How is dental and oral disease treated?
How is dental and oral disease treated?

Your dentist has many ways to treat dental and oral diseases.

Decayed teeth are treated by removing the decayed area and filling with dental amalgams, also known as silver fillings. They may also be filled with composite resins, which are tooth-colored plastic fillings. Composites are less sensitive to heat and cold, but are not as strong as amalgam fillings.

Stained teeth can be bleached, a procedure that lightens stains caused by coffee, tea, food and age.

Gum disease can be treated by:

  • Scaling and root planing - a special cleaning done by your dentist to remove the calculus from root surfaces of teeth.
  • Pills that can slow tissue destruction
  • Antibacterial therapy - includes oral medication and applied antibiotics and rinses
  • Surgery to remove advanced infection or damaged tissue

An abscessed tooth is treated by a root canal. This is done when the pulp of the tooth, which contains nerves and blood vessels, becomes infected or damaged because of decay or injury. The dentist removes the pulp, cleans out the tooth and seals it. Sometimes an antibiotic is prescribed to clear up infection.

Damaged or Injured teeth are treated by:

  • A crown - This is a "cap" that covers a cracked or broken tooth to help restore it to a normal size and shape. Crowns are usually made of porcelain or gold. Preparing the tooth and fitting a crown require more than one visit to the dentist.
  • Porcelain veneer - Chipped or cracked teeth or tooth gaps can be repaired with a porcelain veneer. That is a ceramic material bonded to the surface of teeth to change the tooth's color, size, or shape.
  • Composite resin - This is another material used to cover a chipped or cracked tooth. It is also bonded to the tooth.

Severely damaged teeth can be replaced with:

  • Implants - artificial supports that are set into the jaw.
  • Dentures - artificial teeth set into plastic frames that sit directly on the gums
  • Bridges - tooth replacements attached to adjoining natural teeth

Dry mouth can be treated by:

  • Changing your medicine, if that is the cause of your dry mouth. Talk to your doctor. She may change your medicine or adjust the dosage.
  • Medicine that helps the glands work better.
  • Artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet.
  • Sipping water or sugarless drinks often.
  • Sipping water or a sugarless drink during meals. This makes chewing and swallowing easier.
  • Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy to stimulate saliva flow
  • Avoiding caffeine, tobacco or alcohol
  • Using a humidifier at night.

Canker Sores usually heal in a week or two. Rinsing with bacteria-killing mouth rinses and applying topical anesthetics will help reduce irritation and discomfort. You can buy these products without a prescription.

Cold Sores heal within seven to ten days. Your doctor can prescribe medication to shorten the duration, but there is no medication that can prevent another one from occurring.

Teeth Grinding or Bruxism can be treated by wearing a mouthguard at night while you sleep. A mouthguard takes the punishment that your teeth would normally endure when you grind your teeth. Your dentist will make a custom fitted mouthguard for you. He can also help you properly position your teeth and tongue to help decrease your bruxism. Manage your stress and anxiety with exercise and muscle relaxants and limit your alcohol consumption.

TMD may go away with little or no treatment. The pain from TMD is often temporary and may occur in cycles. Eating soft foods, using moist heat on the area and avoiding extreme jaw movements may be enough to lessen the pain. Gentle muscle stretching and relaxing exercises may also help. However, some people develop significant, long-term symptoms. Your dentist can prescribe muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs. A mouthguard can help reduce clenching, grinding, and muscle tension. Because stress is often a contributing factor, you should also consider a stress management program.

Oral cancer treatment depends on a number of factors. Among these are the location, size, type, and extent of the cancer; the stage of the disease; and the patient's age and general health.

Treatment includes:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor in the mouth. This is the usual treatment for patients with oral cancer. If the cancer has spread, the surgeon may also remove lymph nodes in the neck. If the disease has spread to muscles and other tissues in the neck, the operation may be more extensive.

  • Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy). This is the use of high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. Radiation therapy affects only the cells in the treated area. The energy may come from either a large machine or from radioactive materials placed directly into or near the tumor. Radiation therapy is sometimes used instead of surgery for small tumors in the mouth. Patients with large tumors may need both surgery and radiation therapy.

  • Chemotherapy. This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Researchers are looking for effective drugs or drug combinations to treat oral cancer. They are also exploring ways to combine chemotherapy with other forms of cancer treatment to help destroy tumors and keep them from spreading.

To learn more:

Composite Fillings
(American Dental Association)
See this site for an overview of information on dental fillings and a list of other resources where you can learn about the subject.
Endodontic Treatment (Root Canal Treatment)
(American Dental Association)
Learn how a root canal can save a tooth.
What You Need To Know About? Oral Cancer: Treatment
(National Cancer Institute)
This online version of a cancer publication provides a description of treatments for oral cancer. For more information about symptoms, detection, diagnosis, and prevention, see the left side menu.
Prevent Tooth Grinding (Bruxism)
Visit this site to find out if you may be one of the millions of people who suffer from bruxism (tooth grinding). Learn what you can do about it.
What is TMD?
(Joel B. Schilling, DDS)
This site defines TMD, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. The site also provides a list of many other dental and oral health topics.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials allow scientists and doctors to test new ways to treat illnesses. They are also an option for people to try something new at less cost. If you have oral cancer or some other oral health disease or condition, you might want to consider participating in a clinical trial. The following links may help you decide if you want to be in a clinical trial.
(National Institues of Health)
This site allows individuals to search for clinical studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and other Federal and non-Federal organizations. It contains over 5,000 clinical trials. For a basic understanding of clinical trials, look under Resource Information in the center of the page, then select Understanding Clinical Trials. Mouth and Tooth Diseases
(National Institutes of Health)
This is a complete listing from the site of all government funded clinical studies involving mouth and tooth diseases.
Taking Part in Cancer Treatment Research Studies
(National Cancer Institute)
Oral cancer patients who are interested in taking part in a trial should talk with their doctor and read this online booklet. It explains what treatment studies are and outlines some of their possible benefits and risks.
PDQ (Physician Data Query)
(National Cancer Institute)
One way to learn about clinical trials is through PDQ, a computerized system developed by the National Cancer Institute. PDQ contains information about cancer treatment, screening, prevention, genetics, and supportive care, plus a current list of trials all over the nation. You may also call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER for answers to your questions about cancer, tips to prevent cancer, help with quitting smoking, and informational materials.
Clinical Trials
(National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
The National Institute of Health answers questions about clinical trials. A list of dental and craniofacial (referring to the head and face) studies seeking patients for clinical trials is included. There is also information for professionals and patient advocates who want to increase awareness of clinical trials.

next » Where can I go for help and more information about dental and oral disease?

Written by: Judi Berry, B.F.A.
Reviewed by: Michael J. Engel, D.M.D.
Last Modified: Monday November 17, 2014 10:18 AM