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.”
Surgical treatment for periodontal (gum) disease can go a long way toward restoring your mouth to good health; however, it does not change your susceptibility to the disease. That’s why we recommend that you come in regularly for periodontal cleanings after your treatment. Here are some frequently asked questions about keeping your mouth healthy after gum disease treatment.
How often do I have to come in for periodontal cleanings?
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer to that question: It really depends on your individual situation. For example, some individuals may have a more aggressive form of periodontal disease that requires more frequent periodontal maintenance (PM) treatments to maintain control. Others may have greater success controlling the buildup of disease-causing plaque with at-home oral hygiene measures, and therefore need PM less often. However, for people with a history of periodontal disease, getting PM treatments at a three-month interval may be a good starting point.
What happens at a periodontal maintenance appointment?
A thorough cleaning of the crown and root surfaces of the teeth, aimed at removing sticky plaque and hardened dental calculus (tartar), is a big part of PM treatments — but there’s much more. You’ll also receive a thorough clinical examination (including oral cancer screening), a review of your medical history, and x-rays or other diagnostic tests if needed. The status of any ongoing periodontal disease will be carefully monitored, as will your success at maintaining good oral hygiene. Decisions about further treatment will be based on the results of this examination.
What else can I do to keep gum disease at bay?
Keeping your oral hygiene in top-notch condition — which includes effective brushing and flossing every day — can go a long way toward controlling gum disease.Â In addition, you can reduce risk factors by quitting tobacco use and eating a more balanced diet. And since inflammatory conditions like diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease can make periodontal disease worse (and vice versa), keeping these conditions under control will greatly benefit both your oral health and your overall health.
Question: What oral health issue do teenagers who wear orthodontic retainers and older folks who wear dentures have in common?
Answer: Both need to pay particular attention to cleaning their oral appliances.
The same goes for anyone who wears a nightguard to control tooth grinding, a mouthguard to protect teeth while playing sports, or a clear aligner for orthodontic treatment. Yet many people aren’t sure how to properly clean their appliances — so here are a few handy tips:
- Use toothpaste on your appliance — the ingredients in toothpaste, which are designed to polish the hard enamel of your teeth, are too abrasive for the soft plastic of oral appliances, and will cause scratches.
- Boil your appliance, or use bleach to clean it — both will end up breaking down and destroying the appliance. Don’t even use very hot water, as it can deform the plastic and make the appliance useless.
- Leave your appliance out on the nightstand, or anywhere else — pets and small children have been known to find (and destroy) oral appliances left lying around. Instead, store it properly in its special case.
- Use liquid dish detergent or hand soap to clean your appliance. A little mild soap plus warm water will do a great cleaning job. While you’re at it, get a brush just for the appliance — because, while it’s fine for plastic, you don’t want to brush your teeth with soap!
- Put a towel in the sink basin when you clean your appliance. Soapy appliances (especially dentures) can be slippery, and can be damaged by dropping — and that’s an expensive mishap.
- Consider investing in an ultrasonic cleaner. These inexpensive countertop devices are an excellent way to get the tiny ridges and crevices of your appliance really clean.
Whether you rely on dentures for everyday use, or just need to wear a retainer for a period of time, your oral appliance serves an important function. It may also represent a significant investment. That’s why it’s worthwhile to spend a few minutes each day giving these important items the care they need.
There are well-known holidays on the calendar this month, but here’s one that might have escaped your notice: “Keep America Beautiful Month,” which is observed throughout April! At this time, people from coast to coast are encouraged to clean and beautify their communities. So why not think of it as an occasion to spiff up your smile? Here are five ways to do exactly that:
Have your teeth professionally cleaned. A routine dental visit, which includes a professional cleaning and exam, is one of the best preventive healthcare values there is. It’s a chance to catch dental problems (including potentially serious ones like oral cancer) before they become more difficult to treat. A dental professional can remove built-up deposits of tartar from your teeth using specialized instruments—something you can’t do at home. Plus, you’ll leave the office with a freshly polished smile that looks and feels great.
Get a professional teeth whitening. Having whiter teeth often makes people look more youthful. And one of the best ways to brighten dull teeth is with professional teeth whitening. You can achieve the fastest, most dramatic results with an in-office treatment—up to ten shades in just one visit! We can also make you a custom take-home kit to achieve similar results over time.
Repair chipped teeth. If you feel self-conscious about a chipped tooth, consider cosmetic bonding. In this relatively inexpensive procedure, which often takes just one office visit, tooth-colored resin material is applied to the chipped area and hardened under a special light. The translucent resin is built up layer by layer, bringing teeth with minor flaws back to a great, natural-looking appearance.
Replace old dental work. Sometimes old dental work can stand out more than we’d like it to. This is especially true of amalgam (silver) fillings—but even white fillings can absorb stain after many years. If you feel old dental work is detracting from your smile, it may be time to replace it with up-to-date dental materials.
Straighten your smile. Did you know that there is no maximum age for successful orthodontic treatment? It’s true: Healthy teeth can be moved at any age. And if you think metal braces wouldn’t fit in with your look or lifestyle, consider one of the less-visible alternatives to traditional orthodontic hardware—such as ceramic braces and clear aligners.
Having the smile you want can make you feel more confident in any month of the year. If you’d like more information on cosmetic dentistry, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger” and “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
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