Physical pain is unpleasant—but not knowing why you're hurting makes it worse. Thousands of people encounter such as experience when parts of their face suddenly and mysteriously erupt in pain.
Often, though, the mystery can be quickly solved—more than likely, it's a nerve disorder known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Typically seen in people over 50 (and in more women than men), TN is a chronic condition that produces brief episodes of acute, spasmodic pain.
The source of this pain is the trigeminal nerve, which courses down each side of the face. Each nerve consists of three distinct branches that serve the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
Physicians usually find that a blood vessel has come in contact with the nerve at some point, and the resulting pressure has damaged the nerve's outer insulative layer (myelin sheath). This causes the nerve to become hypersensitive at the point of contact, overreacting in a sense to the slightest touch (even a wisp of wind) on the face and jaw.
TN isn't the only source of facial pain. It can also accompany other conditions like TMD, which is why it's important to undergo a diagnostic examination. If you are diagnosed with TN, there are a number of ways to manage it. The most conservative approach (and the one usually tried first) is the use of medications to block pain signals from the nerve to the brain or to lessen abnormal nerve firing.
If medication proves ineffective or there are other factors related to age and health, you may be a candidate for a surgical solution. In one such procedure, a surgeon inserts a thin needle into the affected nerve and selectively damages some of its fibers to prevent the transmission of pain signals. Another procedure relocates the impinging blood vessel, which then allows the nerve to heal.
These surgical methods are effective but they can cause side-effects in rare cases like numbness or hearing impairment. It's best then to discuss with your doctor which approach would be best for you and your life situation. Ultimately, though, there are ways to relieve you of this painful condition.
If you would like more information on treating facial 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
If you've decided on a dental implant to replace a missing tooth, you've made a great choice. Implants are a big favorite of both dentists and patients, not only for their life-likeness, but also their durability. Studies show that more than 95% of implants survive after ten years.
As you may know, single tooth implants are composed of two main parts: a metal post (usually titanium) imbedded in the jawbone; and a life-like crown affixed to the end of the post. But what you may not know is that there are two ways to attach the crown—either with screws or with dental cement.
Neither way is superior to the other—both have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. A cemented crown, for instance, usually looks more like a natural tooth than a screw-retained crown (more about that later) and dentists have more flexibility in making them look natural.
But cemented crowns require an additional piece of hardware called an abutment to better match it with the implant, something unnecessary with a screw-retained crown. Some people can also experience a reaction to the cement resulting in inflammation or even bone loss. And once installed, removing the crown later for repair or replacement is much more difficult than with a screw-retained crown.
Besides attaching directly to the implant, screw-retained crowns don't require cement and are more easily attached and removed. But the screw-hole can pose some aesthetic problems: Although it can be filled with a tooth-colored filling, the tooth's appearance isn't as ideal as a cemented crown.
So, which one is best for you? That will depend on the type and location of teeth being replaced, as well as your dentist's preferences. For instance, a more attractive cemented crown may be better for a visible front tooth, while a screw-retained crown might be a good choice for a back premolar or molar where appearance isn't as big a factor.
In the end, it's likely your dentist will discuss the pros and cons for each method as it pertains to your individual case. Whichever way your crown attaches, the end result will still be a life-like tooth that could last you for years to come.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “How Crowns Attach to Implants.”
You've just finished your daily brushing and flossing. How did you do? Swiping your tongue across your teeth can generally tell you: It's a good sign if it glides smoothly; but if it feels rough and gritty, you better take another run at it.
This "tongue test," however, only gives you a rough idea of how well you're removing plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. Plaque, though, can be sneaky, "hiding" in the nooks and crannies on the biting surfaces of teeth, around the gum line and in between teeth.
So, how do you know if you're clearing out any plaque holdouts? An effective way is to use a plaque disclosing agent. This over-the-counter dental product consists of a swab, tablet or solution, which contains a dye that's reactive to plaque.
After brushing and flossing as usual, you apply the solution to your teeth for about 30 seconds. You then take a look in the mirror: Any remaining plaque will be stained a bright color that makes it stand out. There are also agents with two colors of dye, one that stains older plaque and one for newer plaque.
