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.”
Here’s a sobering statistic: you have a 50/50 chance over your lifetime for developing periodontal (gum) disease. And it’s much more serious than irritated gums: if not treated aggressively you could experience bone loss, which can not only lead to tooth loss but actually increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Initially, you may not notice any symptoms unless you know what to look for: mainly red and puffy gums that frequently bleed during brushing and flossing. As the infection advances into the underlying support structures that hold teeth in place you may also notice receding gums (moving away from your teeth causing them to look longer), pus around the gums or lingering bad breath or taste. And one or more loose teeth are a definite sign the supporting structures have weakened severely.
So, how does gum disease happen? It starts with bacteria. Your mouth contains millions of these and other microorganisms, most of which are friendly and even beneficial. Unfortunately, a fraction of them can infect and harm tissues like the gums and underlying bone. Your mouth’s defenses can normally handle them if their numbers remain low. But a bacterial population explosion can quickly overwhelm those defenses.
Bacteria are like any other life form: they need a secure environment and food. Disease-causing bacteria establish the former by utilizing proteins and other components of saliva to form a sticky biofilm on teeth known as plaque. Within the safe haven of dental plaque bacteria quickly multiply and form a complex and concentrated ecosystem feeding on remnant food particles, especially sugar and other carbohydrates.
The key to gum disease prevention (as well as treatment) is to deprive bacteria of their home and food source by removing plaque and its more hardened form calculus (tartar). You can manage plaque buildup by brushing and flossing daily, seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings to remove any remaining hard-to-reach plaque and calculus, and eating a nutritious diet with fewer sweets or other carbohydrate-rich snacks.
You can further lower your disease risk by avoiding smoking and other tobacco products and moderating your consumption of alcohol. And be sure to see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any signs of infection with your gums. Taking these steps can help you avoid gum disease’s destructiveness and help preserve a healthy and attractive smile.
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
You’ve recently learned one of your teeth needs a root canal treatment. It’s absolutely necessary: for example, if you have decay present, it will continue to go deeper within the tooth and it will spread to the roots and bone and could ultimately cause you to lose your tooth. Although you’re a little nervous, we can assure you that if we’ve recommended a root canal treatment, it’s the right step to take for your dental health.
There’s nothing mysterious — or ominous — about a root canal. To help ease any fears you may have, here’s a step-by-step description of the procedure.
Step 1: Preparing your mouth and tooth. We first take care of one of the biggest misconceptions about root canals: that they’re painful. We completely numb the tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia to ensure you will be comfortable during the procedure. We isolate the affected tooth with a thin sheet of rubber or vinyl called a rubber dam to create a sterile environment while we work on the tooth. We then access the inside of the tooth — the pulp and root canals — by drilling a small hole through the biting surface if it’s a back tooth or through the rear surface if it’s in the front.
Step 2: Cleaning, shaping and filling the tooth. Once we’ve gained access we’ll clear out all of the dead or dying tissue from the pulp and root canals, and then cleanse the empty chamber and canals thoroughly with antiseptic and antibacterial solutions. Once we’ve cleaned everything out, we’ll shape the walls of the tiny root canals to better accommodate a filling material called gutta-percha, which we then use to fill the canals and pulp chamber.
Step 3: Sealing the tooth from re-infection. Once we complete the filling, we’ll seal the access hole and temporarily close the tooth with another filling. Later, we’ll install a permanent crown that will give the tooth extra protection against another infection, as well as restore the tooth’s appearance.
You may experience some mild discomfort for a few days after a root canal, which is usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen. In a week or so, you’ll hardly notice anything — and the tooth-threatening decay and any toothache it may have caused will be a distant memory.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
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.