If you have chronic jaw pain, you know how difficult eating, speaking or even smiling can be. Many sufferers will do anything to gain relief, even surgery. But before you go down that road, consider the traditional conservative approach to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) management first—it could provide the most relief with the least risk of side effects.
The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the head. These ball and socket joints also contain a cushioning disk to facilitate movement. This disk is believed to be the primary focus for jaw pain problems known collectively as TMD.
Doctors now believe injury, stress, metabolic issues, jaw anatomy defects or similar factors trigger the chain reaction of muscle spasms, pain and soreness that can erupt during a TMD episode. A TMD patient may experience pain within the jaw muscles or joints themselves, clicking sensations, or an inability to open the jaw to its full range.
TMD therapy has traditionally followed an orthopedic path—treating jaw joints like any other joint. In recent years, though, a more aggressive treatment model has emerged that promotes more invasive techniques like orthodontics, dental work or jaw surgery to relieve discomfort. But the track record for this model, especially concerning jaw surgery, remains hazy at best and offers no guarantee of relief. These techniques are also irreversible and have even made symptoms worse in some patients.
It’s usually prudent, then, to try conservative treatments first. This can include pain and muscle relaxant medication, jaw exercises, stretching and massage, and dietary changes to reduce chewing force. Patients with teeth grinding habits may also benefit from a bite guard worn at night to reduce the biting force during sleep and help the joints relax.
By finding the right mix of treatments, you may be able to find significant relief from TMD symptoms with the conservative approach. If not, you might then discuss more invasive options with your dentist. But even if your dentist recommends such a procedure, you would be wise to seek a second opinion.
TMD can definitely interfere with your quality of life and peace of mind. But there are ways to reduce its effects and make for a happier life.
If you would like more information on managing chronic jaw pain, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
Tooth decay is a highly destructive dental disease, responsible along with periodontal (gum) disease for most adult tooth loss. And we become even more susceptible to it as we get older.
One form of decay that’s especially prominent among senior adults is a root cavity. Similar to a cavity in the crown (visible tooth), this form instead occurs at or below the gum line in the roots. They happen mainly because the roots have become exposed due to gum recession, a common consequence of periodontal (gum) disease and/or brushing too hard.
Exposed roots are extremely vulnerable to disease because they don’t have the benefit of protective enamel like the tooth crown, covered instead with a thin and less protective mineral-like material called cementum. Normally, that’s not a problem because the gums that would normally cover them offer the bulk of the protection. But with the gums receded, the roots must depend on the less-effective cementum for protection against disease.
Although we treat root cavities in a similar way to those in the crown by removing decayed structure and then filling them, there’s often an added difficulty in accessing them below the gum line. Because of its location we may need to surgically enter through the gums to reach the cavity. This can increase the effort and expense to treat them.
It’s best then to prevent them if at all possible. This means practicing daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the thin, built-up biofilm on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and advanced prevention methods like topical fluoride to strengthen any at-risk teeth.
You should also seek immediate treatment at the first sign of gum disease to help prevent gum recession. Even if it has occurred, treating the overall disease could help renew gum attachment. We may also need to support tissue regeneration with grafting surgery.
Root cavities are a serious matter that could lead to tooth loss. But by practicing prevention and getting prompt treatment for any dental disease, you can stop them from destroying your smile.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root cavities, 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
Once upon a time, celebrities tried hard to maintain the appearance of red-carpet glamour at all times. That meant keeping the more mundane aspects of their lives out of the spotlight: things like shopping, walking the dog and having oral surgery, for example.
That was then. Today, you can find plenty of celebs posting pictures from the dentist on social media. Take Julianne Hough, for example: In 2011 and 2013, she tweeted from the dental office. Then, not long ago, she shared a video taken after her wisdom teeth were removed in December 2016. In it, the 28-year-old actress and dancer cracked jokes and sang a loopy rendition of a Christmas carol, her mouth filled with gauze. Clearly, she was feeling relaxed and comfortable!
Lots of us enjoy seeing the human side of celebrities. But as dentists, we’re also glad when posts such as these help demystify a procedure that could be scary for some people.
Like having a root canal, the thought of extracting wisdom teeth (also called third molars) makes some folks shudder. Yet this routine procedure is performed more often than any other type of oral surgery. Why? Because wisdom teeth, which usually begin to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums) around age 17-25, have the potential to cause serious problems in the mouth. When these molars lack enough space to fully erupt in their normal positions, they are said to be “impacted.”
