When you see your dentist about mouth pain, you expect to hear that it's a decayed or fractured tooth, or maybe a gum infection. But you might be surprised if your dentist tells you there's nothing going on inside your mouth to cause the pain.
It's not that far-fetched: The pain could be originating elsewhere. This is known as referred pain, where pain radiates from its origin to another part of the body.
Unless there's an obvious oral cause for the pain, it's best not to undertake any treatment involving the mouth until we've pinpointed the actual cause. That said, the cause is usually not too far away.
Facial nerve disorders. The trigeminal nerve courses on either side of the face from the upper skull through the cheeks and ends around the lower jaw. But if portions of the nerve's protective sheathing become damaged, the slightest touch on the face could trigger prolonged pain. Because of its proximity to the jaw, the pain can often be misidentified as a toothache.
Jaw joint pain. When joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull become traumatized and inflamed, a condition known as Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), the pain can radiate toward the jaw. In some cases, the person may easily mistake the muscle pain and spasming for a toothache.
Ear infection. As with TMD, your "toothache" may actually stem from an ear infection or congestion radiating pain into the jaw. It can also happen in the opposite direction—ear pain could actually be the referred pain of an infected back tooth—emphasizing the importance of precisely determining the originating source of any pain in the jaws or face.
Sinus pain. The large maxillary sinuses are located on either side of the face just above the back of the upper jaw. Because of its proximity, pain from a sinus infection can seem to be coming from one of the back molars. And as with ear infections, frequent sinus infections could in fact be caused by an infected tooth penetrating through the sinus floor.
These and other examples of possible referred pain illustrate how "tricky" a presumed toothache can be. Finding the true source of oral or facial pain will ensure you receive the proper treatment for lasting relief.
In a little over a century, antibiotics have changed the face of healthcare. We no longer fear cholera, strep throat or even a small cut as our forebears did a hundred years ago. Antibiotics are also an essential weapon against infection in dental situations.
But evidence is mounting that we're overusing these miracle drugs. Besides continued growth in antibiotic prescriptions, sometimes to preempt a possible infection rather than treat an existing one, food producers are increasingly adding them to animal feed and other products as a preventive measure.
The problem with expanding our uses of antibiotics is the ability of targeted microorganisms to develop defenses against our most common drugs. Some may even mutate into a kind of "super bug" like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which no longer responds to a particular antibiotic.
As older antibiotics become less effective, we must develop newer drugs to overcome the strengthened defenses of targeted microorganisms. But this takes time—meanwhile, as antibiotic options dwindle, more than 2 million people each year encounter an antibiotic-resistant infection that results in around 20,000 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
But there are hopeful signs that the world is now rising to meet the threat of antibiotic resistance. For example, support is growing within the U.S., Canada and the EU to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed except for treating actual infections.
Many healthcare organizations are also exploring ways to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. One way is to make better use of testing, especially to identify the precise bacteria causing an infection so that it can be targeted with a specific antibiotic that will best respond to it.
We're also seeing modifications in the use of antibiotics as a preventive measure. For example, people with certain conditions like congenital heart problems or joint prosthetics have routinely received antibiotics before dental procedures to preempt infection. In recent years that list of conditions has been trimmed substantially.
The move toward a more conservative use of antibiotics will have an impact on healthcare, including dentistry. But whatever the changes, dentists and other health professionals will continue to place their patient's health at the forefront.
If you would like more information on the use of antibiotics in dentistry, 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 “Antibiotics: Use and Abuse.”
Even though coronavirus lockdowns have prevented TV hosts from taping live shows, they're still giving us something to watch via virtual interviews. In the process, we're given occasional glimpses into their home life. During a Tonight Show interview with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, R & B performer Ciara, Jimmy Fallon's daughter Winnie interrupted with breaking news: She had just lost a tooth.
It was an exciting and endearing moment, as well as good television. But with 70 million American kids under 18, each with about 20 primary teeth to lose, it's not an uncommon experience. Nevertheless, it's still good to be prepared if your six-year-old is on the verge of losing that first tooth.
Primary teeth may be smaller than their successors, but they're not inconsequential. Besides providing young children with the means to chew solid food and develop speech skills, primary teeth also serve as placeholders for the corresponding permanent teeth as they develop deep in the gums. That's why it's optimal for baby teeth to remain intact until they're ready to come out.
