During this year's National Public Health Week in April, health issues like vaping and the opioid crisis are taking a back seat to what is front and center on everyone's mind: the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This highly contagious viral infection is upending business as usual for most of the world in a way unlike anything we've experienced. Nothing is “normal” right now, including dental care.
As with other aspects of daily life, you can expect disruptions in dental care because of COVID-19, especially involving routine visits. But with that said, we're working hard to ensure your teeth and gums aren't overlooked during this global crisis. We are here for you, so please call us for any questions you may have, and especially if you are experiencing dental pain.
If you do need to visit the dentist for treatment, you might be concerned about potentially exposing yourself or others to COVID-19. Like every business that interacts with the public and especially all healthcare providers, dental offices are implementing extra precautions during this time to protect both patients and staff against infection.
This isn't something new: The dental profession as a whole has strict protocols for preventing infection that have been in place for several years. Infection control is a top priority for dentists at all times, not just during outbreaks like COVID-19. Here are some of the things we do—and are expanding because of the novel coronavirus—to keep you safe during dental appointments.
Barrier protection. Dental providers routinely use disposable items like gloves, face masks or eyewear to prevent disease spread during procedures that involve close contact with patients. For extra precautions with COVID-19, we're adding more of this type of barrier protection.
Sterilization and waste disposal. Instruments and equipment that we use repeatedly are thoroughly sterilized to remove all microorganisms, including coronavirus, from their surfaces. For disposable items used during treatment, we keep these separate from common waste and dispose of them according to strict protocols for handling bio-medical waste.
Disinfection. Even though the main pathway for spreading COVID-19 is through respiratory droplets in the air, we're continually disinfecting office and treatment surfaces that the virus might potentially contaminate. In doing so, we're using substances recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). By the way, you can find a list of such products at //www.americanchemistry.com/Novel-Coronavirus-Fighting-Products-List.pdf.
These are uncertain times for all of us. But while we're cooperating with social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, we're still here partnering with you to keep your family's teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information about special dental precautions during this time, don't hesitate to contact us. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
Undergoing regular dental cleanings is an essential part of periodontal (gum) disease prevention. While a daily habit of brushing and flossing cleans bacterial plaque from most tooth surfaces, it’s difficult to remove from places your brush or floss can’t access well. That, as well as hardened plaque deposits known as calculus, must be removed by a hygienist or dentist with a technique known as scaling.
Scaling is traditionally performed manually using specialized hand instruments known as scalers. Although hand scalers are quite effective, they must be used carefully to avoid damage to gum tissue or, during deeper cleaning known as root planing, the tooth roots. A different method for plaque removal known as ultrasonic scaling has grown in popularity as an alternative to manual scaling.
Ultrasonic scaling uses equipment emitting vibrational energy that crushes and loosens plaque and calculus, and disrupts growing bacterial colonies in biofilm. Plaque particles are then washed away using water irrigation. The most recent models of ultrasonic scalers have matched the effectiveness of hand scaling in removing plaque and calculus in shallow gum pockets, and surpassed the manual technique in cleaning out pockets greater than 4 mm. In experienced hands, they’re kinder to tooth structure and other tissues. Water irrigation also improves healing by removing bacteria and scaling by-products, which also makes the area easier to view by the hygienist.
On the other hand, any type of power scaler must be used with caution with patients who have pacemakers, and are not recommended for those with hypersensitive teeth or teeth that are in the early stages of de-mineralization. The technique may also produce an aerosol of finely misted particles (with possible contamination) that requires added measures to contain them.
For most patients, though, ultrasonic scalers are an effective tool for plaque and calculus removal. As ultrasonic devices continue to evolve, patients will ultimately benefit from greater comfort and reduced treatment times.
If you would like more information on plaque removal with ultrasonic scalers, 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 Cleanings Using Ultrasonic Scalers.”
Tooth decay can wreak more havoc than just producing cavities. It can work its way into the innermost parts of the tooth — the pulp and tiny passageways called root canals that lead to the tooth's connection with the bone.
If that happens, you'll need more than “drilling and filling.” Without intervention, your tooth could be lost. That intervention is a root canal treatment, a procedure that removes the infection from within the tooth and preserves it from re-infection.
You've probably heard the old belief that root canal treatments are painful. With modern anesthetic techniques to deaden pain, that's not true. In fact, root canal treatments stop the pain caused by infected nerves within the pulp and root canals. More importantly, it saves your tooth.
Root canals can be performed by a general dentist. More extensive decay or complex root canal networks may require the services of an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in root canal anatomy and treatments. Endodontists have advanced techniques and equipment to handle even the most difficult case.
Regardless of who performs it, the basic procedure is the same, as is the goal: to completely remove all diseased tissue within the tooth and seal it with a special filling to prevent re-infection. To access the diseased pulp, we first drill an access hole, usually in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back of a front tooth. We then use specialized instruments to remove the infected tissue and flush out the space with antibacterial solutions.
We then insert a filling called gutta percha into the empty pulp chamber and root canals, seal off the filling with adhesive cement, and close the access hole with filling. These fillings and sealants prevent bacteria from reentering the tooth. For added protection against infection and fracturing, we also recommend placing a full-coverage dental crown. This also enhances the appearance of the tooth, which must be modified during the root canal procedure.
The end result: your once endangered tooth has been preserved for hopefully many years to come. So if we recommend you undergo a root canal treatment, don't wait — the tooth you save may be your own.
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy may sometimes seem like “one step forward, two steps back.” You do all the right things like daily brushing and flossing, and keeping sugar consumption to a minimum. But they’re still getting too many cavities.
We can add something else to what you’re already doing to decrease their cavity rate: apply a concentrated fluoride mixture (stronger than what’s found in toothpaste or drinking water) directly to their teeth. Studies have shown that topical fluoride is effective at reducing the risk of new cavities in children at high risk for decay, and may even reverse early decay.
Topical fluoride can be applied as a gel, foam or varnish. The particular method used depends on factors like the child’s age or the preference of the dentist. But any of the three methods can deliver a short-term, high dose of fluoride to the teeth.
As a result, the burst of fluoride strengthens tooth enamel against decay, with plenty of evidence of its effectiveness. As such, the American Dental Association recommends periodic topical fluoride applications for children older than 6, and especially those that appear to be at higher risk for decay.
You might, however, be concerned about the long-term health effects of these stronger concentrations of fluoride. Again, research indicates that the only long-term hazard associated with too much fluoride is a condition called fluorosis, which produces heavy tooth staining. Fluorosis, though, is more of an appearance issue and doesn’t harm the tooth itself. And it can be avoided in the case of topical fluoride by performing the procedure correctly and conservatively.
There’s also a short-term risk of a reaction to the fluoride mixture if the child swallows too much during the procedure, which could cause stomach upset and pain, vomiting or headaches. We can avoid this by using precautions like dental dams and other isolation methods to prevent the child from ingesting it.
Using proper precautions and procedures, topical fluoride is a safe and effective way to give your child added protection against decay. Avoiding this destructive disease can help ensure they’ll enjoy good dental health for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
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