Posts for category: Oral Health
A toothache means a tooth has a problem, right? Most of the time, yes: the pain comes from a decayed or fractured tooth, or possibly a gum infection causing tooth sensitivity.
Sometimes, though, the pain doesn't originate with your teeth and gums. They're fine and healthy—it's something outside of your tooth causing the pain. We call this referred pain—one part of your body is sending or referring pain to another part, in this instance around your mouth.
There are various conditions that can create referred pain in the mouth, and various ways to treat them. That's why you should first find out the cause, which will indicate what treatment course to take.
Here are a few common non-dental causes for tooth pain.
Trigeminal Neuralgia. The trigeminal nerves situated on either side of the face have three large branches that extend throughout the face; the branch to the jaw allows you to feel sensation as you chew. When one of the nerve branches becomes inflamed, usually from a blood vessel or muscle spasm pressing on it, it can refer the pain to the jaw and seem like a toothache.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). These two joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull can sometimes become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons. This can set up a cycle of spasms and pain that can radiate throughout the jaw and its associated muscles. The pain can mimic a toothache, when it actually originates in the jaw joints.
Teeth Grinding. This is an unconscious habit, often occurring at night, in which people clench or grind their teeth together. Although quite common in children who tend to grow out of it, teeth grinding can continue into adulthood. The abnormally high biting forces from this habit can cause chipped, broken or loosened teeth. But it can also cause jaw pain, headaches and tenderness in the mouth that might feel like a toothache.
These and other conditions unrelated to dental disease can seem like a tooth problem, when they're actually something else. By understanding exactly why you're feeling pain, we can then focus on the true problem to bring relief to your life.
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Although energy and sports drinks have different purposes, they have one thing in common: they often contain added citric and other acids to improve taste and prolong shelf life. Their high acid content can harm tooth enamel.
Although enamel is the strongest substance in the body, acid can dissolve its mineral content. And although saliva neutralizes acid after eating or drinking and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel, it may not be able to keep up if the mouth remains acidic for a prolonged period of time.
That could happen with both beverage types. While energy drinks have higher acid levels than sports drinks, both are high compared with other beverages.
A recent laboratory experiment studied the two beverages’ effect on tooth enamel. The researchers submerged samples of enamel in six different beverage brands (three from each category) for fifteen minutes, and then in artificial saliva for two hours to simulate mouth conditions. They repeated this cycle four times a day for five days.
At the end of the experiment the enamel in the energy drinks lost on average 3.1 % of their structure, while the sports drink samples lost 1.5%. Although energy drinks appeared more destructive, the acid in both beverages caused enamel damage. Although there are other factors to consider in real life, the experiment results do raise concerns about both beverages’ effect on dental health.
You can, however, minimize the potential harm to your enamel from energy or sports drinks. First, try other beverage choices lower in acid; water, for example, is a natural hydrator and neutral in pH. Try to only drink energy or sports beverages at mealtimes when your saliva is most active. And after drinking, rinse your mouth out with water to dilute any remaining acid.
And although it sounds counterintuitive, wait about an hour to brush your teeth after drinking one of these beverages. Your enamel can be in a softened state before saliva can re-mineralize it, so brushing earlier could remove tiny amounts of enamel minerals.
Taking these steps with energy or sports beverages could help you reduce the chances for enamel erosion. Doing so may help you avoid unnecessary damage to your teeth and overall dental health.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on dental 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 “Think Before You Drink.”
Teeth grinding is one childhood habit that sounds worse than it usually is: often the most harm done is to your night’s sleep. That said, though, it’s still a habit to keep your eye on.
Also known as bruxism, teeth grinding is so common among children that it’s considered normal behavior by many healthcare professionals. As for causes, some suggest a child’s immature neuromuscular chewing control may trigger it, while others point to the change from deeper sleep to a lighter stage as a possible cause. Problems like airway obstruction, medications or stress also seem to contribute to the habit.
For most children, teeth grinding usually fades by age 11 with no adverse effect on their teeth. If the habit extends into adolescence, however, there’s an increased risk for damage, mainly tooth wear.
This can happen because grinding often produces chewing forces 20-30 times greater than normal. Over time this can cause the biting surfaces of the teeth to wear and reduces the size of the teeth. While teeth normally wear over a lifetime, accelerated wear can pose a significant health risk to your teeth. Any sign of tooth wear in a child or adolescent is definitely cause for concern.
If your child’s tooth grinding habit appears to be developing into a problem, your dentist may recommend a few treatment options. The most common is a thin, plastic night guard worn in the mouth during sleep that prevents the upper and lower teeth from making contact. If the suspected cause is airway obstruction, they may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to seek treatment for that, as well as other professionals to help with managing stress or medications.
Like thumb sucking, the habit of teeth grinding usually ends with no permanent ill effects. But if you notice it continuing late into childhood or your dentist finds tooth wear or other problems, take action to avoid problems long-term.
If you would like more information on childhood bruxism, 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 “When Children Grind their Teeth.”