Dental visit anxiety is a serious problem: Half of all Americans admit to some level of dental fear, while 15% avoid dental care altogether due to acute anxiety. The harm this can cause to dental health is incalculable.
But dentists have a number of sedation techniques that can relax anxious patients and allow them to receive the care they need. Although often used together, sedation is slightly different from anesthesia, which aims to deaden pain sensation. The aim of sedation is to calm the emotions and state of mind.
Sedation isn't a new approach: Physicians have used substances like root herbs or alcohol to relieve anxiety since ancient times. Modern dentistry also has a long history with sedation, dating from the early 1800s with the first use of nitrous oxide gas.
Modern dental sedation has expanded into an array of drugs and techniques to match varying levels of anxiety intensity. At the milder end of the scale are oral sedatives, taken an hour or so before a dental appointment to produce a calmer state. This may be enough for some patients, or it can be used in conjunction with nitrous oxide.
For those with more intense anxiety, dentists can turn to intravenous (IV) sedation. In this case, the sedative is delivered directly into the bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted in a vein. This causes a quicker and deeper reaction than oral sedatives.
Although similar to general anesthesia, IV sedation does differ in significant ways. Rather than unconsciousness, IV sedation places a patient in a “semi-awake” state that may still allow them respond to verbal commands. And although the patient's vital signs (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) must be monitored, the patient doesn't need breathing assistance as with anesthesia.
There's one other benefit: The drugs used often have an amnesic effect, meaning the patient won't remember the treatment experience after recovery. This can be helpful in creating more pleasant memories of their dental experience, which could have its own sedative effect in the future.
Whether oral, gas or IV, sedatives are a safe and effective way to calm dental fears during treatment. That could help someone with anxiety maintain their oral health.
If you would like more information on reducing dental anxiety, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
If you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’ve no doubt experienced red and swollen gums. If, however, you notice an especially inflamed area next to a tooth, you may have developed a gum abscess.
An abscess is a pus-filled sac that develops as a result of chronic (long-standing) gum disease, an infection caused by bacterial plaque that’s built up on tooth surfaces from inadequate oral hygiene or from a foreign body (food debris) getting stuck below the gums. The abscess, which typically develops between the tooth and gums, may be accompanied by pain but not always (the affected tooth may also be tender to bite on). Abscesses may grow larger, precipitated by stress or by a general infection like a common cold, and then abate for a time.
As with other abscesses in the body, a gum abscess is treated by relieving the pressure (after numbing the area with local anesthesia) and allowing it to drain. This is often followed by cleaning any infected root surfaces of bacterial plaque and then irrigating the area with a saline and/or antibacterial solution. We may also prescribe antibiotics afterward and some form of pain control (usually a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen) to help with discomfort.
Although the results of this procedure can be dramatic, it’s just the first step in treating the overall gum disease. After a few days of healing, we continue with a complete examination and recommend further treatment, usually starting with removing bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), the underlying cause for the infection and inflammation, from all tooth and gum surfaces. This may take several sessions before we begin seeing the gum tissues return to a healthier state.
The key to preventing an abscess recurrence (or any symptom of gum disease) is to remove plaque everyday through proper brushing and flossing, and visiting us twice a year (or more if you’ve developed chronic gum disease) for cleanings and checkups. Doing so will raise your chances of avoiding an uncomfortable and often painful gum abscess in the future.
If you would like more information on gum abscesses, 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 “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses.”
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.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Dentists around the world routinely remove diseased or damaged teeth every day. While some extractions require surgery, many don't: Your family dentist can perform these simple extractions, usually with little complication.
The term simple doesn't necessarily mean easy—as we'll note in a moment, it takes a deft and experienced hand to perform this type of extraction. The term in this case refers more to the type and condition of the tooth: The tooth roots are relatively straight and reside in the bone at an accessible angle. There are otherwise no meaningful impediments to removing it straight out.
The idea of “pulling a tooth” out of the jaw isn't the most accurate way to describe the procedure. A tooth is actually held in place within its bony socket by the periodontal ligament, a tough, elastic tissue between the tooth root and the bone that attaches to both through tiny fibrous extensions. The best method is to first loosen the tooth from the ligament's tiny attachments, for which experienced dentists can develop a certain feel. Once released from the ligament, the tooth will usually come free easily from its socket.
Not all teeth, though, can be removed in this manner. Teeth with multiple roots like back molars, and without a straight trajectory out of the socket, can have a complicated removal. Other dental conditions could also prove problematic for simple extraction, such as brittle roots that might fragment during removal.
For these and other complications, your general dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon for the tooth extraction. But even with the surgical component, these more complicated extractions are relatively minor and routine—millions of wisdom teeth, for example, are removed every year in this manner.
If you have a tooth that needs to be removed due to disease or injury, your dentist will first determine the best way to remove it and will refer you, if necessary, for surgical extraction. And whatever kind of extraction you undergo, the dentist performing it will make sure you remain pain-free during the procedure.
While tooth preservation is usually the best course for long-term dental health, it's sometimes best to remove a tooth. If that should happen, your dentist will make sure it's done with as little discomfort to you as possible.
If you would like more information on dental extraction methods, 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 “Simple Tooth Extraction?”
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