If you have chronic jaw pain, you know how difficult eating, speaking or even smiling can be. Many sufferers will do anything to gain relief, even surgery. But before you go down that road, consider the traditional conservative approach to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) management first—it could provide the most relief with the least risk of side effects.
The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the head. These ball and socket joints also contain a cushioning disk to facilitate movement. This disk is believed to be the primary focus for jaw pain problems known collectively as TMD.
Doctors now believe injury, stress, metabolic issues, jaw anatomy defects or similar factors trigger the chain reaction of muscle spasms, pain and soreness that can erupt during a TMD episode. A TMD patient may experience pain within the jaw muscles or joints themselves, clicking sensations, or an inability to open the jaw to its full range.
TMD therapy has traditionally followed an orthopedic path—treating jaw joints like any other joint. In recent years, though, a more aggressive treatment model has emerged that promotes more invasive techniques like orthodontics, dental work or jaw surgery to relieve discomfort. But the track record for this model, especially concerning jaw surgery, remains hazy at best and offers no guarantee of relief. These techniques are also irreversible and have even made symptoms worse in some patients.
It’s usually prudent, then, to try conservative treatments first. This can include pain and muscle relaxant medication, jaw exercises, stretching and massage, and dietary changes to reduce chewing force. Patients with teeth grinding habits may also benefit from a bite guard worn at night to reduce the biting force during sleep and help the joints relax.
By finding the right mix of treatments, you may be able to find significant relief from TMD symptoms with the conservative approach. If not, you might then discuss more invasive options with your dentist. But even if your dentist recommends such a procedure, you would be wise to seek a second opinion.
TMD can definitely interfere with your quality of life and peace of mind. But there are ways to reduce its effects and make for a happier life.
If you would like more information on managing chronic jaw pain, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
A relatively easy and inexpensive way to improve your smile is to whiten your teeth. In fact, you may even be able to do it yourself at home. Although there are differences between at-home and professional whitening, the former can still be effective.
That effectiveness, though, might be dependent on how well you understand what home whitening can do and what it can’t. So before you purchase your kit, here are a few things to know about DIY teeth whitening.
Home kits are safe—when used as directed. Although nothing in life is completely risk-free, home whitening kits are relatively safe. But only if you follow the directions: If you overuse the bleaching solution beyond its intended use, you could wind up with permanent damage to your tooth enamel that can be costly to treat.
Bleaching solutions are relatively mild. Nearly all home kits use carbamide peroxide, a form of hydrogen peroxide, as their bleaching agent. Home kits usually contain no more than 10% of this agent, much lower than professional solutions. Used as directed, this amount of bleaching agent poses little to no risk to dental or general health. On the other hand, the weaker home kit solution does limit the extent of brightness you can achieve compared to stronger professional treatments.
For top results (or certain conditions), consider professional whitening. While you can obtain good results with a home whitening kit, professional whitening provides more precise brightness control and range, and may possibly last longer. That’s because your dentist has more advanced techniques and equipment, as well as stronger bleaching solutions. And, if your discoloration originates inside your teeth, a home kit won’t help—only a dentist can address that kind of discoloration.
Even if you decide to “go solo,” your dentist can still give you advice on what to look for in a home kit, as well as tips for the actual procedure. But whether you whiten at home or let your dentist do it, teeth whitening can take years off your smile and give you a more attractive look.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 Whitening Safety Tips: Are Bleaching Products Safe?”
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Although it’s a natural part of dental development, teething is no picnic for your baby. This process in which each of their twenty primary teeth gradually erupt through the gums usually begins around their sixth to ninth month and may not end until around age three.
These periodic tooth eruptions can cause your baby to bite, gnaw, drool or rub their ears. Teething can also disrupt sleeping patterns, decrease appetite and cause gum swelling and pain that can turn your otherwise happy baby into an unhappy one.
Managing these teething episodes is one of the most common topics parents bring up with their dentists. Since teething is supposed to happen, there’s no need for medical intervention unless the child is also experiencing diarrhea, rashes, fever or prolonged irritability associated with teething episodes. In most cases, the best you can do is to make your child more comfortable. Here are a few things to help you do just that.
Provide cold items for gnawing. Rubber teething rings, wet wash cloths or pacifiers that have been chilled can give your child something to gnaw on and ease the pressure of sore gums while the chilled temperatures help numb pain. Be sure, though, that the items aren’t frozen because extremely cold temperatures can burn the skin.
Gum massage. You can massage your child’s gums with one of your fingers during a teething episode to counteract the throbbing pressure coming from the erupting tooth. Just be sure your finger is clean and don’t use any numbing agents unless advised by your dentist or pediatrician.
OTC medication. You can ease mild to moderate teething pain with over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen in dosages appropriate for your child’s age. But don’t apply rubbing alcohol to the gums or massage in any pain reliever—both practices can burn the skin. And, as mentioned before, only apply numbing agents like Benzocaine with the advice and supervision of a healthcare professional.
Besides these practices, be sure to keep up regular dental checkups to monitor the teething process and ensure all is going normally. And remember: though it may seem harrowing at times, the teething process won’t last forever.
If you would like more information on easing the effects of teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep Your Baby Comfortable.”
If you want to keep that new smile after orthodontic treatment, you’ll need to wear a retainer for awhile. Teeth have a tendency to “rebound” to their old positions and a retainer prevents that from happening.
Most people are familiar with the standard removable retainer. But there’s another option: a bonded retainer. While performing the same function as a removable one, the bonded retainer differs in one important aspect—it’s fixed in place and can’t be removed except by a dentist. It’s especially useful for certain bite repairs like the closure of the gap between the front teeth.
If you’re thinking this retainer sounds a lot like the braces just removed, it’s not. The main part of a bonded retainer is a thin metal wire that we bond with a dental composite material across the back of the affected teeth. While you can definitely feel it with your tongue it can’t be seen by others, which is an advantage over many removable retainers.
The fixed nature of bonded retainers also creates a couple of advantages, especially for younger patients. There’s no compliance issue as with removable retainers—the patient doesn’t have the option of taking it out. That also means it can’t be lost, a frequent and costly occurrence with the removable variety.
But a bonded retainer does have some drawbacks. For one, the wire and composite material make it more difficult to floss. There’s also a possibility of breakage from high biting forces, which if that should occur must be immediately repaired to avoid the teeth rebounding. But while removable retainers have their downsides, it’s much easier with them to keep the teeth clean of plaque—you simply take the appliance out to brush and floss.
With your dentist’s help you can weigh the pros and cons of both types of retainers and decide which is best for you or your child. Whichever one you choose, wearing a retainer will help protect that hard-earned smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on protecting your bite after orthodontic 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 “Bonded Retainers: What are the Pros and Cons?”
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