There are few more painful experiences than a toothache. You can't ignore it: it's as if your mouth is screaming for relief.
But while the throbbing pain can tell you something's wrong, it may not be clear exactly what's wrong. There's more than one possibility — it could be with the tooth itself, the gums around the tooth or a combination of both.
In the first case, a toothache could be a sign of severe tooth decay within the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp. The pain you feel comes from the nerves within the pulp under attack from the infection.
For this level of decay there's one primary way to save the tooth and stop the pain: a root canal treatment. In this procedure we remove all the infected and dead tissue from the pulp and fill the empty chamber and root canals with a special filling. We then seal and crown the tooth to prevent further infection.
Another source of toothache happens when your gums have become painfully inflamed due to infection. This is usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease, triggered by a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces known as plaque. In this case, we must remove all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from tooth and gum surfaces, including on the roots. Your gums can then heal and return to health.
But your situation could be more complex. Untreated tooth decay can advance to the roots and subsequently infect the gums. Likewise advanced gum disease can pass the infection from the gums to the root and into the pulp.Â For such cases you may need a specialist, either an endodontist specializing in root canal issues or a periodontist specializing in the gums.Â They can better diagnose the origin and extent of the problem and offer advanced techniques and treatments to deal with it.
It's possible in these more complex situations your tooth has become diseased beyond repair and must be replaced. It's important, then, that you see us if you experience any significant tooth pain, even if it seems to go away. The sooner we diagnose and begin treating the cause of your pain, the better your chances of regaining your dental health.
If you would like more information on treating dental disease, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
We’ve all experienced eating or drinking something hot enough to scald the inside of our mouths. But what if you regularly have a burning sensation but haven’t consumed anything hot to cause it? You may have a condition called burning mouth syndrome, or BMS.
In addition to the sensation of feeling scalded or burnt, BMS can also cause dryness, tingling and numbness, as well as a change or reduction in your sense of taste. You can feel these sensations generally in the mouth or from just a few areas: the lips, tongue, inside of the cheeks, gums, throat or the roof of the mouth.
The root cause of BMS isn’t always easy to pinpoint, but it seems related to systemic conditions like diabetes, nutrition or vitamin deficiencies and acid reflux; it’s also been known to accompany the use of irradiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment or psychological problems. It seems to occur most often in women around the age of menopause and may be linked to hormonal changes.
To determine the best treatment course, we must first eliminate the possibility that another condition besides BMS may be causing your symptoms. Some medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) cause mouth dryness, which can irritate the inner linings of the mouth or contribute to yeast infection, either of which could result in similar symptoms to BMS. Allergic reactions to dental materials in dentures or toothpastes that contain sodium lauryl sulfate, whiteners or cinnamon flavor can cause irritation and skin peeling within the mouth.
If we’ve determined you have BMS, there are a number of strategies we can try to bring relief, like stopping or cutting back on habits that worsen dry mouth like smoking, alcohol or coffee consumption, or frequently eating hot or spicy foods. You should also drink water more frequently to keep your mouth moist, or use biotene or products containing the sweetener xylitol to promote saliva production. If mouth dryness is related to medication, you should speak with your physician or our office about alternatives.
In some cases, BMS resolves over time. In the mean time, though, promoting good saliva flow and reducing stress will go a long way toward diminishing this irritating condition.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of burning mouth syndrome, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
Chronic stress can cause any number of physical problems like back pain, insomnia or stomach ulcers. In the mouth, it can also be the cause of teeth grinding or clenching habits that may lead to pain and tooth damage.
Besides toothaches and jaw pain, stress-related teeth grinding may also be causing your teeth to wear at a faster than normal rate. While the teeth can withstand normal forces generated from biting and chewing, a grinding habit could be subjecting the teeth to forces beyond their normal range. Over time, this could produce excessive tooth wear and contribute to future tooth loss.
Here, then, are some of the treatment options we may use to stop the effects of stress-related dental habits and provide you with relief from pain and dysfunction.
Drug Therapy. Chronic teeth grinding can cause pain and muscle spasms. We can reduce pain with a mild anti-inflammatory pain reliever (like ibuprofen), and spasms with a prescribed muscle relaxant drug. If you have sleep issues, you might also benefit from occasional sleep aid medication.
A Night or Occlusal Guard. Also known as a bite guard, this appliance made of wear-resistant acrylic plastic is custom-fitted to the contours of your bite. The guard is worn over your upper teeth while you sleep or when the habit manifests; the lower teeth then glide over the hard, smooth surface of the guard without biting down. This helps rest the jaw muscles and reduce pain.
Orthodontic Treatment. Your clenching habit may be triggered or intensified because of a problem with your bite, known as a malocclusion. We can correct or limit this problem by either moving the teeth into a more proper position or, if the malocclusion is mild, even out the bite by reshaping the teeth in a procedure known as occlusal (bite) equilibration.
Psychological Treatment. While the preceding treatments can help alleviate or correct dental or oral structural problems, they may not address the underlying cause for a grinding habit — your psychological response to stress. If you’re not coping with stress in a healthy way, you may benefit from treatments in behavioral medicine, which include biofeedback or psychological counseling.
If you would like more information on dental issues related to stress, 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 “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
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