One potential problem with impacted wisdom teeth is crowding. Many people don’t have enough space in the jaw to accommodate another set of molars; when their wisdom teeth come in, other teeth can be damaged. Impacted wisdom teeth may also have an increased potential to cause periodontal disease, bacterial infection, and other issues.
Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed; after a complete examination, including x-rays and/or other diagnostic imaging, a recommendation will be made based on each individual’s situation. It may involve continued monitoring of the situation, orthodontics or extraction.
Wisdom tooth extraction is usually done right in the office, often with a type of anesthesia called “conscious sedation.”Â Here, the patient is able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli (such as verbal directions), but remains free from pain. For people who are especially apprehensive about dental procedures, anti-anxiety mediation may also be given. After the procedure, prescription or over-the-counter pain medication may be used for a few days. If you feel like singing a few bars, as Julianne did, it’s up to you.
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
For decades, dental x-rays have helped us accurately diagnose and treat a wide array of dental diseases and conditions. But even with recent advances in digital imaging, the traditional x-ray does have one drawback: its two-dimensional view doesn’t always provide the “big picture” that a three-dimensional viewpoint can provide.
But a new type of x-ray technology can do just that: known as cone beam computed tomography (CBCT), these machines record hundreds of digital images as a cone-shaped beam of x-ray energy is projected through a device that rotates around a person’s head. A computer then assembles the images into a single three-dimensional image that can be manipulated on screen to view from various angles. Not only does this provide greater context and detail, it does so with no more radiation exposure than a standard 20-film digital full-mouth x-ray series.
While CBCT hasn’t replaced the traditional x-ray, it’s making its mark in a number of specialized areas of dentistry. The following are just a few of the ways CBCT is improving both accuracy and treatment outcomes.
Orthodontics. CBCT can provide a much more detailed view of the entire jaw; this can help us determine the best locations for realigning teeth safely and effectively.
Dental Implants. With a CBCT scan we can precisely locate nerve canals, sinuses and adjacent teeth before implant surgery to locate the best position for the implant.
TMD Treatment. To help develop the best treatment approach for alleviating the pain and dysfunction of temporo-mandibular joint disease (TMD), a CBCT scan can provide us detailed information on how the disease is affecting a patient’s joints, teeth, sinuses and airway.
Impactions. An impacted tooth can exert damaging pressure against the roots of neighboring teeth. A CBCT scan allows us to observe the impacted tooth from various vantage points to determine the best treatment approach for neighboring teeth, nerve canals and sinuses.
If you would like more information on CBCT technology, 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 “Getting the Full Picture With Cone Beam Dental Scans.”
Daily fatigue or complaints of your snoring from family have led you to see your doctor about the problem. After an exam and a test session in a sleep lab, your problem now has a name — obstructive sleep apnea.
This common sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat over-relax during sleep. The relaxed tissues obstruct air flow to the trachea (windpipe) and cause “apnea,” where you cease to breathe. The lack of oxygen causes you to wake, even for a micro-second, to begin breathing again. This may occur multiple times throughout the night, diminishing the quality of your sleep and leading not only to drowsiness and daily fatigue but also contribute to cardiovascular disease or other systemic conditions.
The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine while you sleep. The machine delivers pressurized air to a face mask you wear while you sleep; the additional pressure keeps the airway open. However, a CPAP machine does have a few disadvantages, including discomfort while attached to the machine, nasal congestion and dryness, or claustrophobia. These effects can be so pronounced for some patients, they’re unable to adjust themselves to the machine.
If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, there may be an alternative — a custom-fitted oral appliance we manufacture for you to wear in your mouth while you sleep. The appliance pulls the lower jaw forward resulting in a wider opening of the airway. In addition to being less cumbersome than a CPAP mask, an oral appliance is easier to wear, compact in size for easy travel and doesn’t require electricity.
While an oral appliance is an effective alternative to a CPAP machine for many patients, it does have a few disadvantages including problems with saliva flow (too much or too little), muscle or teeth soreness and minor tooth or jaw movement. Still, an oral appliance might be the right solution to relieve your sleep apnea over the long-term.
If you would like more information on treatments for sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Sleep Apnea FAQs.”
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