Posts for category: Oral Health
After ruling out other causes for your jaw pain, your doctor or dentist has made a diagnosis: a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). With TMD, your pain symptoms and other dysfunctions are due to a problem associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your upper skull (cranium).
There are a number of treatment options, but most can be classified as either aggressive or conservative. Aggressive treatments are more interventional and target problems with the teeth such as bite problems or jaw relationships as they relate to the bite, which are thought to be underlying causes for TMD. Such treatments include orthodontics to realign teeth, crown or bridgework, or surgical treatment to the jaw or joint itself. These treatments are controversial and irreversible — with no guarantee of symptom relief.
It’s thought by many to be appropriate, then, to start with more conservative treatments. Many of these are based on treating the TMJ — which is a joint, a moveable bony structure connected by muscles and tendons — with an orthopedic approach, using treatments similar to those used for other joint problems.
Here, then, are some of those conservative therapies that may relieve your TMD pain and other symptoms.
Physical Therapy. Commonly used to treat pain and dysfunction in other joints, physical therapies like manual manipulation, massage, alternating hot and cold packs or exercises can be used to relax, stretch or retrain the muscles that operate the TMJ while reducing pain and inflammation.
Medications. Medications may be incorporated into the treatment plan to relieve pain, reduce inflammation or relax tense muscles. Besides prescription drugs, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen) are also commonly used.
Bite Appliances. If night-time teeth grinding or clenching habits are a primary cause for the TMD, you may benefit from wearing an occlusal bite guard while you sleep, designed to specifically fit your upper teeth. Because the lower teeth can’t grip the guard’s smooth plastic surface when biting down, they’ll more likely produce less force. This gives the jaw muscles a chance to relax during sleep.
Diet changes. Changing to softer foods, which don’t require strenuous chewing, and eliminating the chewing gum habit will further help reduce stress on the TMJs and also give your muscles a chance to relax and heal.
If you would like more information on TMD and treatment options, 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.”
Fatigue, a “foggy” mind, and irritability are all signs you’re not getting enough sleep—and neither might your sleeping partner from your continuous snoring. You might have a common form of sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) known as obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes obstructed (usually by the tongue), resulting in a lack of oxygen. The body rouses from sleep just enough to correct the obstruction. This can occur and interrupt deep sleep several times a night, causing the aforementioned problems as well as personality changes, high blood pressure or increased stomach acid reflux. If the problem persists, sleep apnea could also become a long-term factor in the development of heart disease, diabetes or other serious conditions.
Fortunately, we can do something about it. While some may require more invasive intervention, most cases of sleep apnea can be alleviated through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. In this therapy, an electrical pump supplies pressurized air into a face mask worn while sleeping. The increased air pressure helps to keep the airway open.
For some patients, however, CPAP can cause discomfort like claustrophobia, nasal congestion and dryness. If that’s a concern for you, you might want to consider an oral appliance provided by your dentist.
Customized to your own individual mouth contours, this appliance is usually a two-part hinged device that draws the lower jaw and the tongue forward to open the airway. Easily adjustable, these appliances are usually more comfortable to wear than a CPAP and don’t require electricity or have the attendant noise of a CPAP pump.
They do, however, have a few drawbacks: they can disrupt saliva flow, causing either too much or too little; they may result in some morning soreness; and they can stimulate unnecessary tooth or jaw movements. For most, though, these side effects are minor compared to a better night’s sleep.
If you suspect you may have some form of SRBD, you’ll need to have it confirmed through a physical examination and possibly sleep lab testing. If it is sleep apnea, your physician and dentist can work together to help you find the right therapy to regain the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
We've been using bridges to replace missing teeth for decades. Now, recently-developed implant-supported bridges are even more dependable, promising greater durability and less interference with remaining natural teeth.
But just like other restorations, you'll need to keep implant bridges clean to ensure their longevity. Although both the bridge and implants are impervious to disease, the supporting gums and bone aren't. If they become infected, they can break down and your restoration will fail.
Cleaning an implant-supported bridge includes flossing around each of the implants to remove dental plaque, a thin film of food particles and bacteria most responsible for dental disease. To perform this task, you'll have to pass the floss between the bridge and gums to access the sides of each implant.
