“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.”
Like other living tissue, your teeth can feel. Dentin, the layer below the enamel, houses fluid-filled conduits that transmit temperature or pressure sensations to a nerve network within the tooth’s inner pulp. It’s so effective that incoming sensations must be buffered — “toned down”— to avoid a painful overload of the nerves. The enamel above the gum line and a bone-like substance called cementum below help do this.
Unfortunately, if teeth lose this protection they can become hypersensitive. This can cause a flash of sharp pain while eating or drinking something cold or hot or just biting down.
There are a number of causes for tooth sensitivity, any of which can influence how we treat it. While you’ll need a dental exam to know for sure, your hypersensitivity will more than likely stem from one of these 3 problems.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This is an infection caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on the teeth due to poor oral hygiene. The inflamed gum tissues weaken and detach from the teeth, causing them to shrink back or recede. This leaves the cementum unprotected, which easily erodes and exposes the dentin to acid and bacteria — and hypersensitivity. Clinically removing the plaque helps the affected gums heal. In extreme cases, the gums may need surgical grafting to regenerate.
Overaggressive brushing. While a lack of oral hygiene can contribute to gum recession, ironically too much hygiene — brushing too hard for too long — can damage your gums and cause them to recede. Brushing really doesn’t require a lot of elbow grease — a gentle scrubbing motion over all tooth surfaces is sufficient to remove plaque. Fine-tuning your brushing will help your gums to recover and heal.
Mouth acid. Although quite strong, enamel has one formidable enemy: acid, which can erode enamel and expose the dentin. Over-indulgence in acidic foods and beverages can make your mouth more acidic; more likely, though, bacterial plaque will again be the culprit, because bacteria excrete an acidic waste product. You can reduce mouth acid with daily brushing and flossing and consuming less acidic foods and beverages.
If you’re experiencing any kind of tooth pain, see us for an examination. We’ll determine the cause and initiate the appropriate treatment to regain your oral health.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.
Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.
Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:
- If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
- If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
- If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
- If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.
What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!
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.”
It’s hard to imagine, but little more than a century ago today’s “minor” bacterial and viral infections were often deadly. This changed with the advent of antibiotics, drugs which kill disease-causing microbes. Decades after the development of penicillin and similar antibiotics, we routinely rely on them for treating infection. They’re quite prominent in dental care in treating advanced forms of periodontal (gum) disease or reducing bacteria that cause tooth decay.
But the age of antibiotics may be in danger: their overuse in medicine and the food industry has led to the rise of resistant microbial strains — “superbugs” — that no longer respond to first line antibiotics or, in some cases, to second or third line drugs. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates more than two million people annually will contract one of these superbugs of which more than 20,000 will die. If current practices continue, the growth of resistant strains (as well as allergic reactions among users of antibiotics) will increase. The answer is a more modified use of antibiotics.
For healthcare providers, this means adopting new protocols in which we attempt to prescribe antibiotics that specifically target an identified microbe (which we’ve determined through more rigorous diagnostic testing), and in limited amounts. We must also rein in the practice of antibiotic use in the food industry, routinely administered to livestock to prevent disease or to enhance growth. Many countries, including the U.S., are now moving toward a more limited practice in which only animals that are demonstrably sick receive antibiotics. This will limit their release into the greater environment, which is a contributing factor to growing microbial resistance.
Patients also play a role in the better use of antibiotics. We must first change the perception that antibiotics are a “cure-all” — the answer to every illness. It’s also important for patients who’ve been prescribed antibiotics to complete the course of treatment, even if after a day or two they feel better; stopping antibiotic treatment prematurely increases the chances targeted microbes develop a resistance to that particular drug.
Altering our perception and use of antibiotics will require a tremendous effort for all of society. But making these changes will help ensure antibiotics continue to serve humanity as an important health benefit well into the future.
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