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.”
For generations, dentures have helped people avoid the dire consequences of total teeth loss. Now, implant technology is making them even better.
Composed of life-like prosthetic teeth fixed within a plastic or resin gum-colored base, dentures are manufactured to fit an individual patient’s mouth for maximum fit, comfort and performance. But dentures also have a critical drawback—they can’t stop bone loss in the jaw.
Bone is constantly regenerating as older cells dissolve and then are replaced by newer cells. In the jawbone, the forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this new cell growth. When teeth are missing, though, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus and may not regenerate at a healthy rate, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can’t transmit this chewing stimulus to the bone. In fact, the pressure they produce as they rest on top of the gums may actually accelerate bone loss. Over time then, a denture’s once secure and comfortable fit becomes loose.
In the past, most patients with loose dentures have had them relined with new dental material to improve fit, or have new dentures created to conform to the changed contours of the jaws. But implant technology now offers another alternative.
Implants are in essence a tooth root replacement. Dentists surgically implant a titanium metal post directly into the jawbone that naturally attracts bone cells to grow and adhere to it over time (a process called osseointegration). This not only creates a secure and lasting hold, it can also stop or even reverse bone loss.
Most people know implants as single tooth replacements with a porcelain crown attached to the titanium post. But a few strategically placed implants can also support either removable or fixed dentures. Removable dentures (also called overdentures) usually need only 3 or 4 implants on the top jaw and 2 on the bottom jaw for support through built-in connectors in the dentures that attach to the implants. A fixed bridge may require 4-6 implants to which they are permanently attached.
There are pros and cons for each of these options and they’re both more expensive than traditional dentures. In the long run, though, implant-supported dentures could be more beneficial for your bone health and hold their fit longer.
Famed educator Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the work of the child”—and most kids take their “work” very seriously. But their avid enthusiasm might also raise the risk of blunt force injuries, particularly to the mouth.
While you should certainly take steps to protect their mouth (like a custom-made guard for contact sports), you can’t completely erase the risk. You should know, therefore, what to do in case of a mouth injury.
The lips, tongue, and other soft oral tissues often get the brunt of any contact injury, ranging from minor bruising and swelling to severe cuts that require medical attention. First, clean the area as thoroughly as possible to remove trapped dirt or debris in the wound. If bleeding occurs, apply continuous gentle pressure with a clean cloth or gauze for 10-15 minutes until it stops, and cold compresses for any swelling. If the wound looks deep or severe, take them to an emergency room.
Blunt force can also impact teeth in a variety of ways. If part of a tooth chips, attempt to find the pieces and see a dentist as soon as possible—they may be able to bond the pieces back to the tooth. If a tooth gets moved out of place, call your dentist immediately or go to an emergency room after hours.
If a permanent tooth gets completely knocked out, find it and rinse off any debris with clean water. Then, place it gently back into its socket, or alternatively between the child’s cheek and gum or in a glass of cold milk. You’ll need to see a dentist as soon as possible to have the tooth replanted. With this kind of injury, time is of the essence.
A hard impact can also fracture the jawbone, which may be suspected if the face appears distorted or the teeth can’t make contact with each other when the jaws are shut. Control any bleeding, apply cold compresses or mild pain relievers to ease any pain or swelling, and go to an emergency room immediately.
A traumatic injury can heighten everyone’s emotions, including yours. You can avoid your emotions turning into panic, though, by following these common sense guidelines to help your child get through this unfortunate event.
Dental implants are best known as restorations for single missing teeth. But there’s more to them than that—they can also be used to support and secure removable dentures or fixed bridges.
That’s because a dental implant is actually a root replacement. A threaded titanium post is inserted directly into the jawbone where, over time, bone cells grow and adhere to it. This accumulated bone growth gives the implant its signature durability and contributes to its long-term success rate (95%-plus after ten years). It can support a single attached crown, or serve as an attachment point for a dental bridge or a connector for a removable denture.
The method and design of implants differentiates it from other restoration options. And there’s one other difference—implants require a minor surgical procedure to insert them into the jawbone.
While this might give you pause, implant surgery is no more complicated than a surgical tooth extraction. In most cases we can perform the procedure using local anesthesia (you’ll be awake the entire time) coupled with sedatives (if you have bouts of anxiety) to help you relax.
We first access the bone through small incisions in the gums and then create a small channel or hole in it. A surgical guide that fits over the teeth may be used to help pinpoint the exact location for the implant.
We then use a drilling sequence to progressively increase the size of the channel until it matches the implant size and shape. We’re then ready to insert the implant, which we remove at this time from its sterile packaging. We may then take a few x-rays to ensure the implant is in the right position, followed by closing the gums with sutures.
There may be a little discomfort for that day, but most patients can manage it with over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen. It’s what goes on over the next few weeks that’s of prime importance as the bone grows and adheres to the implant. Once they’re fully integrated, we’re ready to move to the next step of affixing your crown, bridge or denture to gain what you’ve waited so long for—your new implant-supported smile.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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: What to Expect Before, During and After.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
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