Physical pain is never pleasant or welcomed. Nevertheless, it’s necessary for your well-being—pain is your body telling you something isn’t right and needs your attention.
That fully applies to tooth pain. Not all tooth pain is the same—the intensity, location and duration could all be telling you one of a number of things that could be wrong. In a way, pain has its own “language” that can give us vital clues as to what’s truly causing it.
Here are 3 types of tooth pain and what they might be telling you about an underlying dental problem.
Sensitivity to hot or cold. If you’ve ever had a sharp, momentary pain after consuming something hot like coffee or cold like ice cream, this could indicate several causative possibilities. You might have a small area of tooth decay or a loose filling. You might also have an exposed root due to gum recession, which is much more sensitive to temperature or pressure changes. The latter is also a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
Acute or constant pain. If you’re feeling a severe and continuing pain from one particular area of your teeth (even if you can’t tell exactly which one), this could mean the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, has become infected with decay. The pain is emanating from nerves within the pulp coming under attack from the decay. To save the tooth, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the decayed tissue and seal the tooth from further infection. You should see your dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain suddenly stops—that only means the nerves have died, but the decay is still there and threatening your tooth.
Severe gum pain. If there’s an extremely painful spot on your gums especially sensitive to touch, then you may have an abscess. This is a localized area of infection that develops in the gums either as the result of periodontal (gum) disease, or an infection spreading from the tooth pulp into the gum tissues. You’ll need to see a dentist immediately for both pain relief and appropriate treatment (including a possible root canal) to heal the abscessed tissue.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and how to treat it, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
In an ideal situation, you would transition from a missing tooth to a permanent replacement with as little time in between as possible. Unfortunately, reality can intrude on the best of intentions.
For example, dental implants are one of the best ways to regain the form and function of a lost tooth. They are, however, initially expensive, especially if you’re replacing multiple teeth. Your financial ability may force you to wait — which means you need a solution now, if only temporarily.
Fortunately, a removable partial denture (RPD) could be the temporary solution you’re looking for. There are various kinds and all quite affordable; one of the more versatile is a flexible version made of a form of nylon. Due to its thermoplasticity, the nylon is quite pliable when heated and can be easily molded into a denture base with attaching prosthetic teeth. They’re comfortable to wear and attach to the remaining teeth at the gum line with flexible, finger-like clasps.
Â RPDs are designed as a transitional replacement between tooth loss and a permanent restoration such as implants, bridges or permanent dentures. Their light weight, comfort and affordability also make them tempting to consider as a permanent replacement.
They do, however, have some drawbacks that make them less desirable for long-term use. They weren’t designed for relining or repair, so such efforts can be difficult. The clasp holding them in place may also trap food and bacteria that increase the risk of dental disease to the gums and remaining teeth. You can minimize some of these weaknesses by properly cleaning and maintaining the RPD, and taking them out at night to inhibit the growth of bacteria while you sleep.
Mainly, though, you should primarily consider a RPD as a temporary bridge between lost teeth and a permanent restoration. To that end, we’ll work with you to develop a treatment and finance plan that will help you achieve a more permanent and satisfying restoration.
If you would like more information on teeth replacement options, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures.”
If you’re brushing and flossing daily, as well as seeing your dentist at least every six months, you’re doing the top things needed to maintain your dental health. But all your hygiene efforts could be undermined if you’re not eating a dental-friendly diet. Simply put, there are foods that protect and promote dental health and those that increase your risk of dental disease.
Diets in the latter category are typically high in added sugar and low in natural food fiber. The largest sources of these are processed sugars from sugar cane or beets and high fructose corn syrup. With just a little knowledgeable label reading, you can find sugar and its various aliases added to thousands of processed food items including pastries, candies, sodas and energy drinks.
Heavy consumption of processed sugars also contributes to dental disease. Disease-causing bacteria thrive on sugar as a food source, which fuels both their growth and their production of oral acid. Elevated acid levels can dissolve the minerals in tooth enamel faster than saliva can keep up. Softened enamel opens the door to tooth decay, while increased bacterial growth can lead to periodontal (gum) disease.
A diet, however, low in added sugar and high in fiber can have the opposite effect. Although fresh fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars, they also have indigestible parts called fiber that slow the digestion of any sugars and allow the body to more efficiently process them. With the higher quantity of vitamins and minerals found in unprocessed foods, the overall effect of this diet is a decrease in your risk for dental disease.
Speaking of dental-friendly foods, we should also give honorable mentions to certain dairy items like cheese and milk that stimulate saliva production and are rich in calcium needed for tooth strength. Another beneficial category is both black and green tea, which contain antioxidants to fight disease and fluoride to strengthen enamel.
Adopting a low-sugar/high-fiber diet can have a profound impact on your overall health. Over time, you’ll also reap dental health rewards with stronger teeth and gums and a lower risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on diet and oral 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Our main focus as your dentist is to keep your teeth and gums healthy and functional. But there’s another important aspect of care — your teeth’s appearance. It’s not just a superficial concern: your smile can have a profound effect on your self-image, as well as your personal and professional relationships.
This is the realm of cosmetic dentistry: served by both specialists and general dentists, it focuses on altering your teeth’s appearance with treatments as basic as teeth whitening or as comprehensive as dental implants. The goal, however, is the same: a new, more attractive smile.
In a way, cosmetic dentistry begins with you and oral hygiene. The twin tasks of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque not only lowers your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, they also improve the appearance of the tooth surface. There are, however, circumstances where otherwise healthy or repaired teeth may need extra cosmetic attention due to chipping, misshape or staining. In these cases, a truly cosmetic approach may be necessary.
One approach is to cover a tooth’s blemishes. Veneers, for example, are thin, layered pieces of dental porcelain shaped and colored like natural teeth that are bonded to the outside of an unattractive tooth. In other cases, a tooth may require a life-like porcelain crown that completely covers it to gain the same effect.
Missing teeth, of course, pose a different challenge, but here there are a wide range of solutions: dental implants, fixed bridgework or removable full or partial dentures. Advancements in dental materials and techniques can produce new teeth that are so life-like and natural that they’re imperceptible from the real thing.
Â These and other measures like orthodontics can all be used to turn a smile you find embarrassing into one you’re confident to share with the world. It begins, though, with both you and us taking a good, close look at your current smile — a smile analysis, if you will.
After assessing both your current needs and your expectations for change, we can develop an appropriate treatment plan. It might be quite simple or with multiple treatment stages, but it will be the best plan for you. Through cosmetic dentistry we have the means to help you achieve a new, more confident smile.
If you would like more information on the many ways to transform your smile, 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 “Cosmetic Dentistry: A Time for Change.”
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