You expect a decayed tooth, a fracture or a gum infection to be the cause for that toothache causing you grief. Sometimes, though, the answer may be “none of the above”—there's nothing wrong going on in your mouth to cause the pain.
You pain is real—but its source is elsewhere in the body, a situation known as referred pain. It's important to find out the pain's true source to determine what kind of treatment you'll need to alleviate it.
Here are some of the likely candidates for a “toothache” that's not a toothache.
Facial nerves. Tooth pain may be associated with trigeminal neuralgia, a misfiring disorder of the trigeminal nerves that course through either side of the face. The nerve is divided into three branches, two of which are located in the upper face and one in the lower jaw. Because they're interconnected, a problem with one of the branches in other parts of the face could be felt in the branch around the jaw.
Jaw joints. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD) can cause pain in the pair of joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull. The joints can become inflamed due to stress or trauma and the associated muscles begin spasming, causing severe pain. Because of their proximity to the teeth, the pain from the joints can radiate into the dental area and mimic a toothache.
Ear or sinus infections. Both the ears and the maxillary sinus are subject to infections that can cause severe pain and pressure. With the close proximity of both the ears and the sinus to the upper jaw, it's quite possible for pain originating in these structures to be felt within the mouth.
These are only a few of the possibilities that also include migraines, shingles, fibromyalgia and even vitamin deficiencies. As such, your dentist or physician may need to do a little detective work to locate the true cause. But the effort to locate where your mouth pain is actually coming from will help ensure you get the right treatment to give you lasting relief.
If you would like more information on referred 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 “Referred Pain: When a Toothache Is Not Really a Toothache.”
For years people tuned in to enjoy one of David Letterman's "Top 10 lists," a frequent gag performed on his show Late Night. Each countdown list poked fun at off-the-wall topics like "Top 10 New York City Science Projects" or "Top 10 Questions People Ask when Shopping for an Umbrella."
Recently, the American Dental Association presented their own kind of list—"America's Top 3 Oral Health Problems"—based on surveys of around 15,000 people across the U.S. But unlike the popular Late Night lists, this one is no laughing matter.
Coming in at #3, 29% of the respondents indicated they had experienced tooth pain at some time in their life. Tooth pain is the body's way of alerting to trouble in the mouth, anything from a decayed tooth to a gum abscess. The best thing to do if you have any persistent oral pain is to see your dentist as soon as possible for a thorough examination. And you should do this even if the pain goes away.
The second most prominent oral problem among people is difficulty biting or chewing, about 31% of those in the surveys. As with tooth pain, the reasons can vary greatly, including cracked, loose or deeply decayed teeth, dentures or jaw joint disorders (TMD). Because dental disease is usually the ultimate culprit, the best way to avoid this is to practice daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. And, as with tooth pain, you should see your dentist if you're having symptoms.
At 33% of respondents, the number one oral problem in America is chronic dry mouth. It's a constant inadequate flow of saliva often caused by medications or certain systemic conditions. Because saliva helps protect the mouth against infection, a restricted flow increases your risk of disease. If you notice your mouth is dry all the time, you should talk to your dentist about ways to boost your saliva. If you're taking medications, ask your doctor if they could be causing your symptoms and if you could change to something else.
While any of these Top 3 oral problems can be a stepping stone to more serious dental problems, it doesn't necessarily have to lead to that. You can improve your dental health through daily oral hygiene and regular dental treatment. And it might help you stay off this unpleasant list.
If you would like more information on treating dental disease, 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 “Top 3 Oral Health Problems.”
Your gums’ primary role is to protect your teeth and keep them firmly in place. But periodontal (gum) disease can damage your gums to such an extent you could ultimately lose your teeth.
Gum disease is a progressive infection caused by bacterial plaque built up on tooth surfaces from poor oral hygiene. The initial infection triggers inflammation, a defensive response of the body characterized by swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums. An initial form of the disease known as gingivitis occurs in most people after just a few days without brushing or flossing.
Resuming hygienic activities to remove daily plaque, along with regular dental cleanings, may be enough to stop gingivitis and restore healthy gums. If the disease is allowed to advance, however, the infected gum tissues will begin to detach from the teeth, turning the slight normal gaps between teeth and gums into wider voids known as periodontal pockets that fill with bacteria leading to infection. Your hygiene efforts will not be enough to cope with this advanced form of periodontal disease.
