Posts for category: Oral Health
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.”
Each year doctors treat about 150,000 new cases of severe facial pain. If you're one of those people, you don't have to suffer—there are ways to gain relief from these painful episodes.
Those recurring episodes are known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). As the name implies, the source of the pain are the trigeminal nerves, which originate in the brain stem and extend on either side of the face. Each is divided into three branches (hence the "tri" in trigeminal) that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
TN can involve one or more of these branches, resulting in mild to severe pain that can last for several seconds. Jaw movements like chewing or speaking can trigger an episode, as well as a light touch to the face.
There are various proposed causes for TN, including links with inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis, which damages the insulating sheathing around nerve cells. The most common cause, though, appears to be a blood vessel pressing against the nerve. The compression causes hypersensitivity in that area of the nerve so that it transmits pain at the slightest sensation.
Other conditions like jaw joint pain disorders (TMD) or a dental abscess can cause similar pain symptoms, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis. If your doctor does identify your condition as TN, you may then need a comprehensive approach to treatment involving a team of care providers, including your dentist.
For the most part, TN can be managed, beginning with the most conservative approach to gain relief, often with medications to block the nerve's pain signals to the brain or decrease abnormal nerve firings. If that proves insufficient, though, more intensive treatments are available.
One possible treatment for an impinging blood vessel is a microsurgical procedure to expose the affected nerve and relocate the vessel. While this can be effective, the surgery does carry some risk of facial numbness or decreased hearing. If the risks are too high for conventional surgery, an alternative procedure uses a precise beam of high-dose radiation to relieve the pressure from the vessel.
The most important thing to know about TN, though, is that it is possible to control it and relieve future pain episodes. If you're experiencing these symptoms, see your dentist or doctor for an exam and accurate diagnosis.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”
A certain news story a few years ago notwithstanding, dentists still recommend flossing along with brushing to adequately remove disease-causing plaque. If there is any controversy at all about flossing, it's whether you should perform it before brushing or after. Each perspective has good reasons.
"Brush First" proponents say their way encourages the formation of a daily hygiene habit, a must for preventing disease. That's because brushing can remove most of the plaque built up on the teeth, while flossing can then remove what's left. If you floss first, though, you'll have to plow through the sticky film with the floss, which can be an unpleasant experience. Facing that every day could make a person less enthusiastic about developing a hygiene habit.
But it's not just about the sensation: depending on the person, the plaque buildup could be so much that the floss becomes clogged with it. You're then moving the plaque rather than removing it. Brushing a lot of the plaque out of the way first will increase the cleaning power of your floss.
The "Floss First" team, though, is undaunted with their own take on the matter. Flossing can loosen up any stuck debris between teeth, making it easier for brushing to clear it away. It can also expose plaque-covered areas between teeth to allow better contact with the fluoride in your toothpaste. And, the amount of plaque you're pulling out in certain areas during flossing could tip you off to beef up your brushing efforts on those areas of heavier plaque accumulation.
One of the prime reasons for flossing first, though, goes back to the comfort factor and human nature. To be honest, for most people flossing isn't as much "fun" as brushing. If you put it off until after brushing, you're more likely not to do it if you find it unpleasant. Doing it first gets the less likeable task out of the way, so you can then do the more likeable one, brushing.
Which approach is best for you? It's really a personal decision, one you can discuss with your dentist. Try both ways, and see which one seems better. But whether you floss first or last, do floss to really reduce your risk for dental disease.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, 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 “Brushing and Flossing: Which Should be Done First?”
Each year, the National Safety Council recognizes June as National Safety Month. It's the perfect time to focus on safety: With summer temperatures heating up, so do sports and outdoor activities—and, unfortunately, the risk of accidents. As the old Boy Scout motto goes, everyone should "be prepared." And while that means watching out for sunburn, poison ivy or traveling hazards, it also means being alert for potential tooth injuries.
Even during casual recreational sports, an unintentional hit to the face or jaw could chip, move or, worse yet, knock a tooth out completely. As with any other aspect of safety, prevention should be at the top of your list when it comes to dental injuries. In that regard, anyone involved in a contact sport or other high-risk activity should wear a mouthguard. This device absorbs much of the force generated during a hard impact to the face or jaw that might otherwise affect the teeth.
Mouthguards fall into two basic categories. The first are retail guards available at sporting goods stores and many pharmacies, most commonly "boil and bite" guards. They're so named because a wearer first softens them with very hot water and then bites down on them to personalize their fit. Once cooled, the mouthguard will maintain its shape. While reducing the severity of impact injuries, these retail mouthguards can be bulky and uncomfortable to wear.
The second category, a custom mouthguard created by a dentist, offers a sleeker, more comfortable fit. These guards are based on a direct impression of the wearer's mouth that we take at the dental office. Although any mouthguard is better than no mouthguard, a 2018 study confirmed that custom-made mouthguards from the dental office perform better than the kind bought in a drug store or sporting goods store.
Summer is prime time for creating cherished family memories. With a little dental injury prevention knowledge, you can help make sure those summer memories are happy ones. If you would like more information about dental injury prevention and treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “Dental Injuries: Field-Side Pocket Guide.”
X-ray imaging is such an intricate part of dentistry, we usually don't think twice about it. Without it, though, the fight against dental disease would be much harder.
At the same time, we can't forget that x-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. It's that very quality and the difference in the absorption rate between denser bone and teeth and softer diseased tissue that makes disease diagnosis possible.
But this same penetrative power can potentially harm the tissues it passes through. For that reason when practicing any form of x-ray diagnostics, dentists follow a principle known as ALARA, an acronym for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable." In lay terms ALARA means getting the most benefit from x-rays that we can with the lowest dose and exposure time possible.
While practicing ALARA with x-rays is important for patients of any age, it's especially so for children who are more sensitive to radiological energy given their smaller size and anatomy. We can't use the same settings, dosages or exposure times with them as with an adult.
To protect children, dentists have developed techniques and protocols that lessen their exposure time and rate, while still providing usable images for diagnosing disease. The bitewing is a good example of safe and effective pediatric x-ray imaging.
A bitewing is a plastic device holding exposable film that patients bite down on and hold in their mouth while x-raying. The x-rays pass through the teeth and gums and expose the film behind them on the bitewing. Using a bitewing we can capture a set of two to four radiographs to give us a comprehensive view of the back teeth, while exposing the child less radiation than they normally receive daily from background environmental sources.
This and other advances in equipment and digital imaging greatly reduce the amount of radiation patients receive during x-rays. If, though, you're still concerned about your child's x-ray exposure, talk with your dentist who can explain in more detail the x-ray safety protocols they follow. Just like you, they want your child to be as safe as possible while still benefiting from the diagnostic power of x-rays.
If you would like more information on safety precautions using x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”