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.”
It’s absolutely critical to stop tooth decay and repair any damage to tooth structure. Hopefully, we’ve caught it early in the enamel and dentin where we’re able to repair any holes or “cavities” that might have developed by filling them.
But what if the decay has crept deeper into the interior of the tooth? In this case, you’re at a much higher risk of eventually losing the tooth. If the decay has spread into the bone, a root canal treatment is usually your best option.
The first sign that decay has invaded the pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth, and the root canals may be a severe toothache. It’s different from the wince of pain or discomfort caused by sensitivity to temperature or pressure. Inner decay pain is constant and often excruciating. This is because the infection is attacking the nerves bundled within the pulp chamber.
The pain can last for several days, and then suddenly stop altogether. No pain is good news, right? Wrong — the pain has stopped because the infected nerves have finally died and can no longer signal the brain. The infection, though, is very much alive and will continue to advance toward the root where the damage may eventually cause you to lose the tooth.
A root canal treatment removes decay in the pulp chamber and canals. We first drill an access hole to enter the pulp chamber. Once inside, we use special instruments to completely remove all tissue and disinfect the empty chamber. We then fill the chamber and root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole to prevent further decay. A few weeks later we install a custom crown to protect the tooth further.
If you have a toothache, or you’ve had one that suddenly went away, you should schedule an appointment for a dental examination as soon as possible: this is the only way to accurately determine the cause of the pain. If a root canal is deemed necessary, the sooner we perform it, the less chance the infection will cause you to lose your tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”