Posts for category: Oral Health
An icy cold beverage on a hot day or a steaming cup of cocoa on a frigid day are some of the simple pleasures in life. So why do they sometimes seem to turn against you and send sharp, sudden pain shooting through your teeth?
When pain affects your teeth, it's because the nerves within the very center portion, the “pulp,” are reacting to a stimulus such as temperature, pressure changes, or acidic or sugary substances. In healthy teeth, the pulp is protected from stimuli. Above the gum line, a layer of enamel encases and protects the visible portion of tooth (crown). Below, the gums (gingiva) and a thin layer of “cementum” protect the root portion. Neither of these contains nerves. However, directly under the enamel and cementum, surrounding the interior pulp, is the “dentin.” This layer contains nerve fibers that can relay sensations to the nerves in the pulp, which respond as they are designed to — with an unpleasant feeling that tells you something's wrong.
That feeling can range from a momentary pang, to prolonged dull throbbing, to downright excruciating distress. The nature of the pain depends on the type and degree of stimulus. The only way to be certain of what's causing the pain is with a professional dental examination. However, your symptoms can hint at some possible sources.
Fleeting sensitivity triggered by hot and cold foods generally does not indicate a serious problem. It may be due to any of the following:
- a small area of decay in a tooth,
- a loose filling,
- an exposed root surface resulting from gum recession (often due to improper or excessive brushing), or
- temporary pulp tissue irritation from recent dental work.
To help alleviate root sensitivity, make sure the tooth is free of dental bacterial plaque by brushing gently no more than twice a day. Fluoride-containing toothpaste made for sensitive teeth might help. Fluoride and additives such as potassium nitrate or strontium chloride help relieve sensitivity. Try using the toothpaste like a balm, gently rubbing it into the tooth surface for about 10 minutes. If the sensitivity is related to recent dental work, it should resolve within a few days to a week or two, depending on the extent of the work you had done. A mild over-the-counter pain reliever may help in the meantime.
No matter what the reason, if the sensitivity persists or worsens, please come see us. Together we'll get to the root of the underlying problem and resolve it so you can get back to enjoying the foods and beverages you love, no matter what the temperature!
If you would like more information about tooth sensitivity and ways to prevent or 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 articles “Sensitive Teeth” and “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD), which was formerly known as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ), is an interesting condition because it can be hard to diagnose and often mimics many other conditions. It arises when there are problems inside the temporomandibular joint, and the muscles attached to it, causing pain. When treating TMD, we typically start by relieving the symptoms of pain and discomfort with heat, mild pain medications, a diet of soft foods, and some simple jaw exercises. We feel that it is critical to address your pain issues as soon as possible before preceding any further with treatment.
Once we have provided some pain relief and after having completed a thorough history and examination, we can move to the next phase of treatment. This may include the introduction of a bite guard or some form of oral appliance therapy. A bite guard is an unobtrusive yet rigid plastic horseshoe-shaped appliance that fits snuggly over the biting surfaces of the upper teeth. When in place and properly adjusted, this custom-made appliance allows your muscles and therefore jaw joints to relax. And it will prevent you from grinding your teeth, another contributing factor to TMD. We will probably ask you to wear it when sleeping or in times when you are feeling stressed when clenching or grinding habits may be active. We may also suggest that you obtain some relaxation therapy and/or biofeedback from a licensed therapist, as this can prove helpful in treating TMD.
If you have suffered from frequent jaw pain in the past and suspect that you may have TMD, please let us know so that we can address it at your next appointment. Or if you are currently in constant or severe pain, contact us immediately to schedule an appointment. You can learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for TMD by reading “TMD — Understanding The Great Imposter.”
“Cut down on sweets, especially between meals” is perhaps one of the least popular words of advice we dentists regularly give. We’re not trying to be killjoys, but the facts are undeniable: both the amount and frequency of sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay. Our concern isn’t the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, grains or dairy products, but rather refined or “free” sugars added to foods to sweeten them.
The World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both advise consuming no more than 50 grams (about ten teaspoons) of sugar a day. Unfortunately, our nation’s average per person is much higher: we annually consume around 140 pounds per capita of refined sugars like table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, more than three times the recommended amount. Soft drinks are the single largest source of these in our diets — Americans drink an average of 52 gallons every year.
The connection between sugar and tooth decay begins with bacteria that ferments sugar present in the mouth after eating. This creates high levels of acid, which causes the mineral content of tooth enamel to soften and erode (a process called demineralization) and makes the teeth more susceptible to decay. Saliva naturally neutralizes acid, but it takes about thirty minutes to bring the mouth’s pH to a normal level. Saliva can’t keep up if sugars are continually present from constant snacking or sipping on soft drinks for long periods.
