Posts for category: Oral Health
If it seems like your teeth have gotten longer, it's not likely they've magically grown. The changed appearance, often accompanied by tooth sensitivity, may mean you have gum recession—the gums have actually shrunk back or receded from the teeth.
Ordinarily, the gums cover the teeth to the edge of the crown enamel, but if their attachment to the teeth weakens, the gums can shrink back, exposing the tooth below the crown near the roots. Although recession can happen because of overzealous brushing or other forms of trauma, the most common cause is periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease usually begins as a bacterial infection in the tissues around the gum line, usually triggered by a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. Unfortunately, the infection rarely stays there, but can quickly spread deeper into the gums and eventually impact the roots and supporting bone in the jaw. The infection also weakens the gums' attachment to teeth, resulting in recession.
While your smile can suffer from gum recession, that may be the least of your problems. Receded gums expose portions of a tooth that depend on gum coverage for protection against disease. Gum coverage also muffles sensations in these areas of the tooth, so that without it affected areas can experience a sharp, painful response to sudden hot or cold temperatures.
Fortunately, you may be able to avoid recession if you take steps to minimize your risk of gum disease. Your chances of an infection go down significantly if you gently brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque and you see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings.
If you do develop a gum infection, it's crucial to have it treated as early as possible. A mild occurrence of gum recession might even reverse on its own after comprehensive treatment (more advanced recession can require grafting surgery to encourage regeneration). Be on the lookout, then, for signs of gum disease—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—and see your dentist as soon as possible if you do.
Protecting your teeth and gums can help you avoid gum recession. And should you experience recession, addressing it as soon as possible may help you regain normal gum coverage.
If you would like more information on gum protection and 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 “Gum Recession.”
If you're aiming for adorable camera shots, nothing beats baby photos. Even the tough guys among us can't resist oohing and ahhing over pics of their friends' and families' newest editions. Even celebrities like Brie Bella, WWE wrestler and now activewear entrepreneur, get into the act. She recently posted photos of her six-month old son, Buddy, for Instagramers. The focus—Baby Buddy's new baby teeth.
For many, a baby's first teeth are almost as cute as the baby themselves. Like the tiny humans sporting them, baby (or primary) teeth look like miniature versions of adult teeth. But aside from their inherent cuteness, primary teeth are also critically important for a child's dental function and development.
For most kids, primary teeth come right on time as they begin their transition from mother's milk or formula to solid food that requires chewing. Aside from their importance in nutrition, primary teeth also play a prominent role in a child's speech development and burgeoning social interaction.
They're also fundamental to bite development, with an influence that extends beyond their lifespan. They serve as placeholders for the permanent teeth, "trailblazers" of a sort that guide future teeth toward proper eruption.
So critical is this latter role that losing a baby tooth prematurely can open the door to bite problems. When a baby tooth is lost before its time, the space they're holding for an incoming tooth could be overtaken by neighboring teeth. This in turn could force the intended tooth to erupt out of place, leading to cascading misalignments that could require future orthodontics to correct.
Although facial trauma can cause premature tooth loss, the most common reason is tooth decay. One form of this disease known as early childhood caries (ECC) is especially problematic—it can rapidly develop and spread to other teeth.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid early primary tooth loss. Here are a few things you can do to prevent that from happening.
- Clean your baby's teeth daily by brushing and later flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the major cause of tooth decay;
- Limit your baby's sugar consumption. In particular, avoid bedtime bottles filled with milk, juice or formula;
- "Child-proof" your child's play areas to lessen their chances of falling on hard surfaces that could injure teeth;
- Begin regular dental visits around their first birthday for early diagnosis, treatment and the application of other disease prevention measures.
Like Brie Bella, it's a joy for many parents to show off their baby's first teeth. Just be sure to take these common sense steps to protect those primary teeth from an unwelcome early departure.
What started as an occasional twinge in your cheeks has now escalated to moments of excruciating pain. Worst of all, you're in the dark about why you're having these severe episodes of facial pain.
The answer may be a nerve condition called trigeminal neuralgia (TN). This disorder involves the trigeminal nerves, which course down each side of the face and upper jaw. Approximately 150,000 people are diagnosed annually with TN, mostly women over 50.
The pain may sometimes be connected to other nerve-damaging conditions like multiple sclerosis, tumors or lesions. Normally, though, there's a more benign reason. An artery or vein is pressing on one or more of the three branches of the nerve. The ensuing pressure damages the myelin sheath, a fatty outer covering that insulates and protects the nerve from undue sensation.
The nerve at this point of damage can become hypersensitive and reactive to such innocuous things as chewing, a light touch or even air blowing on the face. The erratic response spurs pain episodes, often just a few seconds long, ranging from mild to extreme.
