Posts for category: Oral Health
Physical pain is unpleasant—but not knowing why you're hurting makes it worse. Thousands of people encounter such as experience when parts of their face suddenly and mysteriously erupt in pain.
Often, though, the mystery can be quickly solved—more than likely, it's a nerve disorder known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Typically seen in people over 50 (and in more women than men), TN is a chronic condition that produces brief episodes of acute, spasmodic pain.
The source of this pain is the trigeminal nerve, which courses down each side of the face. Each nerve consists of three distinct branches that serve the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
Physicians usually find that a blood vessel has come in contact with the nerve at some point, and the resulting pressure has damaged the nerve's outer insulative layer (myelin sheath). This causes the nerve to become hypersensitive at the point of contact, overreacting in a sense to the slightest touch (even a wisp of wind) on the face and jaw.
TN isn't the only source of facial pain. It can also accompany other conditions like TMD, which is why it's important to undergo a diagnostic examination. If you are diagnosed with TN, there are a number of ways to manage it. The most conservative approach (and the one usually tried first) is the use of medications to block pain signals from the nerve to the brain or to lessen abnormal nerve firing.
If medication proves ineffective or there are other factors related to age and health, you may be a candidate for a surgical solution. In one such procedure, a surgeon inserts a thin needle into the affected nerve and selectively damages some of its fibers to prevent the transmission of pain signals. Another procedure relocates the impinging blood vessel, which then allows the nerve to heal.
These surgical methods are effective but they can cause side-effects in rare cases like numbness or hearing impairment. It's best then to discuss with your doctor which approach would be best for you and your life situation. Ultimately, though, there are ways to relieve you of this painful condition.
If you would like more information on treating facial 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
Not all toothaches are alike: Some are sharp and last only a second or two; others throb continuously. You might feel the pain in one tooth, or it could be more generalized.
Because there are as many causes as there are kinds of dental pain, you can expect a few questions on specifics when you come to us with a toothache. Understanding first what kind of pain you have will help us more accurately diagnose the cause and determine the type of treatment you need.
Here are a few examples of dental pain and what could be causing it.
Temperature sensitivity. People sometimes experience a sudden jolt of pain when they eat or drink something cold or hot. If it only lasts for a moment or two, this could mean you have a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling, or an exposed root surface due to gum recession. If the pain lingers, though, you may have internal decay or the nerve tissue within the tooth has died. If so, you may require a root canal treatment.
Sharp pain when chewing. Problems like decay, a loose filling or a cracked tooth could cause pain when you bite down. We may be able to solve the problem with a filling (or repair an older one), or you may need more extensive treatment like a root canal. In any event, if you notice this as a recurring problem, don't wait on seeing us—the condition could worsen.
Dull pain near the jaw and sinuses. Because both the jaws and sinuses share the same nerve network, it's often hard to tell where the pain or pressure originates—it could be either. You may first want to see us or an endodontist to rule out tooth decay or another dental problem. If your teeth are healthy, your next step may be a visit with a physician to examine your sinuses.
As you can see, tooth pain can be a sign of a number of problems, both big and small. That's why it's important to see us as soon as possible for an examination and diagnosis. The sooner we can treat whatever is causing the pain, the sooner your discomfort will end.
If you would like more information on treating dental 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
You've just finished your daily brushing and flossing. How did you do? Swiping your tongue across your teeth can generally tell you: It's a good sign if it glides smoothly; but if it feels rough and gritty, you better take another run at it.
This "tongue test," however, only gives you a rough idea of how well you're removing plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. Plaque, though, can be sneaky, "hiding" in the nooks and crannies on the biting surfaces of teeth, around the gum line and in between teeth.
So, how do you know if you're clearing out any plaque holdouts? An effective way is to use a plaque disclosing agent. This over-the-counter dental product consists of a swab, tablet or solution, which contains a dye that's reactive to plaque.
After brushing and flossing as usual, you apply the solution to your teeth for about 30 seconds. You then take a look in the mirror: Any remaining plaque will be stained a bright color that makes it stand out. There are also agents with two colors of dye, one that stains older plaque and one for newer plaque.
The plaque staining not only helps you see how well you've been brushing and flossing, it can also show you areas in need of improved hygiene. For example, if you notice a scalloped pattern around the gum line, that may mean your brush isn't getting into that area effectively. In this way, you can use a disclosing agent to fine-tune your hygiene.
Repeated use of a disclosing agent is safe, but just remember the dye color can be vivid. It does wear off in a few hours, though, so perhaps schedule it for a day off around the house. You should also avoid swallowing any solution or getting any of it on clothing.
The ultimate test, though, is a thorough dental cleaning with your dentist at least every six months. They can verify whether you've been fairly successful with your brushing and flossing, or if you have room for improvement. If you do use a disclosing agent, you can also discuss that with them in working out better strategies to protect your teeth from tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of tooth decay, 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.”