Hudson Valley Top Dentists 2011: 5 Reasons Why Going to the Dentist is Easier, Safer (And Less Painful) Than Ever
Dr. Luz Meija (left) and Dr. Denise Assonga of Assonga Endodontics, in their Poughkeepsie office
Photograph by Michael Polito
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Dental treatment has improved dramatically over the last few years. Learn about the latest treatments, and see if your dentist made our list of the region’s 217 most well-regarded practitioners.
#1: ROOT CANAL RENAISSANCE
Ever since the infamous scene in which Dustin Hoffman had a root canal done without any Novocaine in the 1976 movie Marathon Man, root canals have been portrayed as pure torture — a procedure to be feared and ultimately avoided at all costs. Even President Obama, in his 2010 State of the Union address, tried to underscore how painful the planned bank bailout was going to be by comparing it to a root canal. But, of course, root canals (or endodontic therapy) remain the single most effective way to avoid losing a tooth, and luckily, the procedure has improved dramatically in recent years.
At Assonga Endodontics in Poughkeepsie, Dr. Denise A. Assonga and Dr. Luz E. Mejia are on the cutting edge of what they call “the renaissance of root canal therapy.” Not only do they use the latest materials, technology, and techniques in their pleasant, villa-style office, but they’re committed to educating each and every patient about what a root canal actually entails — and to dispelling some of the enduring myths about this frequent procedure, which is performed more than 14 million times a year in the U.S. Call this dynamic duo root canal cheerleaders, if you will, but their goal is to have every patient say: “ ‘Hey, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,’ ” says Dr. Assonga. “Patients often fall asleep in the chair and then say, ‘I can’t believe I fell asleep during a root canal!’ ”
The myths surrounding root canal start at the beginning: defining what it is — and what it isn’t. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you’re taking out the root,’ ” says Dr. Assonga. “But that’s not right.” A root canal is the procedure by which the canals in the tooth are cleaned out, the space is disinfected, and the canals are then filled in. A root canal becomes necessary when the living material of the tooth — the pulp, which contains blood vessels, nerves, and other matter — becomes infected. Infection can occur for several reasons, including an untreated cavity, blunt trauma to the tooth (which causes the pulp tissue to slowly die), or because of gum disease around the tooth. “If you had a lot of cavities and a lot of deep fillings when you were young, that may lead to root canal problems because it causes the nerve to be irritated over a long period of time. Then the nerve can die and you need a root canal,” says Dr. Assonga.
The OPMI PROegro microscope
“Patients often ask, ‘If I’ve had a root canal and the tooth is supposedly dead, why do I still feel pain?’ The tissue around it is still alive,” says Dr. Assonga. “Basically, the infection was in the bone surrounding the tooth. If you have a splinter in your hand and you take it out, your hand will still hurt for a little while until it heals. It is kind of similar.”
Dr. Assonga says that the single greatest piece of technology they have is the futuristic-style microscope they use “everyday, all the time.” The $30,000 OPMI PROegro is equipped with a high-resolution, three-chip video camera. “We can look in there and see what is going to work; there are less surprises. In the past, people have had a root canal already on a tooth and they would maybe have to have it extracted. But now we can go in there and fix a lot of the problems that have occurred.”
There is also a 3-D X-ray machine available, although Assonga Endodontics doesn’t currently own one. “But you can see things inside the tooth that you wouldn’t normally be able to see. For instance, you can find an extra root that nobody knew was there.”
The instruments used to clean the canals have been updated too — and are one of the main reasons why a root canal can often now be completed in one visit. “It used to all be done by hand,” says Dr. Assonga. “It would take three appointments, at least. But now we use nickel titanium instruments that can rotate 360 degrees and go around bends and curves and still maintain the same shape of the canal. They really do a much better job. There aren’t many things that are better and faster — but these instruments are one of them.”
One of the hottest topics in the endodontic world is regeneration. In short, it’s the ability to regrow the root of an immature adult tooth. Dr. Assonga explains: “Say a seven-year-old has a tooth come out and when we look at the X-ray, the tooth is not fully formed yet. The nerve grows the tooth, so if the nerve dies, the tooth can’t grow. So we used to put medicine inside the tooth, but the tooth would remain very, very weak. Now we have found that there are some certain cells that are left over in the bone that we can initiate to activate themselves to lay down new tooth structure. We’re in the process of doing several of these now. It’s pretty amazing.”
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