Chronic pain affects the quality of life for an estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. alone. The American Chronic Pain Association designates September as “Pain Awareness Month” to highlight the many conditions that cause chronic pain and strategies to manage them. Among these are conditions that can involve your oral or facial health. Here are two painful mouth and face disorders and what you can do about them.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). TMD is a common condition often seen in the dental office. The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull and facilitate activities like eating or speaking that require jaw movement. If they and their associated muscles become inflamed, this can trigger debilitating chronic pain. If you suffer from TMD symptoms, make sure we know about it so we can make your dental visits as comfortable as possible.
When possible, avoid irreversible and invasive treatments for TMD that may permanently change your bite, such as surgery or having teeth ground down. Instead, most healthcare professionals recommend a more conservative approach. Try the following tips to alleviate TMD pain:
- Eat soft foods so you do not aggravate the jaw joint.
- Avoid extreme jaw movements like suddenly opening your mouth very wide.
- Use ice packs and moist heat to relieve discomfort.
- Ask us about jaw exercises to stretch and relax the jaw.
- Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi or taking short walks to clear your mind.
Burning Mouth Syndrome. The sensation that the mouth has been burned or scalded without an obvious cause is most common among women during menopause. While researchers can’t yet pinpoint clear causes for it, the list of suspects includes hormonal changes, neurological or rare autoimmune disorders or medication-induced dry mouth.
The first step to treatment is an oral exam along with a complete medical history to identify any possible contributing factors. Depending on the results, we can offer recommendations to manage your symptoms. The following tips often help:
- Keep your mouth moist. We can recommend an artificial saliva product or medication to increase saliva flow if needed.
- Change your toothpaste if it contains irritating ingredients.
- Identify and avoid foods and beverages that seem to precede an episode. These may include spicy foods, coffee and alcoholic beverages.
- Quit smoking, as this is often linked to burning mouth episodes.
The pain and discomfort caused by these and other oral conditions can put a dent in your life. A visit to your dentist, though, could be the first step to finding relief.
If you would like more information about oral conditions that produce chronic pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Seeking Relief From TMD” and “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”
One of the key elements in a child’s development is their first set of teeth. Although primary (“baby”) teeth last only a few years, they’re critically important for enabling a child to eat solid foods, speak and smile.
But they also provide one more important benefit—they hold the space in the jaw reserved for the permanent teeth developing just under the gums until they erupt. But if a child loses a primary tooth prematurely because of disease or injury, other teeth may drift into the vacant space and crowd it out for the intended permanent tooth. It may then come in misaligned or remain stuck within the gums (impaction).
To avoid this, we try to treat and preserve a diseased primary tooth if at all practical. For a primary molar, one of the large teeth in the back of the mouth, this might include capping it with a stainless steel crown.
Why a metal crown? Primary molars normally don’t fall out until around ages 10-12, so it may be years for a younger child before their permanent molars erupt. All during that time these particular teeth will encounter heavier biting forces than teeth in the front.
A steel crown is often the best solution for a molar given their longer lifespans and encountered biting forces. The crown’s metal construction can stand up to these forces while still protecting the tooth from re-infection from decay. And because molars are typically outside of the “smile zone” occupied by more visible front teeth, the crown’s metal appearance isn’t usually an aesthetic issue.
Crowning a molar usually takes one visit, a dentist typically performing the procedure with local anesthesia and possibly a mild sedative like nitrous oxide gas (“laughing gas”). After removing any decayed structure from the tooth, the dentist will then fit a pre-formed crown over the remaining structure, sized and shaped to match the original tooth as close as possible.
A stainless steel crown is a cost-effective way to added needed years to a primary molar that could otherwise be lost prematurely. Preserving it may help a child avoid bite problems and expensive future treatments.
If you would like more information on dental care for primary teeth, 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids: A Safe and Effective Way to Restore Primary Molars.”
If you think “vaping” electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes for short) is healthier for your teeth and gums than smoking cigarettes, you might be disappointed with the latest research. A number of studies seem to indicate e-cigarettes could be just as damaging to your mouth as traditional cigarettes.
An e-cigarette is a device containing a chamber for liquids and a means to heat the liquid into a vapor. The user then inhales or “vapes” the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings. The heat also pressurizes the vapor causing it to expel as an aerosol into the mouth.
Researchers have found the ingredients and aerosol effect could lead to potential health problems. An Ohio State University researcher found that vaping disrupted the normal balance of microorganisms in the mouth known as the oral microbiome. This imbalance could make it easier for disease-causing bacteria to proliferate, particularly those most responsible for periodontal (gum) disease.
Another study coming out of the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University in New York detected cell damage in gum tissue caused by e-cigarette vapor similar to that caused by regular cigarette smoke. Some of this damage seemed to result from the flavoring agents used in the e-cigarette liquid, as well as nicotine.
Another study from Quebec, Canada appears to concur with the New York study. These researchers found the damage caused by e-cigarette vapor might substantially increase the rate of cell death in oral tissues by as much as 50% over a short period of time. This kind of damage can lead to higher risks of dental diseases like gum disease or tooth decay.
While we don’t know the long-term effect of using e-cigarettes on both oral and general health, these studies are alarming: They seem to show vaping may cause some of the same problems as smoking. With the jury still out, the prudent thing to do is limit or avoid vaping altogether to protect your mouth from these unhealthy outcomes.
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
One of the key parts to an effective oral disease prevention plan is practicing daily oral hygiene to remove dental plaque. Both brushing and flossing are necessary for cleaning your teeth of this thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But as important as they are, these two essential hygiene tasks aren’t the end-all-be-all for lowering your disease risk. For the best protection, you should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for thorough dental cleanings. That’s because plaque you might have missed can turn into something much more difficult to remove: calculus.
Also known as tartar, calculus is hardened deposits of plaque. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “small stone,” an apt description of its texture on tooth surfaces. Although not the same as the branch of mathematics that bears the same name, both derive from the same Latin word: Merchants and traders centuries ago used small stones to “calculate” their various transactions.
Over time soft and pliable dental plaque hardens into calculus, in part due to a reaction with saliva. Because of the difficulty of accessing all tooth surfaces, calculus can form even if you have an effective daily hygiene practice.
Once formed, calculus can adhere to teeth so tenaciously, it’s impossible to remove it with brushing and flossing. But dentists and hygienists can remove calculus safely with special tools called scalers.
And it should be removed or it will continue to foster bacterial growth. This in turn increases the chances for infections that attack the teeth, gums or underlying bone. Keeping it under control will therefore diminish your risk for developing dental disease.
Although there are other factors like heredity that can affect your disease risk, keeping your mouth clean is the number one thing you can do to protect your teeth and gums. A daily hygiene practice and regular dental visits will help ensure plaque and its calcified form calculus won’t be a problem.
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