To help make it easier, you can use a tool like a floss threader, a thin, shaft-like device with a loop on one end and a needle-like point on the other. You'll first thread about 18" of floss through the end and then pass the threader between the bridge and gums with the sharp end toward the tongue.
With the threader completely through, you'll then wrap the floss around your fingers as with regular flossing and move the floss up and down each side of the implants you can access. You'll then pull the floss out, reload the threader and move to the next section, repeating this process until you've flossed each side of each implant.
You can also use pre-cut floss with a stiffened end to thread between the bridge and gums or an interproximal brush with a thin bristled head that can reach underneath the bridge. And you might consider using an oral irrigator, a pump device that sprays a stream of pressurized water to remove and flush away plaque around implants.
To round out your hygiene efforts, be sure you visit your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings. Your dentist can also advise you and give you training on keeping your implants clear of disease-causing plaque. Cleaning around your implants will help ensure your restoration will last.
If you would like more information on caring for your dental restoration, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
Fluoride is a critical weapon in the war against tooth decay. But this natural chemical proven to strengthen tooth enamel has also aroused suspicion over the years that it might cause health problems.
These suspicions have led to rigorous testing of fluoride's safety. And the verdict from decades of research? We've found only one verifiable side effect, a condition called enamel fluorosis. Caused by too much fluoride present in the body, enamel fluorosis produces white streaks and patches on teeth, and can develop into darker staining and pitting in extreme cases. But other than having an unattractive appearance, the teeth remain sound and healthy.
Fortunately, you can reduce the risk of fluorosis by limiting fluoride exposure to within recommended limits. Fluoride can show up in processed foods and other substances, but the two sources you should focus on most are oral hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water.
Dentists highly recommend using toothpaste with fluoride to fight tooth decay. But be careful how much your family uses, especially younger members. An infant only needs a slight smear of toothpaste on their brush for effective hygiene. At around age 2, you can increase the amount to about the size of a vegetable pea.
As to drinking water, most utilities add fluoride to their supply. If yours does, you can find out how much they add by calling them or visiting cdc.gov ("My Water's Fluoride"), where you can also learn more about recommended levels of fluoridation. If you think it's excessive, you can switch to water labeled "de-ionized," "purified," "demineralized," or "distilled," which contain little to no added fluoride.
Even if your fluoridated water is within recommended levels, you may wish to take extra precautions for infants nursing with formula. If possible, use "ready-to-feed" formula, which usually contains very low amounts of fluoride if any. If you're using the powdered form, use only water with the aforementioned labeling for mixing.
Before making any drastic changes that might affect your family's fluoride intake, consult with your dentist first. And be sure you're keeping up regular dental visits—your dentist may be able to detect any early signs of fluorosis before it becomes a bigger problem.
If you would like more information on maintaining the proper fluoride balance with your family, 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 Development and Infant Formula.”
Shingles is a painful viral infection that could potentially recur in sufferers for years. It causes painful skin rashes, general nerve pain, fever and fatigue. In extreme cases, it can cause blindness if the eyes become infected. And because it’s highly contagious, it could affect your dental treatment.
Formally known as herpes zoster, shingles is a recurrent form of chicken pox. If you contracted chicken pox in childhood, the shingles virus could lay dormant for several years. In fact, most people who contract shingles are over 50.
Because it acutely affects the nerves around the skin, the disease’s most common symptom is a belted or striped rash pattern that often appears on one side of the body and frequently on the head, neck or face. While the severity of symptoms may vary among patients, shingles can be a significant health threat to certain people, especially pregnant women, cancer patients or individuals with compromised immune systems.
In its early stages, the shingles virus can easily pass from person to person, either by direct contact with the rash or by airborne secretions that others can inhale. Because it’s highly contagious, even a routine teeth cleaning could potentially spread the virus to dental staff or other patients. Because of the significant health threat it potentially poses to some people, your dental provider may decline to treat you if you’re showing symptoms of the disease.
To stay ahead of this, let your dentist know you’re experiencing a shingles episode if you have an upcoming dental appointment, in which case you may need to reschedule. In the meantime, you should seek medical attention from your physician who may prescribe antiviral medication. Starting it within 3 days of a shingles outbreak can significantly reduce your pain and discomfort as well as its contagiousness.
And if you’re over sixty or at risk for shingles, consider getting the shingles vaccine. This readily available vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease and could help you avoid the pain and disruption this viral infection can bring to your life.