When that time comes, the tooth's roots will begin to dissolve and the tooth will gradually loosen in the socket. Looseness, though, doesn't automatically signal a baby tooth's imminent end. But come out it will, so be patient.
Then again, if your child, dreaming of a few coins from the tooth fairy, is antsy to move things along, you might feel tempted to use some old folk method for dispatching the tooth—like attaching the tooth to a door handle with string and slamming the door, or maybe using a pair of pliers (yikes!). One young fellow in an online video tied his tooth to a football with a string and let it fly with a forward pass.
Here's some advice from your dentist: Don't. Trying to pull a tooth whose root hasn't sufficiently dissolved could damage your child's gum tissues and increase the risk of infection. It could also cause needless pain.
Left alone, the tooth will normally fall out on its own. If you think, though, that it's truly on the verge (meaning it moves quite freely in the socket), you can pinch the tooth between your thumb and middle finger with a clean tissue and give it a gentle tug. If it's ready, it should pop out. If it doesn't, leave it be for another day or two before trying again.
Your child losing a tooth is an exciting moment, even if it isn't being broadcast on national television. It will be more enjoyable for everyone if you let that moment come naturally.
If you would like more information on the importance and care of primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
For some, the excitement over their braces coming off gets dampened a bit with the prospect of now having to wear a retainer. But it has to be—newly realigned teeth have a tendency to revert to their previous positions out of a kind of “muscle memory.” A retainer prevents that from happening.
But as essential as it is, the standard retainer is almost as noticeable as braces, a major reason why many patients are less than enthusiastic about wearing them. And, because it's common for them to become lost when out of the mouth, replacing one becomes an added expense.
But there's another option—the bonded retainer. This retainer consists of a metal wire bonded to the back of the teeth to prevent them from moving. Because it's fixed in place, only a dentist can remove it.
The bonded retainer addresses the previous two issues associated with a removable retainer. Because it's behind the teeth rather than in front, it's out of sight to others. And, because it's fixed in place, there's no danger of losing it.
But unlike its removable cousin, which can be taken out for oral hygiene, the bonded retainer can make flossing more difficult. And, by nature, a bonded retainer must be worn all the time; a removable retainer allows for a more flexible schedule later in the treatment of a few hours a day.
So, which retainer option is best for you or another family member? A bonded retainer may be more attractive for appearance's sake, if it must be worn indefinitely, or if there's a high probability of the teeth moving out of alignment. And, it might be the right choice where there's a concern about a patient's ability to keep up with a removable retainer.
If you do decide to go with a bonded retainer, ask your dental hygienist for training on using floss with the fixed appliance—this can help improve oral hygiene. Whatever you choose, bonded or removable, your retainer will help you keep that new, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
Correcting a bite problem involves more than applying braces. Orthodontists must consider a wide range of factors, including the type of bite problem involved, complications like impacted or missing teeth, and their patient's overall dental condition.
Orthodontists must also keep in mind the future—how will a treatment implemented now impact a patient's appearance and dental function many years from now? In reality, orthodontists perform these treatments within a dynamic growth environment, especially involving children and teenagers whose mouth and facial structures are still maturing.
And although these growth changes slow in adulthood, they don't stop—orofacial structures continue to change throughout life. For example, a person's lips steadily thicken in size until the mid-teen years, and then slowly thin out over the rest of their lifetime. The distance between the lips both at rest and while smiling may also narrow in later years. Other changes continue to occur in the bones and soft tissues of the mouth and face.
Fortunately, this structural growth follows a fairly consistent track. Although variations do occur, an orthodontist can project the growth changes their patients will undergo as they age, and use that knowledge to plan out bite treatment. With this understanding, orthodontists plan not only what treatments will be needed, but when to perform them, and to what extent.
This may involve a number of treatment stages, spaced out to coincide with regular development. An orthodontist may focus first on general bite correction to bring the teeth and jaws into a reasonable state of alignment. Later, they'll use more refined methods to fine-tune corrections that better align with later adult growth.
More intensive treatments may be necessary to build a foundation for future treatment. For example, orthognathic surgery may be needed to correct a severe case of an over-extended lower jaw. During the procedure, surgeons move the lower jaw to a joint position higher on the skull. This retracts the lower jaw into a more normal alignment with the upper jaw, and can dramatically change the facial profile for the better.
Each orthodontic patient is different, and each requires their own a unique treatment plan. That plan has a greater chance of long-term success by applying knowledge of future growth changes.
If you would like more information on 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 “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
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