Pain is the body’s warning system: It tells us something is wrong. And depending on the location and intensity of the pain, it can give us vital clues about the problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s not so clear and direct—the pain could arise from any number of sources. Toothaches often fall into this category: Although it’s likely indicating a tooth or gum problem, it could be something else — or even somewhere else.
This is known as referred pain, in which you may feel pain in one location, like your mouth, but the actual source of the problem is somewhere else, like an infected and congested sinus passage. If we’re able to identify the true source and location of the pain, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Besides sinus infections, there are other conditions like trigeminal neuralgia that can refer pain to the mouth. This painful condition involves the trigeminal nerve, a large nerve running on either side of the face that can become inflamed. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, you might feel the pain at various points along the jaw, feeling much like a toothache.
There’s also the case of an earache mimicking a toothache, and vice-versa. Because of the proximity of the ears to the jaws, there is some nerve interconnectedness between them. For example, an infected or abscessed back tooth could feel a lot like an earache.
These and other possible problems (including jaw joint disorders or teeth grinding) can generate pain as if it were coming from the mouth or a single tooth. To be sure you’ll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If your dentist doesn’t find anything wrong with your mouth, he or she may refer you to a medical doctor to explore other possible causes.
Getting to the root cause of pain can help determine which treatment strategy to pursue to relieve it. Finding the actual source is the most efficient way to understand what a pain sensation is trying to tell us.
Once upon a time, celebrities tried hard to maintain the appearance of red-carpet glamour at all times. That meant keeping the more mundane aspects of their lives out of the spotlight: things like shopping, walking the dog and having oral surgery, for example.
That was then. Today, you can find plenty of celebs posting pictures from the dentist on social media. Take Julianne Hough, for example: In 2011 and 2013, she tweeted from the dental office. Then, not long ago, she shared a video taken after her wisdom teeth were removed in December 2016. In it, the 28-year-old actress and dancer cracked jokes and sang a loopy rendition of a Christmas carol, her mouth filled with gauze. Clearly, she was feeling relaxed and comfortable!
Lots of us enjoy seeing the human side of celebrities. But as dentists, we’re also glad when posts such as these help demystify a procedure that could be scary for some people.
Like having a root canal, the thought of extracting wisdom teeth (also called third molars) makes some folks shudder. Yet this routine procedure is performed more often than any other type of oral surgery. Why? Because wisdom teeth, which usually begin to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums) around age 17-25, have the potential to cause serious problems in the mouth. When these molars lack enough space to fully erupt in their normal positions, they are said to be “impacted.”
One potential problem with impacted wisdom teeth is crowding. Many people don’t have enough space in the jaw to accommodate another set of molars; when their wisdom teeth come in, other teeth can be damaged. Impacted wisdom teeth may also have an increased potential to cause periodontal disease, bacterial infection, and other issues.
Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed; after a complete examination, including x-rays and/or other diagnostic imaging, a recommendation will be made based on each individual’s situation. It may involve continued monitoring of the situation, orthodontics or extraction.
Wisdom tooth extraction is usually done right in the office, often with a type of anesthesia called “conscious sedation.”Â Here, the patient is able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli (such as verbal directions), but remains free from pain. For people who are especially apprehensive about dental procedures, anti-anxiety mediation may also be given. After the procedure, prescription or over-the-counter pain medication may be used for a few days. If you feel like singing a few bars, as Julianne did, it’s up to you.
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Because it requires jaw movement, eating can be difficult and painful if you have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). During flareups you may switch to foods that are easier to eat but may be less nutritious than those you're giving up.
But there are ways to keep healthier foods in your diet while minimizing TMD discomfort. In many cases, it's a matter of preparing your food differently. Here are a variety of food groups known for their nutritional value and what you can do to prepare them for easier eating with TMD.
Fruits and Vegetables. You should peel any fruits or vegetables with hard or chewy skin like apples, peaches or cucumbers. Try chopping or pureeing fruits and vegetables you can eat raw to reduce their size and make them easier to chew. Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, broccoli or cauliflower can be cooked, then chopped or mashed.
Legumes and nuts. Pod-based vegetables like beans or peas provide a number of nutritional elements, as do nuts with their healthy fats. Your motto with these foods should be "Not too large and not too hard." Be sure then to cook, mash or puree legumes that are larger than a pea. With nuts, try nut butters for a softer serving than eating them out of the shell.
