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The Truth About Root Canal Treatment

The Truth About Root Canal TreatmentDoes the thought that you may need root canal treatment send shivers up your spine? Do you have the idea that it’s a painful and complicated procedure that is best avoided? If so, it’s time to think again. While an infection or inflammation in your tooth’s pulp tissue can indeed cause severe pain, you should remember that root canal treatment relieves this pain — it doesn’t cause it!

What is a root canal? It’s a series of tiny, branching, river-like chambers found deep inside the roots of your teeth, which contain the nerve, or pulp, tissue. It’s also a shorthand name for the dental procedure in which inflamed pulp tissue is removed, and the affected tooth is cleaned, disinfected and sealed. This treatment can put an end to the pain-causing inflammation and infection, and help prevent the tooth from being lost.

So, is this routine procedure exceptionally painful? The answer is no — it’s generally no more uncomfortable than having a dental filling. And just like a filling, it begins with an anesthetic to numb the area under treatment. At that point, for many people, the worst is already over. To restore the tooth’s appearance and function after a root canal procedure, it’s usually necessary for a crown or another type of restoration to be placed on it. Learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!

Kris Bryant’s Choice: The Diamond or the Dental Office

Kris Bryant’s Choice: The Diamond or the Dental Office“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

That’s a question every kid gets asked at some stage of life — and the answers they give may be cute, hopeful… or possibly, surprising. Take Major League Baseball star Kris Bryant, for example. Not so long ago, the Chicago Cubs slugger and 2015 Rookie of the year was a minor-leaguer, playing for teams like the Boise Hawks and the Tennessee Smokies. Before that he played college ball, and still earlier he was a standout on the Bonanza High School team in Las Vegas, Nevada. That’s when an interviewer asked Bryant what he would do if his big-league dreams didn’t come true.

The young man looked directly at the camera and stated, “If baseball doesn’t work out for me, I want to be a dentist.”

While his answer might be startling, Bryant wouldn’t be the first to go from the diamond to the dental office. Both “Gentleman Jim” Lonborg, who played for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Phillies and the Red Sox, and Brian Banks, formerly of the Brewers and the Florida Marlins, traded their big leather gloves for the tight, sterile kind. So did pro football player and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon. And Mark Spitz, swimming superstar of the 1970s, only gave up his place in dental school after his record-shattering Olympic victories.

So what’s the connection? Both professions rely on dedicated, hard-working people who have good hand-eye coordination, and are willing to spending plenty of time honing their skills. And both can certainly be fulfilling. But if you had to guess, could you name the profession that has been ranked among the top 3 in the United States for several years running? (Hint: Open wide!)

All together, in Major League Baseball today, there are about 1200 players on the extended rosters. By contrast, there are about 151,500 dentists now practicing in the United States, and perhaps one million around the world today. What’s more, the demand for dentists is expected to increase rapidly in the coming decades.

A career in dentistry offers the chance to work as part of a team that really makes an impact in people’s lives. And, like a home run hit out of the park, it’s good at bringing out smiles. That’s one reason why U.S. News and World Report ranked dentistry the #1 profession in 2013 and 2015. (It was bumped to the #2 slot in 2016 by the dental specialty of orthodontics).

So it’s really no wonder that a kid with a bright future would choose dentistry as a profession. If you know someone like that, the American Dental Association has a webpage that provides information about dental careers: http://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/careers-in-dentistry/. And be sure to read Dear Doctormagazine for the latest information on how dentists can help people with all kinds of issues. But meanwhile, don’t feel too bad for Kris Bryant — if he changes his mind about baseball… there’s still plenty of time for him to go to dental school.

A U.S. President’s “Fishing Trip” Hid His Treatment for Oral Cancer

A U.S. President’s “Fishing Trip” Hid His Treatment for Oral CancerWashington D.C. can get sizzling hot in the summer — even when it isn’t an election year. That’s as true now as it was 100 years ago, before the advent of air conditioning. So when President Grover Cleveland announced he’d be out of town for a few weeks in the summer of 1893, it was no big surprise. The President made plans to sail on a friend’s yacht to his summer home on Cape Cod, and perhaps do a little fishing on the way. What he didn’t say was that while on board ship, he would undergo a secret operation to treat his oral cancer.

