Posts for: June, 2015
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.”
Your gums’ primary role is to protect your teeth and keep them firmly in place. But periodontal (gum) disease can damage your gums to such an extent you could ultimately lose your teeth.
Gum disease is a progressive infection caused by bacterial plaque built up on tooth surfaces from poor oral hygiene. The initial infection triggers inflammation, a defensive response of the body characterized by swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums. An initial form of the disease known as gingivitis occurs in most people after just a few days without brushing or flossing.
Resuming hygienic activities to remove daily plaque, along with regular dental cleanings, may be enough to stop gingivitis and restore healthy gums. If the disease is allowed to advance, however, the infected gum tissues will begin to detach from the teeth, turning the slight normal gaps between teeth and gums into wider voids known as periodontal pockets that fill with bacteria leading to infection. Your hygiene efforts will not be enough to cope with this advanced form of periodontal disease.
At this point professional techniques are required to adequately remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), depending on the depth and location of the periodontal pockets. The most basic of these is scaling using specialized hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment to remove plaque and calculus in pockets at or just below the gum line. If plaque and calculus have extended to the roots we may then need to employ root planing, in which we “shave” offending material from root surfaces. In some cases this may require accessing the area surgically beneath the gum tissue.
As plaque removal progresses, inflammation will begin to subside and the gum tissues heal. If, however, swelling, bleeding or pus formation persists, this may indicate bacterial levels remain too high. To decrease these levels we may need to administer antibiotics, or through mouthrinses containing chlorhexidine.
Once under control, it’s crucial from then on for you to maintain a strict daily regimen of brushing and flossing to keep plaque from building up on tooth surfaces. You'll also need to visit us regularly (two or more times a year) for professional cleaning and checkups. Keeping a close eye will help prevent a reoccurrence of this serious disease and prolong the life of your teeth.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal (gum) disease, 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”