Posts for: September, 2013
Since the time of the ancient Egyptians, people have used mixtures of various substances in pursuit of a single goal: cleaning their teeth effectively. Today, even with a glut of toothpaste tubes on the supermarket shelf, most people seem to have a particular favorite. But have you ever thought about what's in your toothpaste, and how it works? Here are five facts you might not know.
1) Most toothpastes have a very similar set of active ingredients.
Once upon a time, a toothpaste might have contained crushed bones and oyster shells, pumice, or bark. Now, thankfully, they're a little different: today's toothpaste ingredients generally include abrasives, detergents and fluoride compounds, as well as inert substances like preservatives and binders. Toothpastes formulated to address special needs, like sensitive teeth or tartar prevention, have additional active ingredients.
2) Abrasives make the mechanical action of brushing more effective
These substances help remove stains and surface deposits from teeth. But don't even think about breaking out the sandpaper! Modern toothpastes use far gentler cleaning and polishing agents, like hydrated silica or alumina, calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphate. These compounds are specially formulated to be effective without damaging tooth enamel.
3) Detergents help break up and wash away stains
The most common detergent in toothpaste (which is also found in many shampoos) is sodium lauryl sulfate, a substance that can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil. Like the abrasives used in toothpaste, these detergents are far milder than the ones you use in the washing machine. Yet they're effective at loosening the stains clinging to your teeth, which would otherwise be hard to dissolve.
4) Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay
This has been conclusively demonstrated since it was first introduced into toothpaste formulations in 1914. Fluoride — whether it's in the form of sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate (MFP) — helps strengthen tooth enamel and make it more resistant to acid attack, which precipitates tooth decay. In fact, it's arguably the most important ingredient, and no toothpaste can receive the American Dental Association's Seal of Approval without it.
5) Look for toothpaste with the ADA seal
This means that the particular brand of toothpaste has proven effective as a cleaning agent and a preventative against tooth decay. Plus, if the package says it has other benefits, then research has verified that it does what it says. Oh, and one other thing — toothpaste doesn't work if you don't use it — so don't forget to brush regularly!
If you have questions about toothpastes or oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Toothpaste — What's In It?”
If you think you'd rather wrestle a pack of porcupines than go to the dentist for a root canal treatment — then maybe it's time to think again! This common procedure has been the butt of jokes for a long time. Let's set the record straight by answering some common questions about the much-maligned procedure.
Q: What is a root canal?
A: Coursing through the central part of each root is a hollow space or canal, which contains the pulp tissue. The pulp tissue contains the nerves which respond to temperature changes transmitted through the tooth. When the temperatures are extreme the nerves signal sensitivity and pain. It's also shorthand for the dental procedure that is performed when the pulp tissue that fills these canals develops a disease.
Q: Why do I need to get a root canal?
A: Because an infection or inflammation has developed deep inside one or more of your teeth. When the living pulp tissue — which contains nerves and blood vessels — becomes inflamed or infected, it can cause intense pain. It also releases bacterial toxins, which can lead to further problems.
Q: What happens if I don't get a root canal?
A: Your acute pain may temporarily go away, but the infection won't. It will eventually travel through the tooth's roots into the surrounding tissues. If left untreated, it may result in an abscess or even a systemic infection. That's why you need to take care of it now.
Q: Will it be painful?
A: Generally, a root canal procedure is no more painful than getting a filling. In fact, it starts the same way: An anesthetic is given to numb the tooth and the surrounding area. Then a small hole is made through the tooth's chewing surface and down into the canal. Diseased pulp tissue is removed through the hole via a set of tiny instruments. Finally, the root canal is cleaned, disinfected, filled with inert biocompatible material and sealed up.
Q: What happens after that?
A: Your tooth may be sensitive for a few days after the treatment, but the acute pain will be gone. Over-the-counter pain relievers generally work well for pain relief at this point. To restore your tooth to its fully-functioning state, a crown or other restoration is usually needed after root canal treatment. Properly done, the restored tooth can last as long as any of your natural teeth.
Q: Is there an alternative?
A: Yes. You can relieve the pain by having the tooth removed. But you don't want to go there. Tooth loss can lead to unwanted side effects, like migration of teeth, bone loss and eventually the inability to chew properly. It's far better to save your natural teeth when you can.
If you would like more information about root canals, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment” and “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”
You experience a painful toothache that lasts for a few days, but eventually the pain subsides. Since there's no longer any pain, there's no longer anything wrong with the tooth, right?
Maybe not — the toothache may be the result of a decay-induced infection that has developed deep in the pulp of the tooth. The infection inflames both the pulp tissue and the nerves bundled in it (a condition known as pulpitis). Because it occurs in an enclosed space, the pain is even more severe.
Now it's possible for the inflammation to subside and the nerves to heal, which would explain the pain subsiding. But there is another, more likely scenario: the infected pulp tissue can no longer fight the infection and dies. The affected nerves die also, which is why you no longer feel any pain — the dead nerves are no longer transmitting a signal to the brain. The infection, however, is very much alive and continues to advance deeper into the surrounding tissues where it may eventually develop into a painful abscess.
So, how can we determine which of these two scenarios you are actually experiencing? A visit to our office for testing is the surest way to find out. The most common test involves temperature sensation, usually with the application of ice to the affected tooth. If there's no sensation, then that's evidence the nerves in the tooth have died.
If that's the case, it's important then to take steps to stop the infection's advance before it does even more damage. The most likely treatment is a root canal, a procedure that accesses the pulp from the top of the tooth, removes the dead tissue, and then cleans and prepares the root canals for filling. This procedure can usually be performed in our office, but more involved cases may require an endodontist, a specialist in root canals.
In any case, if you experience a severe toothache, please have it examined. And remember — the absence of pain after a toothache doesn't necessarily mean the problem is gone.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of an acute toothache, 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 Severe Toothache.”
Have you been avoiding seeing a dentist because you are afraid that the visit might be unpleasant or painful? Are you unhappy with the appearance of your teeth and the health of your mouth, even envious of others who are able to visit their dentist without hesitation?
If you've answered yes to these questions, you are not alone. Many people experience some anxiety about visiting their dentist. Some fears are based on past negative experiences, indirectly influenced by family members or friends, or even by images seen in the movies. Regardless of the origin of your fear, we will work with you to turn negative perceptions or experiences into positive ones. The most important thing to remember is that allowing dental problems to remain untreated can have bad consequences, including toothache, infection, poor appearance and even general health complications.
We will listen to you and even encourage you to express your feelings. Tell us the details of your fear and anxiety. You won't be judged but, instead, we want to understand exactly what troubles you, so that together we help you overcome what is preventing you from getting the care you want and need.
You will be in control at all times and we will never rush you. First we'll spend the time necessary to get you comfortable, before we even do any dentistry. After all, attempting to rush through a procedure may only incite more anxiety, and that is the last thing we want to do! We want you to leave our office with the feeling that you can more comfortably see us again building on your last positive experience.
If you would like to talk to us about what's bothering you and begin working together towards a solution, please call us today to schedule a consultation. To learn more about how patients and dentists can work together to eradicate dental fear, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Overcoming Dental Fear & Anxiety.”