Why all the secrecy? For one thing, as author Matthew Algeo explains in his book The President Is a Sick Man, the U.S. economy was in a perilous state, and Cleveland worried that news about his health would upset Wall Street even further. What’s more, the stigma surrounding a cancer diagnosis was far worse than it is today, and there were few effective treatments. In fact, not even a decade before, oral cancer had claimed the life of president Ulysses S. Grant.

Several weeks before the trip, Cleveland (who made no secret of his fondness for alcohol and fine cigars) had noticed a swelling on the roof of his mouth. When he finally had it examined, the diagnosis was oral cancer. That’s when he secretly arranged the excursion, and recruited a team of six dentists and doctors to perform the operation onboard the yacht. All swore to remain silent… and not even the Vice President was let in on the plan.

The procedure was performed in the yacht’s salon, which had been converted into an operating room, on July 1, 1873. The medical team first anesthetized President Cleveland, and then removed a part of his upper jaw, along with five teeth. The 90-minute operation was successful, and left no noticeable scarring on his face — even sparing his distinctive moustache. In the next few weeks, as the President recovered, he was fitted with a rubber prosthesis that allowed him to eat and speak normally. After his treatment, Cleveland lived another 15 years… and in all that time, no one was the wiser.

Almost no one, that is. A few months afterward, a reporter named E.J. Edwards got wind of the clandestine operation, and published a story about it. But Cleveland, who had a reputation for honesty, denied it, and the story was discredited. The truth didn’t come out until 1917, when one of the doctors set the record straight in The Saturday Evening Post. That published account marked the end of one of the best-kept secrets of the U.S. Presidents — at least, so far as we know…

Scouting for Smiles

10/16/2016  |
Scouting for SmilesSince it was founded in 1907, the worldwide Scouting movement has encouraged countless young people in their physical, mental and spiritual development. Established about 100 years later, America’s ToothFairy: National Children’s Oral Health Foundation seeks to keep children from experiencing the problems of preventable dental disease. Recently, these two youth-oriented organizations teamed up to get kids involved in the fight for improved oral health.

Now, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can earn colorful patches for learning about oral health, sharing their knowledge with fellow scouts, and reaching out to educate their communities. It’s a great way to build leadership skills while performing a valuable public service — and it’s one more way to help fight tooth decay and gum disease.

Tips to Keep Your Teeth Healthy This October

Tips to Keep Your Teeth Healthy This October

Every October, stores fill their aisles with endless varieties of candy, and kids across the country get ready for some sweet, sticky, chewy treats. For those of us concerned about dental health, this can be a scary thought.

Fortunately, there are some delicious treats that are safer than others. While we love Halloween, this October we are also celebrating National Orthodontic Health Month. In honor of protecting all those beautiful smiles, we’ve put together four easy tips to keep in mind this October.

1. Avoid sticky, chewy, or hard candies that can easily damage orthodontic work. Some of the worst offenders are taffy, caramels, bubblegum, and jellybeans.

2. Ahhh! There are some candies that are not off-limits! Any soft, melt-in-your-mouth candies like chocolates and peanut butter cups are great alternatives.

3. Beware! All candy is still full of sugar and thus cavity monsters. Be sure to brush and floss after each time consuming candy.

4. Halloween and National Orthodontic Health Month are only recognized once a year, but why not practice these tips every month? By staying vigilant, you can keep those monsters hidden all year long.

Warning Signs of Breast Cancer

Warning Signs of Breast Cancer


October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. In 2016, it is estimated among women there will be 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer. Since mammogram screenings are done frequently, many cases are caught early.

However, sometimes a mammogram can’t detect breast cancer early enough. There are ways you can check for breast cancer on your own. While they are not always the same for all women, these signs can let you know if you should see a physician:

  1. Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  2. Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  3. Change in the size or shape of the breast
  4. Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  5. Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  6. Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  7. Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  8. New pain in one spot that does not go away

In many cases, these are not necessarily signs of breast cancer. If you discover both lumps and discharge, you should see your health care provider immediately. Help catch breast cancer early and educate other women in your life.

