Illustration by Robert Ullman
Painless root-canal procedures and lasers that detect and treat oral cancer may sound futuristic, but such advances in dental treatment are available for patients today.
While a general dentist can perform a root canal, that is the specialty of endodontists, says Dr. Trisha A. Krause of Endodontic Partners, on Patterson Avenue. Endodontists aren't as well known as orthodontists, who provide braces, and oral surgeons, who are often called upon to extract worrisome wisdom teeth. Root canal therapy removes inflamed or infected soft tissue from the interior of a tooth. After the internal root canal space is cleaned, the space is sealed to prevent future bacterial contamination.
Rather than using magnification loupes to save or repair an infected tooth, Krause says, endodontists use operating microscopes mounted on a wall or a stand. Those "provide a bright light so we can see the tooth clearly at a high level of magnification so we can do the best work possible in the least amount of time. It reduces chair time for patients, too," adds Krause, who has been in private practice since 2006.
Although root canals are sometimes done while a patient is sedated, Krause says, "In our office, we don't perform that kind of dentistry. Root canals rank high on patients' lists as a scary dental procedure, but ... [by] taking time to understand their fears, we don't need to medicate patients to the level where they sleep during their procedure. They do very well while awake."
Another tool for improving patient dental health is laser technology, which can detect and treat cavities, gum disease and oral cancer, says Dr. Eric Miller, an Urbanna dentist focused on cosmetic and comprehensive care.
He uses a laser to remove lesions as well as to treat gum disease, canker sores and cold sore outbreaks. A cavity-detection laser system shines a light over an area containing a cavity that might not show up on an X-ray, says Miller, a part-time clinical instructor at the VCU School of Dentistry.
He also uses an oral cancer-screening device. "A patient drinks a solution that goes into the tissue, and you put the scope in there that has a different wavelength of light and it will pick up any cancer cells in the mouth, which will be highlighted in a different color."
Using a laser to remove a lesion eliminates a step, he says. "It cauterizes at the same time, so no need for stitches,'' Miller says.
Other advances include virtual dental impressions, says Dr. Richard F. Roadcap, a Colonial Heights dentist who is also editor-in-chief of the Virginia Dental Journal. That means less gagging and discomfort. No more biting into a gooey mixture and waiting for it to harden.
"Now with digital equipment," Roadcap says, "teeth can be scanned, and they can create a virtual image of the teeth and you don't have to put the goop in your mouth."