What is a root canal?

January 25th, 2023

A root canal entails the removal of the nerve supply from a tooth. If you know the purpose of a root canal, the process may seem a little less intimidating.

Dr. Barker will explain the steps in person before your scheduled root canal. Here are some reasons why you may need one and how it will be done when you visit our Millburn office for your appointment.

Let’s look at the parts of a tooth. Teeth are made up of layers. The outside is the enamel you see, which is composed of minerals. The middle layer is called dentin. It is less dense and made of calcified tissues.

The center of the tooth, also known as the pulp, holds the nerves and blood vessels. When a tooth has decayed or been infected all the way down to the pulp, a root canal is used to remove and replace the root with a filling.

A cavity, sudden trauma, severe cracks, or other events that may cause nerve damage can start an infection of the root of your tooth. You may notice an infection if you experience abnormal pain, swelling, sensitivity, or change in tooth appearance.

Don’t hesitate to contact our Millburn office to schedule an examination if you notice these symptoms. We may need to take X-rays of the problem tooth to find out if a root canal is necessary.

Once an appointment is scheduled for a root canal and we’re ready to begin the procedure, you’ll be given anesthesia to keep you comfortable. The problem tooth will be isolated and sterilized. We work to remove all the infected area after that.

The treatment will include getting rid of nerve tissue and blood vessels, then filling in the spot where the nerve used to be. A crown is placed over the area to secure enamel from breaking down in the future and prevent the potential loss of the tooth. The root canal can block the possibility of having your tooth extracted due to decay or infection.

If you have further questions about root canals or notice any new issues in your mouth, please don’t hesitate to call our office and speak with a member of our staff. We’d be happy to answer your questions and schedule an appointment for you to come and get your problem tooth checked out.

Don’t forget: You can avoid having to undergo a root canal if we catch the problem early on!

Treating Gum Disease with Antibiotics

January 18th, 2023

Why does gum disease develop? Our mouths are home to bacteria, which form a film called plaque. Plaque sticks to the surfaces of our teeth, at the gumline, and can even grow below the gumline. And this bacterial growth leads to inflammation and gum disease.

When the disease progresses, the gums gradually pull away from the teeth leaving pockets which can be home to infection. Toxins can attack the bone structures and connective tissue, which support our teeth. Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to serious infection and even tooth loss.

Because we are dealing with bacteria, it makes sense that antibiotics are one way to combat gum disease. Depending on the condition of your gums, we might suggest one of the following treatments:

  • Mouthwashes—there are mouthwashes available with a prescription that are stronger than over-the-counter antibiotic formulas, and can be used after brushing and flossing.
  • Topical Ointments—These ointments or gels are applied directly to the gums, most often used for mild forms of the disease.
  • Time-release Treatments—If there is severe inflammation in a pocket, we might place a biodegradable powder, chip, or gel containing antibiotics directly in the affected area. These minute methods release antibiotics over a period of time as they dissolve.
  • Pills and Capsules—For more serious periodontal disease, you could be prescribed an oral antibiotic. Take in pill or capsule form as recommended, and always finish the entire prescription.

Talk to Dr. Barker at our Millburn office before beginning a course of antibiotics. It’s important to know if you have any allergies to medications, what to look for if you might have an allergy you didn’t know about, if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, or if you have any health concerns that would prohibit antibiotic use. Talk to us about possible side effects and how to use the medication most successfully. With proper treatment, we can treat gum disease as quickly and effectively as possible, and provide advice on maintaining a periodontal routine that will keep your gums and teeth healthy for years to come.

Women’s Medications and Dry Mouth

January 11th, 2023

Women using medication to treat a variety of medical conditions are often unaware of the potential side effects. One common side effect of medications such as blood pressure medication, birth control pills, antidepressants, and cancer treatments is dry mouth. The technical term for dry mouth is xerostomia.

Xerostomia can lead to undesirable effects in the oral cavity including periodontal disease and a high rate of decay. Many women who have not had a cavity in years will return for their routine exam and suddenly be plagued with a multitude of cavities around crowns and at the gum line, or have active periodontal disease. The only thing that the patient may have changed in the past six months is starting a new medication.

