should feel the same way. In contrast, if you're calm and relaxed, it may help them to be calm and relaxed.

Along the same lines, your attitude and level of commitment to dental care, both at home and at the dentist, will rub off on them. The best way to do that is by setting the example: not only as you brush and floss every day, but during your own dental visits. Take them with you: If they see you're not anxious about your care, it may improve their own feelings about their care.

The main goal is to try to make your child's overall dental experience as positive and pleasant as possible. The benefits of this can extend far beyond the present moment into their adult lives.

If you would like more information on your child's dental care, 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 “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids.”

SedationTherapyCanHelpAnxiousPatientsGettheDentalCareTheyNeed

Dental visit anxiety is a serious problem: Half of all Americans admit to some level of dental fear, while 15% avoid dental care altogether due to acute anxiety. The harm this can cause to dental health is incalculable.

But dentists have a number of sedation techniques that can relax anxious patients and allow them to receive the care they need. Although often used together, sedation is slightly different from anesthesia, which aims to deaden pain sensation. The aim of sedation is to calm the emotions and state of mind.

Sedation isn't a new approach: Physicians have used substances like root herbs or alcohol to relieve anxiety since ancient times. Modern dentistry also has a long history with sedation, dating from the early 1800s with the first use of nitrous oxide gas.

Modern dental sedation has expanded into an array of drugs and techniques to match varying levels of anxiety intensity. At the milder end of the scale are oral sedatives, taken an hour or so before a dental appointment to produce a calmer state. This may be enough for some patients, or it can be used in conjunction with nitrous oxide.

For those with more intense anxiety, dentists can turn to intravenous (IV) sedation. In this case, the sedative is delivered directly into the bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted in a vein. This causes a quicker and deeper reaction than oral sedatives.

Although similar to general anesthesia, IV sedation does differ in significant ways. Rather than unconsciousness, IV sedation places a patient in a “semi-awake” state that may still allow them respond to verbal commands. And although the patient's vital signs (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) must be monitored, the patient doesn't need breathing assistance as with anesthesia.

There's one other benefit: The drugs used often have an amnesic effect, meaning the patient won't remember the treatment experience after recovery. This can be helpful in creating more pleasant memories of their dental experience, which could have its own sedative effect in the future.

Whether oral, gas or IV, sedatives are a safe and effective way to calm dental fears during treatment. That could help someone with anxiety maintain their oral health.

If you would like more information on reducing dental anxiety, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”

WhyAlfonsoRibeiroIsGratefulforRootCanalTreatment

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.”

DiabetesCanMakeGettinganImplantDifficultButNotImpossible

Over 26 million Americans have diabetes, a systemic condition that interferes with maintaining safe levels of blood sugar in the bloodstream. Over time, diabetes can begin to interfere with other bodily processes, including wound healing—which could affect dental care, and dental implants in particular.

Diabetes affects how the body regulates glucose, a basic sugar derived from food digestion that's the primary source of energy for cell development and function. Our bodies, though, must maintain glucose levels within a certain range — too high or too low could have adverse effects on our health. The body does this with the help of a hormone called insulin that's produced as needed by the pancreas to constantly regulate blood glucose levels.

There are two types of diabetes that interfere with the function of insulin in different ways. With Type I diabetes the pancreas stops producing insulin, forcing the patient to obtain the hormone externally through daily injections or medication. With Type II diabetes, the most common form among diabetics, the body doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't respond adequately to the insulin that's present.

As mentioned, one of the consequences of diabetes is slow wound healing. This can have a profound effect on the body in general, but it can also potentially cause problems with dental implants. That's because implants once placed need time to integrate with the bone to achieve a strong hold. Slow wound healing caused by diabetes can slow this integration process between implant and bone, which can affect the entire implantation process.

The potential for those kinds of problems is greater if a patient's diabetes isn't under control. Patients who are effectively managing their diabetes with proper diet, exercise and medication have less trouble with wound healing, and so less chance of healing problems with implants.

All in all, though, it appears diabetics as a group have as much success with implants as the general population (above 95 percent). But it can be a smoother process if you're doing everything you can to keep your diabetes under control.

If you would like more information on managing dental care with diabetes, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.





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