Posts for: July, 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.”
The final emergence of permanent teeth in late adolescence marks the end of a long process beginning in the womb with the formation of our primary or “baby” teeth. Permanent teeth form in a similar way as buds high in the jaw, continuing to grow until the primary teeth ahead of them fall away. The crowns of the new adult teeth eventually break through the gum tissue and emerge (erupt) into view.
At least, that’s normally what should happen; sometimes, though, a tooth may only erupt partially or not at all, a condition known as impaction. The crown remains partially or fully submerged below the gum line, causing the tooth to press against other teeth, potentially damaging them. It can also make periodontal (gum) tissues adjacent to the area more susceptible to disease. Wisdom teeth are especially prone to this kind of impaction, to the extent they’re often surgically removed (extracted) to avoid future problems to adjacent teeth or the bite.
Upper canines (the “eye teeth” normally located directly below the eyes) are also subject to impaction. But because of their highly visible position, extracting them could have an adverse impact on the patient’s smile. In this case, we often attempt instead to expose and ultimately save the tooth.
Before taking any action, however, an orthodontic examination is conducted first to pinpoint the exact position of the impacted tooth and determine how that position might affect moving teeth into a more desired alignment. If we find the impacted canine is in a workable position, the next step is to surgically uncover the tooth from the gum tissue (a minor procedure usually performed by an oral surgeon or periodontist). Once exposed, an orthodontic bracket with a small attached gold chain is bonded to the tooth. The gums are then sutured back into place with the chain exposed and allowed to heal.
At some future point an orthodontist will attach the chain to orthodontic hardware that will pull the impacted tooth into proper position over several months. As a result, the upper canine becomes “un-impacted”; the dangers to surrounding teeth and tissues are also reduced. And, just as important, we can preserve the tooth and with orthodontics achieve an attractive, normal smile.
If you would like more information on the effects and treatment of impacted 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”