Pain can tell you things. Not verbally, of course, as in, “Hey, your appendix is inflamed!” But the quality of your pain—dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, acute or general—can point the way to the actual problem.
That's especially true of tooth pain, which could signal any number of dental problems. Looking at its characteristics, though, can narrow the search. Here are a few examples.
Sharp, momentary pain. This could be an indication of a number of possible dental problems. If it occurs for a few seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold, it might signal a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling or early signs of gum recession. The latter could be a symptom of periodontal (gum) disease, so you should seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Sharp pain when biting. Like tooth sensitivity, this could be a sign of decay or a loose filling, or it could indicate a fractured (cracked) tooth. If it's the latter, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth problems, if you want the best chance for saving the tooth.
Dull ache in upper teeth. This might not be a dental problem at all, but radiating pain from an infection of the sinus just above the upper posterior teeth. The infection could also have begun with one of the molar teeth and advanced into the sinus. You'll need to see your dentist for any teeth or gums involved and possibly a physician to address any potential sinus infection.
Constant throbbing pain. That horrible toothache that won't stop could be the nerves in the tooth's interior under attack from decay. The primary means for saving a tooth with deep decay is a root canal treatment to clean out diseased tissue and replace it with a filling or a crown. You should see a dentist even if the pain suddenly subsides—this may only mean the nerves have died, but the infection is still active.
These are just a few of the problems, including true dental emergencies, that oral pain can signal. For any instance of pain in your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it might indicate, 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!”
You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma.”
After years battling disease, your troubled tooth reached its useful life's end. It's been extracted, and we've replaced it with a life-like dental implant. So now, as far as the implant goes, disease is no longer an issue…right?
Sorry, no—though not to the same degree as a natural tooth, an implant could be endangered by gum disease. Although the implant's materials can't be infected, the supporting gums and bone can.
In fact, there's a particular type of gum disease associated with implants known as peri-implantitis (“peri” around an implant; “itis” inflammation) that first affects the gums surrounding an implant. Although peri-implantitis can arise from an excess of dental cement used to affix the crown to the implant, it most commonly starts like other forms of gum disease with dental plaque.
Dental plaque, and its hardened form calculus (tartar), is a thin, bacterial biofilm that builds up on teeth surfaces. It can quickly accumulate if you don't remove it every day with proper brushing and flossing. The bacteria living in plaque can infect the outer gum tissues and trigger inflammation.
Gum disease around natural teeth can spread quickly, but even more so with implants. That's because the natural attachment of the gums helps supply antibodies that impede infection. Implants, relying solely on their connection with the bone, don't have those gum attachments. As a result, peri-implantitis can move rapidly into the supporting bone, weakening the implant to the point of failure.
The good news, though, is that peri-implantitis can be treated successfully through aggressive plaque removal and antibiotics. But the key to success is to catch it early before it progresses too far—which is why you should see your dentist at the first sign of gum swelling, redness or bleeding.
You can also prevent peri-implantitis by practicing daily brushing and flossing, including around your dental implant. You should also see your dentist twice a year (or more, if they advise) for cleanings and checkups.
Dental implants overall have a greater than 95% success rate, better than any other tooth restoration system. But they still need daily care and regular cleanings to ensure your implants are on the positive side of those statistics.
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