“My tooth hurts…or maybe more than one. Or, it might be my gums.”
If you're having trouble describing the pain in your mouth, don't feel bad. Although our body's pain mechanism is great for alerting us to a problem, it can't always tell us the true cause and location of that problem.
That's especially true of tooth pain. It could be a sign, for instance, of decay within a tooth's inner pulp. When under attack, the nerves in the pulp often send out pain signals that could be sharp, dull, continuous, intermittent, seeming to come from one tooth or several.
If this is the case, depending on how deep the decay is, you could need a filling to resolve the problem or, if it's more extensive, possibly a root canal treatment to save the affected tooth. If you need a root canal, after removing the pulp's diseased tissue, the procedure calls for filling the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent future infection.
Another possibility for the pain is gum disease that has also infected the tooth. Gum disease usually begins with the bacteria in dental plaque, a thin biofilm that builds up on tooth surfaces, which infect the gums. If not treated promptly, the infection can advance below the gum line to the tooth roots and supporting bone. From there, it could invade the tooth and travel through the root canals to the interior pulp.
In this scenario, we'll need to treat the gum disease by removing plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) deposits from all tooth and gum surfaces. This is usually done manually with hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment, but it may also require surgical access to infected areas around the roots. If the tooth's nerve has become involved, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment as described above.
There are three key points to take from these two tooth pain scenarios. First, the only way to determine the true cause of your pain (and what treatment you'll need) is with a dental exam. Second, the sooner your pain is diagnosed and you begin treatment, the better your outcome—so see your dentist at the first sign of pain or other symptoms like swollen or bleeding gums.
And finally, you may be able to prevent these and other dental problems by removing disease-causing plaque through daily brushing and flossing and professional teeth cleaning every six months. Prevention through effective oral hygiene may help you avoid a future bout of mysterious tooth pain.
If you would like more information on treating tooth 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Gum recession is a serious oral condition in which the gums shrink back or “recede” from their normal position around the teeth. Because they're the primary protection for teeth below the enamel, this can expose the teeth to infection or cause painful sensitivity. And receded gums most certainly can diminish your smile.
But there are preventive measures you can adopt that might help you avoid this unpleasant condition. Here are 4 things you can do to minimize your risk for gum recession.
Practice daily oral hygiene. The main cause for recession is gum disease, a bacterial infection that weakens gum attachment to teeth. Gum disease usually arises from dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Removing it every day with brushing and flossing minimizes the risk of gum disease and gum recession.
But don't overdo it. Although brushing is key to keeping your mouth healthy, too hard and too often can damage your gums and lead to recession. A little “elbow grease” may be appropriate for other cleaning tasks, but not your teeth—use gentle strokes and let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the main removal work. And avoid brushing more than twice a day.
See your dentist regularly. Your personal care efforts are a major part of preventing gum recession, but you can greatly increase the effect with professional dental care. That's because with even the best hygiene practice infections and other gum problems can still arise. You may also have inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents that increase your disease risk and bear closer monitoring.
Act quickly at the first signs of disease. Gum disease is a progressive disease, and it doesn't take long for it to become intrenched. The sooner it can be treated, the less likely you'll experience recession. So, make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you notice your gums are swollen, red or painful, or if they bleed easily after brushing.
There are ways to reverse gum recession. But many treatments like grafting surgery to regenerate new gum tissues can be quite involved and expensive. Following these tips can help you avoid gum recession altogether or stop it before it goes that far.
If you would like more information on how to avoid gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
Advanced tooth decay is a serious dental problem that can threaten an affected tooth's survival. But for decades now dentists have reliably used root canal treatment to better a decayed tooth's odds. This routine procedure performed with dental drill and special hand tools removes infected tissue inside a tooth and replaces the voids with a filling to prevent future infection.
But now there's a new way to perform a root canal—with a surgical laser. Lasers, amplified and focused light beams, aren't new to healthcare—they're an integral feature of many routine medical treatments and surgeries. But their use is relatively new to dentistry, and to endodontics (treating the interior of teeth) in particular.
Lasers can be used in root canal treatment to perform a number of tasks. They can remove diseased tissue and other debris from the innermost tooth pulp. They can be used to clean and shape root canal walls in preparation for filling. And they can also be used to soften and mold the filling material to fit more precisely within a tooth's particular root canal network.
Although laser-assisted root canal therapy isn't yet widespread, laser's limited use to date has given us a fair picture of both their advantages and disadvantages. As with other medical laser applications, lasers are very precise in removing diseased tissue without too much disruption of healthy tissue. There's less need for anesthesia than with dental drills, and lasers are a lot less noisy and jarring. Patients by and large experience less bleeding, as well as less discomfort or infection afterward.
But because laser light can only travel in a straight line, they're difficult to use in many tightly curved root canals. In these cases, the traditional methods are better suited, although a laser can be used in conjunction with other tasks. Temperature with lasers must also be carefully managed lest the high heat that's often generated damages natural tissues.
Although lasers won't be replacing traditional treatment methods for decayed teeth in the foreseeable future, there's hope they'll become more commonplace as technology and techniques continue to advance. Lasers can only improve what already is an effective means of saving teeth.
If you would like more information on treatments for advanced 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 “Laser-Assisted Root Canal Treatment.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Every year 150,000 people, mostly women over age 50, find out they have a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia. For many it begins as an occasional twinge along the face that steadily worsens until the simple act of chewing or speaking, or even a light touch, sets off excruciating pain.
The source of the pain is the pair of trigeminal nerves that course along each side of the face. Each nerve has three separate branches that provide sensation to the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
The problem arises when areas of the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating covering on nerves, becomes damaged, often because of an artery or vein pressing against it. As a result, the nerve can become hypersensitive to stimuli and transmit pain at even the slightest trigger. It may also fail to stop transmitting even after the stimulation that caused it is over.
Although the condition may not always be curable, there are various ways to effectively manage it. The most conservative way is with medications that block the nerve from transmitting pain signals to the brain, coupled with drugs that help stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing.
If medication isn't enough to relieve symptoms, there may be some benefit from more invasive treatments. One technique is to insert a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent them from firing. Another microsurgical procedure attempts to relocate the nerve away from a blood vessel that may be compressing it.
The latter procedure has some higher risks such as facial numbness or decreased hearing, and is often better suited for younger patients. Older patients may benefit more from the needle insertion procedure previously mentioned or a directed beam of high-dose radiation to alter the nerve.
To learn the best options for you, you should first undergo a neurological exam to verify you have trigeminal neuralgia and to rule out other causes. From there, you and your doctor can decide the best course of treatment for your age and individual condition.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be an unpleasant experience. But there are tried and true ways to minimize its effect on your life.
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.”
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