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.”
Dental plaque, that gritty bacterial film coating your teeth, is the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. You can see and feel a lot of it—but not all of it. Some deposits can lodge snugly between your teeth, and can cause dental disease just as much as what's out in the open.
The problem with between-teeth plaque is that even a solid brushing habit might not effectively remove it. That's why you flossing should also be part of your daily oral hygiene.
If the thought of flossing, however, causes you to let out an audible sigh, we understand. Flossing typically engenders less enthusiasm than brushing, mainly because many find flossing time consuming and difficult to do.
If traditional flossing isn't your bag, we may have a reasonable alternative. Oral irrigation is a hygiene method for removing plaque between teeth using a pressurized water spray. You direct the water spray between your teeth using a handheld wand (which somewhat resembles a power toothbrush) and small hose attached to a countertop pump appliance.
A mainstay in dental offices, oral irrigators (or water flossers) have been available for home use since the 1960s. They're ideal for people who have problems with manual dexterity or who may not want to contend with flossing thread. They also make it easier for patients wearing braces to clean between their teeth, a monumental task using regular floss.
As to effectiveness, oral irrigation appears to match that of regular flossing, especially for orthodontic patients. Clinical studies in the early 2000s compared patients with braces using oral irrigation with those who were brushing only. Those using irrigation were able to remove five times as much plaque as the other group.
There are a number of comparable oral irrigation brands on the market from which to choose, and your dentist can advise you on features to look for when purchasing one. Just be sure you're using some method, oral irrigation or traditional flossing, to remove disease-causing plaque from between your teeth—either will go a long way in keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on flossing methods, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
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.”
Your gums don't just attractively frame your teeth—they protect them as well. If they shrink back (recede) from their normal covering, portions of the teeth could become exposed to bacteria and other hazards.
Unlike the visible crown, which is protected by enamel, the tooth root depends largely on the gums as a shield against bacteria and other hazards. When the gums recede, it exposes the roots and makes them more susceptible to disease or trauma. It may also cause sensitivity to hot and cold foods as the now exposed dentin gets the full brunt of temperature and pressure sensations once muffled by the gums.
There are actually a number of causes for gum recession. In rare cases, a tooth may not have erupted normally within its bony housing, which inhibits the gums from covering it fully. Thinner gum tissues, passed down genetically, are also more susceptible to recession. And a person can even damage their gums and cause them to recede if they brush too aggressively.
The most common cause, though, is advanced periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection arises from dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, usually because of poor hygiene practices. As the infection and resulting inflammation in the gums worsens, they lose their attachment to teeth resulting in a number of harmful outcomes that include recession.
The first step then in treating gum recession is to treat the underlying problem as much as possible. In the case of gum disease, effective treatment could stop mild to moderate recession and sometimes reverse it. For more extensive recession, a patient may need gum grafting surgery to help regenerate lost gum tissue.
You can help prevent gum disease, and thus lower your risk for recession, with daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque. Likewise, see your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque).
You should also visit your dentist promptly if you notice swollen or bleeding gums, or more of your teeth surfaces showing. The earlier your dentist diagnoses and begins treatment for gum recession, the better your chances for a healthy and more attractive outcome.
If you would like more information on maintaining good gum health, 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.”
When you see your dentist about mouth pain, you expect to hear that it's a decayed or fractured tooth, or maybe a gum infection. But you might be surprised if your dentist tells you there's nothing going on inside your mouth to cause the pain.
It's not that far-fetched: The pain could be originating elsewhere. This is known as referred pain, where pain radiates from its origin to another part of the body.
Unless there's an obvious oral cause for the pain, it's best not to undertake any treatment involving the mouth until we've pinpointed the actual cause. That said, the cause is usually not too far away.
Facial nerve disorders. The trigeminal nerve courses on either side of the face from the upper skull through the cheeks and ends around the lower jaw. But if portions of the nerve's protective sheathing become damaged, the slightest touch on the face could trigger prolonged pain. Because of its proximity to the jaw, the pain can often be misidentified as a toothache.
Jaw joint pain. When joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull become traumatized and inflamed, a condition known as Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), the pain can radiate toward the jaw. In some cases, the person may easily mistake the muscle pain and spasming for a toothache.
Ear infection. As with TMD, your "toothache" may actually stem from an ear infection or congestion radiating pain into the jaw. It can also happen in the opposite direction—ear pain could actually be the referred pain of an infected back tooth—emphasizing the importance of precisely determining the originating source of any pain in the jaws or face.
Sinus pain. The large maxillary sinuses are located on either side of the face just above the back of the upper jaw. Because of its proximity, pain from a sinus infection can seem to be coming from one of the back molars. And as with ear infections, frequent sinus infections could in fact be caused by an infected tooth penetrating through the sinus floor.
These and other examples of possible referred pain illustrate how "tricky" a presumed toothache can be. Finding the true source of oral or facial pain will ensure you receive the proper treatment for lasting relief.