At this point professional techniques are required to adequately remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), depending on the depth and location of the periodontal pockets. The most basic of these is scaling using specialized hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment to remove plaque and calculus in pockets at or just below the gum line. If plaque and calculus have extended to the roots we may then need to employ root planing, in which we “shave” offending material from root surfaces. In some cases this may require accessing the area surgically beneath the gum tissue.
As plaque removal progresses, inflammation will begin to subside and the gum tissues heal. If, however, swelling, bleeding or pus formation persists, this may indicate bacterial levels remain too high. To decrease these levels we may need to administer antibiotics, or through mouthrinses containing chlorhexidine.
Once under control, it’s crucial from then on for you to maintain a strict daily regimen of brushing and flossing to keep plaque from building up on tooth surfaces. You'll also need to visit us regularly (two or more times a year) for professional cleaning and checkups. Keeping a close eye will help prevent a reoccurrence of this serious disease and prolong the life of your teeth.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal (gum) disease, 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Chipped a tooth? Don't beat yourself up—this type of dental injury is quite common. In fact, you probably have a favorite celebrity who has chipped one or more of their teeth. The list is fairly long.
Some chipped a tooth away from the limelight, such as Tom Cruise (a hockey puck to the face as a teen), Jim Carrey (roughhousing on the playground) and Paul McCartney (a sudden stop with a moped). Others, though, chipped a tooth while “on the job.” Taylor Swift, Hillary Duff and Jennifer Lopez have all chipped a tooth on stage with a microphone. And chipped teeth seem to be an occupational hazard among professional athletes like former NFL star, Jerry Rice.
Since smiles are an indispensable asset to high-profile celebrities, you can be sure these stars have had those chipped teeth restored. The good news is the same procedures they've undergone are readily available for anyone. The two most common restorations for chipped teeth are dental bonding and veneers.
The least invasive way to fix a chipped tooth is bonding with a material known as composite resin. With this technique, resin is first mixed to match the tooth color and then applied to the chipped area or applied in layers of color to get just the right look. After a bit of shaping, curing and adjustment, we're done—you can walk out with a restored tooth in one visit.
Bonding works well with slight to moderate chips, but it could be less durable when there is more extensive damage. For that, you may want to consider porcelain veneers. Veneers are thin wafers of dental porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to mask blemishes like stains, slight gaps or, yes, chips. Veneers can be so lifelike that you won't be able to tell the veneered tooth from your other teeth. They are fashioned to match the color and shape of an individual's teeth. Because of the time and design detail involved, veneers are more expensive than bonding, yet still within an affordable range for many.
Teeth require some alteration before applying traditional veneers because otherwise the teeth can appear bulky when the veneer is bonded to the existing tooth. To compensate, we remove a little of the tooth enamel. Because this loss is permanent, you'll need to wear veneers or have some other form of restoration for the tooth from then on. For many people, though, that's a small price to pay for a smile without chips.
Your first step to repairing a chipped tooth is to come in for an examination. From there, we'll recommend the best option for your situation. And regardless of which, bonding or veneers, we can change your smile for the better.
If you would like more information about restoring injured teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Porcelain Veneers: Strength and Beauty as Never Before.”
Oral cancer is one of the more dangerous malignancies people face. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of this deadly disease through changes in lifestyle habits and behaviors.
Two of the better known behaviors for increased oral cancer risk are immoderate consumption of alcohol and the use of tobacco, particularly chewing tobacco and snuff. Eliminating these, especially the latter, can vastly improve your odds of avoiding cancer. Another factor is a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) that's transmitted sexually, which you can avoid through safe sex practices.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, there's one more you should make to lower your oral cancer risk: adjustments to your diet. Research over the last half century has provided ample evidence of a link between the foods we eat and our risk of all types of cancers, including oral.
The biggest concern is over certain elements in some foods that can damage DNA, the molecular “operating instructions” that regulate the formation and function of our bodies' cells. These elements are collectively known as carcinogens because of their role in cancer formation.
An example of a carcinogen is a group of chemicals called nitrosamines. These form during preservation processes using nitrites in meats like bacon or ham. They're also found in beer or certain preserved fish. To limit your consumption of nitrosamines, you should reduce these and other processed products and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables, or organic meats and dairy products.
Our DNA can also be damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals that arise during normal cellular function. But there are also substances known as antioxidants that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Many plant-based foods contain nutrients like vitamins C and E that have antioxidant properties, so including them in your diet could help reduce your oral cancer risk.
Several clinical studies over the years have been consistent in their findings that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of oral or throat cancers, as well as other forms of cancer. Making changes to your diet in that direction, plus other lifestyle changes, could help you avoid this devastating oral disease.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
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