Treating the condition first requires making sure you actually have TN, and that the pain isn't being caused by something else. Jaw joint disorders (TMD), dental abscesses and similar conditions may mimic TN symptoms. Uncovering the true cause may require advanced diagnostic tools like an MRI scan, and the help of different specialties, ranging from dentistry to neurology.
Once confirmed, there are several treatment options for TN that, if not curative, may help minimize painful episodes. Most patients begin with conservative approaches like medications or injections to block pain signals to the brain, or that help reduce abnormal nerve firing.
There are also more invasive procedures to address extreme cases. With percutaneous treatment, for example, the physician inserts a thin needle into the nerve and selectively damages some of its fibers to stop the transmission of pain signals. A surgeon can also use a microsurgical technique to relocate an impinging blood vessel compressing the nerve.
Which treatment methods you and your doctor choose depends on factors like your age or history with TN. Whichever treatment path you take, there's real hope that you can find lasting relief from this bedeviling condition.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder That Causes Facial Pain.”
During the time it might take you to eat a meal, meet someone for coffee or watch your favorite television show, someone in the U.S. will die from oral cancer. Nearly 10,000 people in the U.S. succumb annually to the disease—about one every hour, every day of the year.
While other cancers may have higher occurrence rates, few have oral cancer's dismal 5-year survival rate of 57%. To put it into perspective, only a bit more than half of the 54,000 Americans diagnosed this year will still be alive in five years. That's why we're recognizing April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month—to put a spotlight on this dangerous and deadly disease.
So, why is the disease's fatality rate so high? For one thing, it's been perennially difficult to diagnose oral cancer early, which could increase a patient's survival odds. This is because the lesions produced by various forms of oral cancer can mimic other types of benign sores. It's easy to dismiss what might be pre-cancerous or cancerous tissue as a simple mouth sore.
A biopsy, removing some of the questionable tissue and viewing it under a microscope, is the best way to confirm whether the area is cancerous. But although biopsies are the diagnostic "gold standard" for oral cancer, they're costly and not particularly pleasant for patients to undergo. Usually reserved for the most suspicious cases, biopsies would increase exponentially if we scrutinized more general mouth sores for cancer.
But not all is gloom and doom regarding over oral cancer: Recent years' survival statistics have shown some modest improvement. That's due not only to greater awareness and efforts to improve early detection, but better success in preventing oral cancer development in the first place.
Dedicated oral hygiene, a proper diet and a healthy lifestyle all help lower your risk of oral cancer. Concerning the latter, you can drastically reduce your risk by avoiding tobacco and lowering your alcohol consumption.
Although taking care of both your oral and general health are your best means for preventing oral cancer, it won't eliminate your risk entirely. You may need to add oral cancer screenings to your regular dental visits as you get older or if you have a family history of the disease.
Pay attention as well to any suspicious mouth sores, especially any that don't seem to clear up within a few weeks—sufficient reason to have your dentist examine it. Taking this proactive approach to your oral health can help you get out ahead of this dangerous disease—or avoid it altogether.
There's a good chance you have an over-the-counter pain reliever in your medicine cabinet right now. They're handy for safely and effectively coping with mild to moderate pain, swelling or fever. They could also prove an invaluable resource after your upcoming dental work—your dentist may recommend one of these common drugs to help you manage your recovery period.
These particular drugs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. The most common sold under various brand names are aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. Unlike narcotics (opioids), which depress the central nervous system to control pain, NSAIDs block substances in the body called prostaglandins, which are released when tissues become inflamed or damaged. This in turn reduces pain, swelling or fever.
There's another significant difference between NSAIDs and narcotics—NSAIDs aren't addictive like opioids. Because they're also milder, NSAIDs don't require a prescription except for stronger formulations. With the trend to limit the use of narcotics in both dentistry and medicine, dentists are turning to NSAIDs as their primary means for managing dental pain.
There are, of course, some situations where narcotics are the preferred course. But dentists are finding NSAIDs are just as effective for managing discomfort following most dental procedures. They've also found that combined doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen greatly amplifies the pain relieving effect.
Although NSAIDs are much safer than narcotics, they do have potential side effects. For one, they can reduce the blood's ability to coagulate, especially when taken consistently over several weeks. This could make it difficult to stop bleeding due to injury or illness.
NSAIDs can also irritate the stomach lining in some people over an extended period of use, leading to ulcers and other digestive issues. Prolonged use has also been linked to major problems like kidney damage, miscarriage or heart attacks.
But NSAIDs are still a safe alternative to narcotics: Their side effect risks are quite low when taken in proper dosages—between 400 and 600 mg for adults—within a limited amount of time like a few days. Their temporary use can help you cope with discomfort after a dental procedure and get you well on the road to full healing.
If you would like more information on managing discomfort after dental work, 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 Pain With Ibuprofen.”