Saliva washes away bacteria and cleans the oral cavity, and when saliva flow is diminished harmful bacteria can flourish in the mouth leading to decay and gum disease. Many medications can reduce the flow of saliva without the patient realizing the side effect. Birth control pills can also lead to a higher risk of inflammation and bleeding gums. Patients undergoing cancer treatments, especially radiation to the head and neck region, are at a greatly heightened risk of oral complications due to the possibility of damage to the saliva glands.

There are many over the counter saliva substitutes and products to temporarily increase saliva production and help manage xerostomia. One great option for a woman with severe dry mouth or high decay rate is home fluoride treatments. These work in a number of ways, including custom fluoride trays that are worn for a short period of time daily at home, a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste, or an over the counter fluoride rinse. If you have more questions on fluoride treatments, make sure to ask Dr. Barker at your next visit to our office.

The benefits of many of the medications on the market outweigh the risks associated with xerostomia, however, with regular exams you can manage the risk and prevent many oral consequences of medications.

Make this the Year You Stop Smoking

January 4th, 2023

It’s a new year, and it couldn’t come fast enough for many of us! Let’s do our part to make this a better year in every way—and you can start by making this the year you quit smoking once and for all.

You know that smoking is very damaging to your body. Smokers are more likely to suffer from lung disease, heart attacks, and strokes. You’re at greater risk for cancer, high blood pressure, blood clots, and blood vessel disorders. With far-reaching consequences like this, it’s no surprise that your oral health suffers when you smoke as well.

How does smoking affect your teeth and mouth?

  • Appearance

While this is possibly the least harmful side effect of smoking, it’s a very visible one. Tar and nicotine start staining teeth right away. After months and years of smoking, your teeth can take on an unappealing dark yellow, orange, or brown color. Tobacco staining might require professional whitening treatments because it penetrates the enamel over time.

  • Plaque and Tartar

Bacterial plaque and tartar cause cavities and gum disease, and smokers suffer from plaque and tartar buildup more than non-smokers do. Tartar, hardened plaque that can only be removed by a dental professional, is especially hard on delicate gum tissue.

  • Bad Breath

The chemicals in cigarettes linger on the surfaces of your mouth causing an unpleasant odor, but that’s not the only source of smoker’s breath. Smoking also dries out the mouth, and, without the normal flow of saliva to wash away food particles and bacteria, bad breath results. Another common cause of bad breath? Gum disease, which is also found more frequently among smokers.

  • Gum Disease

Smoking has been linked to greater numbers of harmful oral bacteria in the mouth and a greater risk of gingivitis (early gum disease). Periodontitis, or severe gum disease, is much more common among smokers, and can lead to bone and tooth loss. Unsurprisingly, tooth loss is also more common among smokers.  

  • Implant Failure

Tooth implants look and function like our original teeth, and are one of the best solutions for tooth loss. While implant failure isn’t common, it does occur significantly more often among smokers. Studies suggest that there are multiple factors at work, which may include a smoker’s bone quality and density, gum tissue affected by constricted blood vessels, and compromised healing.

  • Healing Ability

Smoking has been linked to weakened immune systems, so it’s harder to fight off an infection and to heal after an injury. Because smoking affects the immune system’s response to inflammation and infection, smokers suffering from gum disease don’t respond as well to treatment. Smokers experience a higher rate of root infections, and smoking also slows the healing process after oral surgeries or trauma.

  • Dry Socket

Smoking following a tooth extraction can cause a painful condition called “dry socket.” After extraction, a clot forms to protect the tooth socket. Just as this clot can be dislodged by sucking through a straw or spitting, it can also be dislodged by the force of inhaling and exhaling while smoking.

  • Oral Cancer

Research has shown again and again that smoking is the single most serious risk factor for oral cancer. Studies have also shown that you reduce your risk of oral cancer significantly when you quit smoking.

Quitting smoking is a major accomplishment that will improve your life on every level. It’s always a good idea to talk to Dr. Barker for strategies to help you achieve your wellness goals for the new year. Make this the year you stop smoking, and the year your health improves in countless ways because you did.