You can reduce the sugar-decay connection with a few dietary changes: limit your intake of sugar-added foods and beverages to no more than recommended levels; consume sweets and soft drinks only at meal times; replace sugar-added foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that inhibit the fermentation process (like cheese or black and green teas); and consider using mint or chewing gum products sweetened with xylitol, a natural alcohol-based sugar that inhibits bacterial growth.
Last but not least, practice good oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing, along with regular office cleanings and checkups. These practices, along with limits on refined sugar in your diet, will go a long way toward keeping your teeth and mouth healthy and cavity-free.
If you would like more information on the relationship of sugar and 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
She's an international star who's recognized everywhere she goes. As Carol Brady, she was an ambassador for the “blended family” before most of us even knew what to call her bunch. And her TV Land Pop Culture Icon Award is on permanent display in the National Museum of American History. So what item that fits inside a purse can't Florence Henderson do without?
“I will never leave home without dental floss!” she recently told an interviewer with Dear Doctor magazine. “Because I have such a wide smile, I have found spinach or black pepper between my teeth after smiling very broadly and confidently.”
Henderson clearly understands the importance of good oral hygiene — and she's still got her own teeth to back it up! In fact, flossing is the best method for removing plaque from between the teeth, especially in the areas where a brush won't reach. Yet, while most people brush their teeth regularly, far fewer take the time to floss. Is there any way to make flossing easier? Here are a couple of tips:
Many people have a tendency to tighten their cheeks when they're holding the floss, which makes it more difficult to get their fingers into their mouths and working effectively. If you can relax your facial muscles while you're flossing, you'll have an easier time.
To help manipulate the floss more comfortably, try the “ring of floss” method: Securely tie the floss in a circle big enough to easily accommodate the fingers of one hand. To clean the upper teeth, place fingers inside the loop, and let the thumb and index finger guide the floss around each tooth. For the lower teeth, use two index fingers. Keep moving the floss in your hand so you always have a clean edge... and remember, the goal is to get the tooth clean, but it shouldn't hurt — so don't use too much pressure or go too fast.
So take a tip from Mrs. Brady: Don't forget the floss! If you would like more information about flossing and other oral hygiene techniques, please contact us for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Flossing: A Different Approach.”
It’s a recognized goal of modern dentistry to help you keep your natural teeth clean and disease-free, so you’ll be able to enjoy them for your whole life. But dentists can’t accomplish that goal by ourselves — we need your help! Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to ensure that your smile stays as healthy as it should be. Here are a few simple tips that can make a big difference in your dental health.
- Use the right brush, and change it as needed. What’s the right brush? Generally speaking, it’s one with soft bristles that’s small enough to fit your mouth comfortably. However, if you have trouble using a manual brush effectively (because of arthritis, for example), consider getting a good-quality electric brush. Change your brush when its bristles begin to stiffen or wear out. Ask us about proper brushing technique if you have any questions — and, of course, make sure to use a toothpaste with fluoride.
- Floss — every day. Because no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t reach all the areas in between your teeth with a brush alone — and that’s where many cavities get started. Plus, when it comes to preventing periodontal (gum) disease, flossing may be even more important than brushing, since it can actually remove plaque (a bacterial film) from under the gums. So no more excuses — OK?
- Stay away from sugary drinks and between-meal snacks. That includes sodas, cookies, and so-called “energy” drinks, which often pack a damaging one-two punch of sugar and caffeine. If you eat sugary treats at all, do so only after a meal. This will give your mouth plenty of “free time” to neutralize the acids that result when sugar is processed by oral bacteria. It’s these acids that are the primary cause of tooth decay.
- Avoid bad oral-health habits. Some you already know: smoking (or using tobacco products of any kind); excessive consumption of alcohol; chewing on pencils, fingernails, or anything else that doesn’t belong in your mouth. But some you may not know: A clenching or grinding habit at night can cause serious tooth damage without you even realizing it. Getting an oral piercing increases your chance of chipping a tooth, and can lead to other problems. And playing sports without a mouthguard is risky business.
- See your dentist regularly. You can do plenty on your own to keep up your oral health — but it’s also important to see us regularly. When you come in for an office visit, we will check you for early signs of problems, and take care of any that we find… before they get bigger and harder to treat. We’ll also make sure you leave with a sparkling smile that has been thoroughly and professionally cleaned.
If you would like to learn more about maintaining good oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. For more information, see the Dear Doctor magazine articles on “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Oral Hygiene Behavior.”