Chronic pain affects the quality of life for an estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. alone. The American Chronic Pain Association designates September as “Pain Awareness Month” to highlight the many conditions that cause chronic pain and strategies to manage them. Among these are conditions that can involve your oral or facial health. Here are two painful mouth and face disorders and what you can do about them.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). TMD is a common condition often seen in the dental office. The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull and facilitate activities like eating or speaking that require jaw movement. If they and their associated muscles become inflamed, this can trigger debilitating chronic pain. If you suffer from TMD symptoms, make sure we know about it so we can make your dental visits as comfortable as possible.
When possible, avoid irreversible and invasive treatments for TMD that may permanently change your bite, such as surgery or having teeth ground down. Instead, most healthcare professionals recommend a more conservative approach. Try the following tips to alleviate TMD pain:
- Eat soft foods so you do not aggravate the jaw joint.
- Avoid extreme jaw movements like suddenly opening your mouth very wide.
- Use ice packs and moist heat to relieve discomfort.
- Ask us about jaw exercises to stretch and relax the jaw.
- Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi or taking short walks to clear your mind.
Burning Mouth Syndrome. The sensation that the mouth has been burned or scalded without an obvious cause is most common among women during menopause. While researchers can’t yet pinpoint clear causes for it, the list of suspects includes hormonal changes, neurological or rare autoimmune disorders or medication-induced dry mouth.
The first step to treatment is an oral exam along with a complete medical history to identify any possible contributing factors. Depending on the results, we can offer recommendations to manage your symptoms. The following tips often help:
- Keep your mouth moist. We can recommend an artificial saliva product or medication to increase saliva flow if needed.
- Change your toothpaste if it contains irritating ingredients.
- Identify and avoid foods and beverages that seem to precede an episode. These may include spicy foods, coffee and alcoholic beverages.
- Quit smoking, as this is often linked to burning mouth episodes.
The pain and discomfort caused by these and other oral conditions can put a dent in your life. A visit to your dentist, though, could be the first step to finding relief.
If you would like more information about oral conditions that produce chronic pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Seeking Relief From TMD” and “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”
A disease happening in one part of your body doesn’t necessarily stay there. Even a localized infection could eventually affect your general health. Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection that damages gums, teeth and supporting bone, is a case in point.
There’s now growing evidence that gum disease shares links with some other serious systemic diseases. Here are 4 serious health conditions and how gum disease could affect them.
Diabetes. Gum disease could make managing diabetes more difficult—and vice-versa. Chronic inflammation occurs in both conditions, which can then aggravate the other. Diabetics must deal with higher than normal glucose levels, which can also feed oral bacteria and worsen existing gum disease. On the plus side, though, effectively managing both conditions can lessen each one’s health impact.
Heart disease. Gum disease can worsen an existing heart condition and increase the risk of stroke. Researchers have found evidence that chronic inflammation from gum disease could further damage already weakened blood vessels and increase blood clot risks. Treating gum disease aggressively, on the other hand, could lower blood pressure as much as 13 points.
Rheumatoid Arthritis. The increased inflammatory response that accompanies arthritis (and other diseases like lupus or inflammatory bowel disease) can contribute to a higher risk for gum disease. As with the other conditions previously mentioned, chronic inflammation from a gum infection can also aggravate arthritis symptoms. Treating any form of chronic inflammation can ease symptoms in both arthritis and gum disease.
Alzheimer’s disease. The links of Alzheimer’s disease to gum disease are in the numbers: a recent study found people over 70 who’ve had gum disease for ten or more years were 70% more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy gums. There is also evidence that individuals with both Alzheimer’s and gum disease tended to decline more rapidly than those without gum disease.
From the accumulating evidence, researchers now view gum disease as more than an oral problem—it could impact your total health. That’s why you should adopt a disease prevention strategy with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits (or whenever you notice puffy, reddened or bleeding gums). Stopping gum disease could provide you a health benefit well beyond preserving your teeth and gums.
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
The internet has transformed how we get information. Where you once needed to find an encyclopedia, telephone directory or library, you can now turn to your handy smartphone or tablet for the same information.
But this convenience has a dark side: A lot of material online hasn’t undergone the rigorous proofreading and editing published references of yesteryear once required. It’s much easier now to encounter misinformation—and accepting some of it as true could harm your health. To paraphrase the old warning to buyers: “Viewer beware.”
You may already have encountered one such example of online misinformation: the notion that undergoing a root canal treatment causes cancer. While it may sound like the figment of some prankster’s imagination, the idea actually has a historical basis.
In the early 20th Century, a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a dead anatomical part in the body led to disease or major health problems. In Price’s view, this included a tooth that had undergone a root canal treatment: With the vital pulp removed, the tooth was, in his view, “dead.”
Price amassed enough of a following that the American Dental Association rigorously investigated his claims in the 1950s and found them thoroughly wanting. For good measure, a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery) published a study in 2013 finding that not only did canal treatments not increase cancer, but they might even be responsible for decreasing the risk by as much as forty-five percent.
Here’s one sure fact about root canal treatments—they can save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Once decay has infiltrated the inner pulp of a tooth, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads through the root canals to the bone. Removing the infected pulp tissue and filling the resulting empty space and root canals gives the tooth a new lease on life.
So, be careful with health advice promoted on the internet. Instead, talk to a real authority on dental care, your dentist. If they propose a root canal treatment for you, they have your best health interest—dental and general—at heart.
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 Safety: The Truth About Endodontic Treatment and Your Health.”
Once upon a time, braces were the way to straighten a smile. They were—and continue to be—an effective orthodontic treatment especially for younger patients. But braces do have a few drawbacks, one of the biggest being appearance: when you're wearing braces, everyone can see you're wearing them.
That changed a couple of decades ago with the introduction of clear aligners. Removable plastic trays that incrementally move teeth, aligners have quickly become popular for a number of reasons. Perhaps their biggest attraction is that they're barely noticeable.
There's now a third option for correcting crooked teeth: lingual braces. They're similar to the traditional version, but with one big difference: all of the hardware is on the back side of the teeth.
Ironically, two orthodontists an ocean apart developed the idea, and for different reasons. A Beverly Hills orthodontist was looking for an invisible tooth-moving method that would appeal to his image-conscious patients. The other in Japan wanted to offer his martial arts patients, who risked injury from facial blows with traditional braces, a safer alternative.
These two motivations illustrate the two biggest advantages to lingual braces. The brackets and other hardware are attached to the back of the teeth (on the tongue side, hence the term "lingual") and exert the tooth-moving force by pulling, in contrast to the pushing motion of labial ("lip-side") braces. They're thus invisible (even to the wearer) and they won't damage the soft tissues of the cheeks, lips and gums if a wearer encounters blunt force trauma to the mouth.
They do, however, have their disadvantages. For one, they're often 15-35 percent more expensive than traditional braces. They're also a little more difficult to get used to—they can affect speech and cause tongue discomfort. Most patients, though, get used to them within a week. And, being a relatively new approach, not all orthodontists offer them as a treatment option yet.
If you're interested in this approach to teeth straightening, speak with your orthodontist to see if they're right for you. But if you do take this route, you may have a more pleasing and safe experience.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment with lingual braces, 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 “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
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