My Blog

Posts for: May, 2016

By Scott R. Smith, DDS, PC
May 26, 2016
Category: Dental Procedures
TomHanksAbscessedToothGetsCastAway

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.”


YourCaseofGingivitisCouldDevelopintoSomethingMoreHarmful

That bit of gum bleeding after you brush, along with redness and swelling, are strong signs you have gingivitis, a form of periodontal (gum) disease. Without treatment, though, your gingivitis could turn into something much more painful and unsightly — a condition commonly known as “trench mouth.”

Properly known as Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG), the more colorful name arose from its frequent occurrence among soldiers during World War I. Although not contagious, many soldiers contracted it due to a lack of means to properly clean their teeth and gums and the anxiety associated with war. Inadequate hygiene and high stress still contribute to its occurrence today, along with smoking, medications that dry the mouth and reduced disease resistance — all of which create a perfect environment for bacterial growth.

ANUG can arise suddenly and be very painful. The cells in the gum tissue begin to die (“necrotizing”) and become swollen (“ulcerative”), especially the small triangle of gum tissue between the teeth called the papillae, which can appear yellowish. Patients also encounter a characteristic foul breath and taste. Untreated, ANUG can damage tissue and contribute to future tooth loss.

Fortunately, antibiotics and other treatments are quite effective in eradicating bacteria that cause the disease, so if caught early it’s completely reversible. We start with a complete examination to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes. We then attempt to relieve the pain and inflammation with non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen and begin antibiotic treatment, most notably Metronidazole or amoxicillin. We may also prescribe a mouthrinse containing chlorhexidine and mild salt water rinses to further reduce the symptoms.

We must also treat any underlying gingivitis that gave rise to the more acute disease. Our goal here is remove any bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that have built up on tooth surfaces, particularly below the gums. Only then can we fully bring the disease under control.

It’s also important you become more consistent and effective with daily brushing and flossing, quit smoking, reduce undue stress, and get better rest and nutrition. Establishing these new habits and lifestyle changes will help ensure you’ll never have to experience trench mouth again.

If you would like more information on ANUG and other periodontal gum conditions, 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”