Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
- brushing the surgical area (if advised by your surgeon);
- rinsing too aggressively;
- drinking through a straw or consuming hot liquid;
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on oral surgery, 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 “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”
In the fight against dental disease and other conditions your general dentist is your first line of defense for prevention strategies and treatment. Sometimes, however, your condition may require the services of a dental specialist to restore health to your mouth.
A good example of this is an advanced case of periodontal (gum) disease. While your dentist and hygienist are quite skilled at removing plaque and calculus, there may be extenuating circumstances that may benefit from the knowledge and expertise of a specialist. In the case of gum-related issues that would be a periodontist, a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases or disorders related to the gums and bone that support teeth.
There are a number of reasons why you may be referred to a periodontist regarding your gum health. Besides advanced stages of the disease (loose teeth, periodontal pocketing or bone loss) that require surgery or other invasive techniques you may have a particular form that requires advanced treatment, or a secondary condition, like pregnancy or diabetes, which could impact your periodontal condition. There may also be a need for a periodontist’s consultation if you’re preparing for cosmetic restoration, most notably dental implants, that could have a bearing on your gum and bone health.
As your primary oral health “gatekeeper,” your general dentist is largely responsible for determining what you need to achieve optimal health. Likewise, your periodontist or other specialists for other problems will be equally committed to providing you the right care for your situation. Your general dentist and other specialists will work together to ensure that your condition will be cared for, and that you’ll continue to enjoy the highest level of oral health possible.
If you would like more information on the role of periodontics and other dental specialties in oral health, 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 “Referral to a Dental Specialist.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
A loose primary (“baby”) tooth is often a cause for celebration. A loose permanent tooth, however, is a cause for concern. A permanent tooth shouldn't even wiggle.
If you have a loose tooth, it's likely you have a deeper dental problem. Here are the top underlying causes for loose teeth.
Gum disease. Teeth are held in place by an elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. But advanced periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection usually caused by film buildup on teeth called dental plaque, can damage the ligament and cause it to detach. If it's not treated, it could lead to tooth loss.
Bite-related trauma. A normal bite helps balance out the forces generated when we chew so they don't damage the teeth. But if a misaligned tooth protrudes higher from the jaw, the opposing tooth will likely create more downward pressure on it while chewing. This can stress the tooth's supporting ligament to the point of looseness.
Self-inflicted trauma. While they may be trendy, tongue jewelry can cause dental damage. A wearer who clicks the “barbell” of a tongue stud against their teeth could be creating conditions conducive for gum damage and bone loss, which can cause tooth looseness. Similarly, taking orthodontics into your own hands could also damage your teeth, especially if you have undiagnosed gum disease.
Genetics. Although you can't prevent it, the type of resistance or susceptibility you inherited from your parents (as well as your dental anatomy) can cause you dental problems. Thinner gum tissues, especially around the roots, can make you more susceptible to gum disease or dental trauma, which in turn could contribute to tooth looseness.
There are things you can do to lessen your chance of loose teeth. Brush and floss every day to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque and see a dentist regularly for cleanings to reduce your risk of gum disease. If you have any misaligned teeth, consult with an orthodontist about possible treatment. And avoid oral jewelry and DIY orthodontics.
If you do notice a loose tooth, see us as soon as possible. We'll need to diagnose the underlying cause and create a treatment plan for it. We may also need to splint the tooth to its neighbors to stabilize it and reduce your risk of losing it permanently.
If you would like more information on tooth mobility, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
Do you know the top cause for adult tooth loss? If you guessed tooth decay, you’re close—but not quite. The same goes if you said accidents or teeth grinding. It’s actually periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial gum infection that affects half of American adults.
What’s worse, losing teeth could be just the beginning of your health woes. Several studies show uncontrolled gum disease could cause problems in the rest of the body. That’s why we’re promoting February as Gum Disease Awareness Month, to call attention to this potentially devastating oral disease—and what you can do about it.
Gum disease usually starts with a thin film of food particles and bacteria called dental plaque. As it builds up on tooth surfaces, bacteria multiply and lead to an infection that can spread below the gum line, weakening the gums’ attachment to the teeth.
Beyond tooth loss, though, gum disease could affect the rest of the body. Oral bacteria, for instance, can travel through the bloodstream and potentially cause disease in other parts of the body. More often, though, researchers now believe that the chronic inflammation associated with gum disease can aggravate inflammation related to other conditions like cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes or arthritis. Likewise, inflammatory conditions can worsen symptoms of gum disease and make it harder to treat.
The good news, though, is that reducing the inflammation of gum disease through treatment could help ease inflammation throughout the body. That’s why it’s important to see us as soon as possible if you notice gum problems like swelling, redness or bleeding. The sooner you’re diagnosed and we begin treatment, the less an impact gum disease could have on both your mouth and the rest of your body.
Similarly, managing other inflammatory conditions could make it easier to reduce symptoms of gum disease. You can often control the inflammation associated with these other diseases through medical treatment and medication, exercise and healthy eating practices.
You’ll also benefit both your oral and general health by taking steps to prevent gum disease before it happens. Prevention starts with a daily practice of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. You should follow this with professional dental cleanings and checkups every six months (sometimes more often, if advised).
Gum disease can damage your teeth and gums, and more. But dedicated dental care and treatment could help you regain your dental health and promote wellness throughout your body.
If you would like more information about preventing and treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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