3 Steps to Finding the Right Cosmetic Dentist for You

09/18/2016  |
3 Steps to Finding the Right Cosmetic Dentist for YouWhether you’re fixing a few minor problems with your teeth’s appearance or contemplating a complete “smile makeover,” you need to have confidence in the dentist performing the work. Your area may offer a lot of choices in cosmetic dentists, so it can be difficult to narrow your decision to one.

To help you out, here’s a 3-step process for finding the cosmetic dentist who’s right for you.

Step 1: Know what you want. Before embarking on your search, take time to ask yourself what you want changed about your smile. Your first move is to the mirror: what about your current smile bothers you (disfigured teeth, spacing, gum appearance, etc.)? What kind of smile do you want: a dazzling, perfect “Hollywood Smile” or something more natural with variations in shade and spacing? It’s also helpful to look through magazines or other photo sources for examples of smiles you find attractive — and don’t forget photos of your younger self.

Step 2: Research your choice availability. You might start first with friends and family who’ve had positive results from cosmetic dental work. You can then review their providers’ websites, looking especially at any pictorial samples of their work. Look also for credentials from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry or the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry. Dentists credentialed by the latter organization must show their competency in cosmetic techniques and keep up with the latest trends with continuing education.

Step 3: Schedule an initial consultation. Hopefully you’ll be able to narrow your choice to one or two. But before you commit, visit your top choice for an initial consultation. Besides discussing your particular situation, this meeting will also give you a chance to gauge how comfortable you are with the dentist: are they a good listener and open to your concerns and desires? It’s also the best time to discuss cost and financing arrangements.

Your smile makeover is a partnership between you and your dentist. Finding the right “partner” will be crucial to a satisfying outcome.

If you would like more information on smile makeovers, read How to Choose a Cosmetic Dentist.

You Might Be More Prone to Cavities

07/25/2016  |
You Might Be More Prone to CavitiesYou brush and floss daily and don’t snack on sugary treats, yet you’ve had your fair share of cavities. Your friend, on the other hand, is lax with the dental hygiene and lives on energy drinks and junk food, yet rarely has a cavity. What gives?

Cavities, which result from a disease process called dental caries, are areas of decay caused by certain oral bacteria. As the decay progresses, the bacteria can eventually invade the living portion of the tooth (dentin and pulp) and is considered a bacterial infection. At that point professional dental treatment is required to remove the infection, stop the disease process and seal the tooth.

This disease process requires certain combinations of conditions in order to progress. So it’s likely that you have more of those conditions, or risk factors, than your friend does. Don’t beat yourself up; while there are lots of things you can do to minimize risks, there are also factors that aren’t so easily controlled.

Tooth Decay Risk Factors

Let’s take a look at those risk factors:

  • Oral Bacteria — Cavities start with bacteria that build up on tooth surfaces in a sticky film called plaque where they feed on sugars and carbohydrates from the foods/beverages we consume, creating acids in the process. Acids dissolve the mineral bonds in the protective layer of tooth enamel, which makes it easier for bacteria to penetrate what is otherwise the hardest substance in the human body and infect the tooth. Your unique oral “microbiome” make-up could have more or less of the microbe species implicated in dental caries, and some strains of the same bugs are more aggressive than others.
  • Dental hygiene — Brushing and flossing correctly and regularly helps dislodge bacterial plaque and trapped food particles. Regular checkups and professional cleanings are also important to remove plaque that has hardened into “tartar.”
  • Diet — Minimizing your intake of sugary foods and carbohydrates reduces the availability of fuel for cavity-causing bacteria. Meanwhile, acidic foods and beverages can erode enamel, and the more frequently they are consumed, the less opportunity saliva has to restore the mouth to its normal pH.
  • Dry mouth — Saliva contains minerals that help neutralize acids and rebuild tooth enamel. Without a healthy flow, your ability to prevent decay is compromised. Certain medications, chemotherapy and some diseases can cause dry mouth. Drinking lots of water and using enamel-fortifying mouth rinses can help counter the effects.
  • Tooth shape — Tooth decay is most likely to develop in back teeth — molars and bicuspids (premolars) — where the tiny fissures on their biting surface tend to trap food and bacteria. Genetics determines how deep your fissures are.
  • Gum recessionReceding gums expose the tooth root, which isn’t protected by enamel and therefore more susceptible to decay.
  • Other factors — Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) and vomiting can create highly acidic conditions in the mouth. Retainers, orthodontic appliances and bite or night guards tend to restrict saliva flow over teeth, promoting plaque formation; fixed appliances like braces can make it more difficult to brush and floss effectively.