Protein and Dairy. Any meats like poultry or beef should be cut into bite-sized pieces; you can also moisten them with broths, gravies or sauces for easier chewing, or braise or stew them in liquid to tenderize them. You can also consume most milk, yogurt or cheese products you can tolerate. If you can't, try alternatives like meal replacement or whey protein beverages.
Grains. Prepare grains by cooking them until they're softened. Hot cereals like oatmeal offer a lot of nutrition and they're relatively easy to eat. Toast your bread and cut the slice into smaller pieces to minimize jaw movement.
One last tip: take your time while eating. A slower rate not only helps you enjoy your food more, it reduces the amount of work your jaws perform while eating. Less jaw work can help further ease the discomfort of TMD.
If you would like more information on how to relieve TMD pain and dysfunction, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
Pediatricians and dentists alike recommend beginning your child's regular dental visits at an earlier age rather than later. Most say children's first visits should happen around their first birthday.
Some may question whether that's necessary given the state of a child's dental development at that age. At that stage they normally have only a few primary teeth, which will eventually give way to their permanent set soon enough.
But regular dental visits can make a positive difference even at that early age. Here are 3 oral health areas that could benefit from seeing the dentist by Age One.
Protecting primary teeth from decay. It's true that primary teeth don't last long when compared to a normal lifespan. But during their short tenure, they do play a critical role in a child's health and development. Not only do they provide a child dental function for eating, speaking and smiling, they also preserve the space for the permanent teeth that will succeed them. Without them, permanent teeth can erupt out of position to form a poor bite (or malocclusion). That's why early dental care to prevent and treat decay in primary teeth helps them remain for as long as they should.
Detecting developing malocclusions. A malocclusion doesn't form overnight—there can be subtle signs of its development during early childhood. A dentist, especially a pediatric dentist or orthodontist, can often detect those signs before the malocclusion fully develops (one reason why every child should have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6). With early detection, an orthodontist can use interventional techniques that will lessen or even stop a malocclusion from forming. As a result, later orthodontic treatment may not be as extensive—or expensive—as it could have been.
Developing a healthy dentist-patient relationship. Dental anxiety is a real problem for many adults—in some cases it can be so severe they avoid professional dental care altogether. The roots of that dental fear often go back to unpleasant experiences during childhood. Starting dental visits when a child is very young appears to minimize the development of dental anxiety. A young child, especially visiting a "kid-friendly" dental clinic, will more likely view dental care as a routine part of life and will less likely be afraid.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why It's Important for Your Baby.”
Root canal therapy is the unsung "hero" of dentistry. Although often falsely maligned as an unpleasant experience, millions of decayed teeth have been saved thanks to this routine treatment.
But although root canal therapy can save your tooth, we can't guarantee it won't be affected by another infection. There are other factors to consider how long a treated tooth will remain healthy.
Root canal therapy stops and limits the damage from tooth decay that has infected the inner pulp and root canals. A dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist) drills into the tooth to gain access to the pulp. They remove the diseased pulp tissue and then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a specialized filling called gutta percha. The tooth is then sealed and later crowned to protect it against future fracture or infection.
The probability of that occurring may depend on when a dentist performs the root canal in the disease progression—and the earlier the better. If decay has already infected the underlying bone, the tooth's long-term prognosis even with root canal therapy could be dim. That's why you should see a dentist as soon as possible for any tooth pain, even if it goes away.
The type of tooth could impact long-term health. Teeth with single roots are usually easier to treat. But those with multiple roots and an intricate root canal network can be more difficult to treat, and require specialized equipment and techniques.
Age can also impact root canal therapy longevity. The older a root canal-treated tooth is, the more brittle and susceptible to fracture it can become, which can pose complications. That's why we typically place crowns on treated teeth to protect them from both future infection and undue stress created while biting and chewing.
To help mitigate these possible factors, you should see your dentist regularly for checkups and at the first sign of pain or other abnormalities for the earliest treatment possible. And for more complex tooth issues, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist to perform your root canal. With early intervention and attentive care, your root canaled tooth could enjoy many years of life.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
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