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.”
Lots of people don’t know that April is National Stress Awareness Month; don’t fret if you’re one of them. For many, stress is already a common feature of everyday life. According to the American Psychological Association, 62% of Americans are stressed at their jobs, and stress has been estimated to cause the loss of some 275 million working days every year.
In addition to its other negative physical and mental consequences, stress can also spell trouble for your oral health. It may lead to the problems of teeth clenching and grinding, which dentists call bruxism. A habitual behavior that can occur in the daytime or at night, bruxism is thought to affect perhaps one in ten adults. While the evidence that stress causes bruxism is not conclusive, there’s a strong case for the linkage.
Bruxism sometimes causes symptoms like headaches, soreness or pain in the jaw muscles or joints, and problems with fully opening the mouth. It can be detected in the dental office by excessive tooth wear, and/or damage to tooth surfaces or dental work. Grinding or tapping noises heard at night may indicate that someone is grinding their teeth while sleeping. In children, nighttime bruxism is common and not necessarily a reason for concern; in adults, it may be more troubling.
So what can you do if you’re experiencing this problem? If you find yourself clenching and grinding during the daytime, simply becoming more aware of the behavior and trying to limit it can help. A bit of clenching during times of stress isn’t abnormal, but excessive grinding may be reason for concern. Many of the same techniques used to relieve stress in other situations—such as taking a step back, talking out your issues, and creating a calmer and more soothing environment—may prove helpful here as well.
Occasionally, prescription drugs may cause bruxism as an unwanted side effect; in this case, a medical professional may recommend changing your medication. The use of stimulants like coffee and mood altering substances like alcohol and illicit drugs have also been associated with teeth grinding—so if you’re having this issue, consider foregoing these substances and making healthier lifestyle choices.
There are also a number of dental treatments that can help protect your teeth from excessive grinding. The most common is an occlusal guard or “night guard.” This is a custom-fabricated appliance made of plastic that fits comfortably over your teeth. Usually worn at night, it keeps your teeth from actually coming into contact with each other and being damaged. Occasionally, additional treatments such as bite adjustment or orthodontics may be recommended to help solve the problem.
If you would like more information about teeth clenching and grinding, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
You’ve decided to obtain dental implants for your missing teeth. It’s a good choice — they provide the closest restoration to the function and appearance of natural teeth. You will, however, need to undergo a surgical procedure to imbed the implants’ threaded titanium posts into supporting bone.
It’s understandable if you’re a little apprehensive about undergoing surgery. We’re here, though, to set your mind at ease: implantation is a relatively minor procedure carefully planned in advance. Most patients experience no discomfort during the procedure and very little afterward.
We begin by completely numbing the surgical site with a local anesthetic. If you have a high level of anxiety, we can also administer a sedative or similar medication to help you relax. We then access the underlying bone through a series of incisions that create a flap in the gum tissue that we’ll later suture closed.
It’s quite common to have prepared a surgical guide or template beforehand. The template placed in the mouth marks the exact site for a small channel (or hole) we create in the bone. We then incrementally increase the size of the hole by drilling until it matches precisely the implant’s size and shape. This takes time to avoid overheating and damaging the bone.
We then remove the implant from its sterile packaging and insert it into the opening. We’ll also take x-rays to ensure correct positioning, which is critical for achieving an attractive result. We then suture the gum flap in place using stitches that will eventually dissolve. The implant will then integrate with the bone for a few weeks to create a strong, durable hold before we continue with the restoration.
Most patients can manage any post-surgical discomfort with mild anti-inflammatory pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen, although we can prescribe something stronger if you need it. We may also prescribe a mouthrinse with an anti-bacterial agent like chlorhexidine for you to use while the gums are healing to reduce the risk of infection.
Implant surgery is part of a long process that will eventually result in regaining the function of your lost teeth. What’s more, undergoing this minor procedure will also help you regain something just as important — a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on dental implant restoration, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery.”
There are a lot of ways to improve the appearance of your teeth. Some methods can be quite involved like crowns or bridgework, which require extensive alteration of teeth to accommodate them.
Other methods, though, can achieve stunning results with less tooth reduction or alteration to your teeth. Porcelain veneers are one such alternative that literally puts a new face on your teeth. A dental veneer is a thin layer of restorative material (usually porcelain) that is bonded to the outside of a tooth to cover blemishes. They’re an excellent choice for dealing with otherwise healthy teeth with mild to moderate chipping, wearing, staining or slight misalignment.
Veneers can be fashioned to match the shape and texture of the prepared tooth, as well as coloring that blends with neighboring teeth. They’re created by skilled dental lab technicians who use porcelain powder mixed with water to create layers of pliable porcelain laminated together to achieve the appropriate thickness and shape. The veneer is then oven-fired to produce a strong, durable product.
Their use in various dental situations does require some tooth preparation, though normally not as much as other restorative measures — usually no more than 0.5 mm of surface enamel. Removing this small amount will ensure the veneer doesn’t look too thick and bulky once bonded to the tooth.
There are some situations, though, where veneers aren’t the best choice: because they’re mainly a cosmetic solution, they can’t remedy problems like poor tooth position and bite or large discrepancies in root position. And teeth that are heavily decayed may require more extensive dental work to repair and preserve them.
In the right situation, though, veneers can make a huge difference to your smile and last for years, as long as you practice effective oral hygiene and don’t subject them to abnormal biting force (no cracking hard shell nuts with them — they can shatter). In skilled hands, veneers can transform your teeth from embarrassing to dazzling.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Smile Design Enhanced with Porcelain Veneers.”
In aggressive cases of gum disease, a surgical procedure is often needed to reverse the progression of bone loss. But it’s not always necessary to have invasive periodontal surgery to cure gum disease if you have it treated in the earliest stages. You may be a candidate for the non-surgical treatments available at Apple Valley Dental serving Lucerne Valley, CA.
Gum Disease Signs and Symptoms
While tooth decay generally threatens a tooth from the inside, gum disease threatens it from the outside. The supporting gum structure that holds the tooth in its socket becomes compromised by bad bacteria, causing the tooth to lose its stability over a period of time. Here are a few of the signs and symptoms of gum disease:
- The gums look red and irritated.
- Blood frequently shows up after brushing or flossing.
- The gums start to separate from the teeth, creating deep pockets.
- The mouth has an unusually unpleasant taste and odor.
In serious cases of gum disease, periodontal surgery may not be avoidable. But in the earlier stages, your Apple Valley and Lucerne Valley dentist will likely try one or more of these non-surgical treatments:
- Scaling and root planing (a deep cleaning that removes hardened calculus).
- Laser therapy (laser targets bad tissue while leaving good tissue unharmed).
- Antibiotic therapy (medication that controls the bacteria that causes bone loss).
- Gum grafting (adding natural or artificial gum tissue to make the gumline stronger).
Preventing Gum Disease
If you have a family or personal history of gum disease, there are steps you can take to prevent gum disease in the future. Observe these tips:
- Floss as often as you brush to stop plaque in its tracks, and do a very thorough job each time.
- Eat foods that promote good bone and gum health, including calcium, potassium, and vitamin A, C, and D.
- Join a smoking cessation program so that you can eliminate tobacco products from your routine.
Explore Your Options
Find out more about the non-surgical solutions available for patients who have been diagnosed with gum disease. Call (760) 247-6007 today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Samuel Kim at Apple Valley Dental serving Lucerne Valley, CA.
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