To learn more about your level of risk and how you can stack the odds more in your favor, talk with your dentist. You can also learn more about this topic by reading Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease.

4 Things You Should Know About Your Dental Insurance

08/28/2016  |
4 Things You Should Know About Your Dental InsuranceReceiving proper dental care is important — and not just for your teeth and gums. A healthy mouth is essential to a healthy body.

But dental care costs money. Even routine, preventive care can have an impact on a family budget — not to mention treatment for disease or injury. As with other healthcare costs, people often turn to dental insurance to help soften this financial impact.

But is dental insurance right for you and your family? Here are 4 things you should know if you have insurance or are thinking of getting it.

Dental insurance operates differently from other types. We often understand “insurance” as protection against unforeseen expenses. Dental insurance, though, works more like a “discount coupon” to offset dental care costs. It’s important, therefore, that you know what your plan pays for (routine care and treatment, orthodontics, cosmetic enhancement, etc.), at what percentage (50%, 80%) of the usual and customary fee. Find out what the plan refers to as the usual fee as that can be much less than 2016 costs and any annual deductible, the amount you pay before the policy pays. Also, there is always a cap as to the maximum benefit you can receive in one year.

Weigh all the costs if you’re the insurance purchaser. Employers pay the premiums on many dental plans as an employee benefit. If, however, you’re paying the premiums yourself, you need to add that cost to your other out-of-pocket costs for a true picture of what you’re actually spending on dental care. It’s possible a self-paying policy won’t save you money or could even increase what you might otherwise pay for dental care.

Your policy might limit your options. Most plans pay for the “basics”: routine cleanings and checkups, repairs and some restorations. They may or may not pay for orthodontics, certain dental materials for fillings or crowns or restorations like dental implants. Some plans could require you to see a dentist in their network, which may not include the one you prefer. It’s important to find out any limitations in your policy and factor them into your cost vs. benefits evaluation.

Ask your dentist for help managing your dental care costs. While your plan may seem to you to be written in a “foreign language,” your dentist’s staff works with it and other policies on a daily basis. They may be able to help you figure out the best approach for a procedure within your policy or help you arrange payments and financing that fit your family budget.


New ADA Report Names Top 3 Oral-Health Problems

New ADA Report Names Top 3 Oral-Health ProblemsWhat are the most common oral health problems Americans are facing today? The Health Policy Institute, a research division of the American Dental Association, recently released the results of a wide-ranging survey of nearly 15,000 adults across every state. Here’s what they found:

For the population as a whole, the top issue — experienced occasionally or very often by 33% of respondents — was dry mouth. Also called xerostomia, dry mouth generally results from insufficient saliva production. This is a side effect of many medications, and it can also be caused by certain diseases. When it happens occasionally, dry mouth is an inconvenience. But if it becomes a constant problem, it can lead to tooth decay.

Next on the list, difficulty biting or chewing was an issue for 31% of people who responded to the survey — but younger people and people with lower incomes reported it at much higher rates than the population as a whole. A number of things can cause this problem, including teeth that are cracked, loose, or deeply decayed, or poorly fitted dentures. If your teeth are sensitive to pressure, it may indicate that you need a root canal to save a tooth with diseased or dying pulp tissue. Problems when biting or chewing may also keep you from enjoying healthy, nutritious food, because this is often more challenging to eat than processed foods.

Pain is the third item on the list, experienced by about 29% of all respondents. But pain was the number one oral health problem for both lower-income households and people aged 18-34: It was reported by over 40% of both groups. There are many possible causes of this issue, but in general tooth pain is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong; if you ignore it, the pain may go away… but the underlying problem won’t. The longer you let it go, the more difficult it may be to treat.

If you are experiencing any of the problems mentioned above, don’t disregard it — make a dental appointment as soon as possible. Your dentist can diagnose the problem and recommend a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms, restore any damaged teeth, and return you to good health.