Posts for: October, 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.”
Although techniques for treating periodontal (gum) disease can vary, they all boil down to one objective: remove the bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that cause the infection. The initial treatment usually involves two techniques known as scaling and root planing.
Scaling uses hand instruments, ultrasonic equipment or a combination of both to manually remove plaque and calculus from the tooth and root surfaces. Root planing takes it a step further by minutely “shaving” infected material from the root surfaces. While more invasive techniques (including surgery) may be needed, scaling and root planing are the first line of treatment for any recent diagnosis of gum disease.
In recent years, an adaptation to these treatments has emerged using the Nd: YAG laser. The laser uses a particular crystal that’s adaptable for many different types of surgery. In the case of gum disease, it’s been found as effective as traditional methods for removing the infected linings of periodontal pockets. Voids created by detaching gum tissues as bone loss occurs, enlarge the small natural gap between the teeth and gums, which fill with pus and other infected matter. Removing the diseased lining from these pockets reduces bacteria below the gum line and speeds healing.
Periodontal laser therapy may have one advantage over traditional treatments: less tissue damage and swelling, and hence reduced post-treatment discomfort. While some research seems to confirm this, more controlled studies are needed to render a verdict on this claim.
Regardless of whether you undergo traditional scaling and root planing or a laser alternative, the aim is the same — to bring the disease under control by removing plaque and calculus and reestablishing good daily oral hygiene practices. Stopping gum disease as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll have healthy teeth and gums for a long time.
If you would like more information on treatments for 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 “Lasers versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”