X-ray imaging is such an intricate part of dentistry, we usually don't think twice about it. Without it, though, the fight against dental disease would be much harder.
At the same time, we can't forget that x-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. It's that very quality and the difference in the absorption rate between denser bone and teeth and softer diseased tissue that makes disease diagnosis possible.
But this same penetrative power can potentially harm the tissues it passes through. For that reason when practicing any form of x-ray diagnostics, dentists follow a principle known as ALARA, an acronym for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable." In lay terms ALARA means getting the most benefit from x-rays that we can with the lowest dose and exposure time possible.
While practicing ALARA with x-rays is important for patients of any age, it's especially so for children who are more sensitive to radiological energy given their smaller size and anatomy. We can't use the same settings, dosages or exposure times with them as with an adult.
To protect children, dentists have developed techniques and protocols that lessen their exposure time and rate, while still providing usable images for diagnosing disease. The bitewing is a good example of safe and effective pediatric x-ray imaging.
A bitewing is a plastic device holding exposable film that patients bite down on and hold in their mouth while x-raying. The x-rays pass through the teeth and gums and expose the film behind them on the bitewing. Using a bitewing we can capture a set of two to four radiographs to give us a comprehensive view of the back teeth, while exposing the child less radiation than they normally receive daily from background environmental sources.
This and other advances in equipment and digital imaging greatly reduce the amount of radiation patients receive during x-rays. If, though, you're still concerned about your child's x-ray exposure, talk with your dentist who can explain in more detail the x-ray safety protocols they follow. Just like you, they want your child to be as safe as possible while still benefiting from the diagnostic power of x-rays.
If you would like more information on safety precautions using x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Each year thousands of people develop sinus infections from various causes. But there's one cause for sinusitis that might surprise you—tooth decay.
Tooth decay begins when the acid produced by oral bacteria erodes a tooth's enamel protection to create a small hole or cavity. Left untreated, the infection can move into the inner pulp of the tooth and tiny passageways leading to the roots called root canals. The decay can then infect and break down the structure of the supporting jawbone.
This could affect the sinus cavities, hollow air-filled spaces in the upper portion of the face. The maxillary sinus in particular sits behind the cheek bones just above the upper jaw. Tooth roots, particularly in back teeth, can extend quite near or even poke through the floor of the maxillary sinus.
If decay affects these roots, the bone beneath this floor may begin to break down and allow the bacterial infection to enter the sinus. We call this particular kind of sinus infection maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin (MSEO), "endodontic" referring to the interior structure of teeth.
While advanced decay can show symptoms like pain or sensitivity with certain hot or cold foods, it's also possible to have it and not know it directly. But a recurring sinus infection could be an indirect indication that the root of your suffering is a deeply decayed tooth. Treating the sinus infection with antibiotics won't cure this underlying dental problem. For that you'll need to see a dentist or an endodontist, a specialist for interior tooth issues.
The most common way to treat deep tooth decay is with root canal therapy. In this procedure, the dentist enters the decayed tooth's pulp (nerve chamber) and root canals and removes the diseased tissue. They will then fill the empty pulp and root canals with a special filling and seal the tooth to prevent future infection. The procedure stops the infection and saves the tooth—and if you have MSEO, it eliminates the cause of the sinus infection.
So, if you're suffering from chronic sinus infections, you might talk with your dentist about the possibility of a tooth infection. A thorough examination might reveal a decayed tooth in need of treatment.
Primary (baby) teeth don't last long. But despite their short life span, they do a number of important things, like enabling a child to eat solid food. But perhaps their most important long-term function is “paving” the way for their permanent replacements.
If one is lost prematurely, though, the permanent tooth might not come in properly aligned. That's why if a primary tooth is in danger of loss due to decay or injury, we'll do our best to save it.
But that could get a little tricky if the infected or damaged part of the tooth is the innermost pulp. If it were an adult tooth, the best course might be a root canal treatment: access the pulp, clear out the diseased tissue, and then fill the space with a special filling. But with a primary tooth (or a young permanent tooth for that matter) that may not be advisable.
That's because the pulp plays a more important role in a child's tooth than an adult's. Its nerves and other tissues stimulate dentin growth; a full root canal could disrupt that growth and weaken the tooth in the long run.
With a child's tooth, we proceed carefully depending on how infected or damaged the pulp might be. If it's only slightly exposed or not at all, we try then to remove as much decayed tooth material outside the pulp as necessary, then apply antibacterial agents or dentin growth stimulators.
If we do have pulp exposure, we'll try to remove only as much of the affected pulp as necessary through a procedure called a pulpotomy. This technique will only be used if the remaining pulp looks healthy or restorable to health.
If not, we may need to perform a pulpectomy to remove the entire pulp. Most like a typical root canal, it's a last resort: without the pulp, dentin growth could be stunted and the tooth won't develop as healthy as it should.
Of course, the best approach is to prevent teeth from developing such problems in the first place. So, be sure to practice effective daily hygiene with your child and keep up regular dental visits beginning at age one.
If you would like more information on treating decayed primary teeth, 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children's Teeth.”
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