The plaque staining not only helps you see how well you've been brushing and flossing, it can also show you areas in need of improved hygiene. For example, if you notice a scalloped pattern around the gum line, that may mean your brush isn't getting into that area effectively. In this way, you can use a disclosing agent to fine-tune your hygiene.
Repeated use of a disclosing agent is safe, but just remember the dye color can be vivid. It does wear off in a few hours, though, so perhaps schedule it for a day off around the house. You should also avoid swallowing any solution or getting any of it on clothing.
The ultimate test, though, is a thorough dental cleaning with your dentist at least every six months. They can verify whether you've been fairly successful with your brushing and flossing, or if you have room for improvement. If you do use a disclosing agent, you can also discuss that with them in working out better strategies to protect your teeth from tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
Hannah Bronfman, well-known DJ and founder of the health and beauty website HBFIT.com, took a tumble while biking a few years ago. After the initial pain and bruising subsided, all seemed well—until she started experiencing headaches, fatigue and unexplained weight gain. Her doctors finally located the source—a serious infection emanating from a tooth injured during the accident.
It's easy to think of the human body as a loose confederation of organs and tissues that by and large keep their problems to themselves. But we'd do better to consider the body as an organic whole—and that a seemingly isolated condition may actually disrupt other aspects of our health.
That can be the case with oral infections triggered by tooth decay or gum disease, or from trauma as in Bronfman's case. These infections, which can inflict severe damage on teeth and gums, may also contribute to health issues beyond the mouth. They can even worsen serious, life-threatening conditions like heart disease.
The bacteria that cause both tooth decay and gum disease could be the mechanism for these extended problems. It's possible for bacteria active during an oral infection to migrate to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. If that happens, they can spread infection elsewhere, as it appears happened with Bronfman.
But perhaps the more common way for a dental disease to impact general health is through chronic inflammation. Initially, this defensive response by the body is a good thing—it serves to isolate diseased or injured tissues from healthier tissues. But if it becomes chronic, inflammation can cause its own share of damage.
The inflammation associated with gum disease can lead to weakened gum tissues that lose their attachment to teeth. But clinical research over the last few years also points to another possibility—that periodontal inflammation could worsen the inflammation associated with diseases like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.
Because of this potential harm not only to your teeth and gums but also to the rest of your body, you shouldn't take an oral injury or infection lightly. If you've had an accident involving your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible for a complete examination. You should also make an appointment if you notice signs of infection like swollen or bleeding gums.
Prompt dental treatment can help you minimize potential damage to your teeth and gums. It could also protect the rest of your health.
If you would like more information about the effects of dental problems on the rest of the body, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart and Gum Diseases.”
Getting dental implants is going to require surgery. But don't let that concern you—it's a relatively minor procedure.
Currently the “gold standard” for tooth replacement, an implant consists of a titanium post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. We can affix a life-like crown to a single implant or support a fixed bridge or removable denture using a series of them.
Because placement will determine the restoration's final appearance, we must carefully plan implant surgery beforehand. Our first priority is to verify that you have adequate jawbone available to support an implant.
Additionally, we want to identify any underlying structures like nerves or blood vessels that might obstruct placement. We may also develop a surgical guide, a retainer-like device placed in the mouth during surgery that identifies precisely where to create the holes or channels for the implants.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, we begin the surgery by opening the gum tissue with a series of incisions to expose the underlying bone. If we've prepared a surgical guide, we'll place it in the mouth at this time.
We then create the channel for the insert through a series of drillings. We start with a small opening, then increase its size through subsequent drills until we've created a channel that fits the size of the intended implant.
After removing the implant from its sterile packaging, we'll directly insert it into the channel. Once in place, we may take an x-ray to verify that it's been properly placed, and adjust as needed. Unless we're attaching a temporary crown at the time of surgery (an alternate procedure called immediate loading), we suture the gums over the implant to protect it.
Similar to other dental procedures, discomfort after surgery is usually mild to moderate and manageable with pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if necessary, we can prescribe something stronger). We may also have you take antibiotics or use antibacterial mouthrinses for a while to prevent infection.
A few weeks later, after the bone has grown and adhered to the implant surface, you'll return to receive your new permanent crown or restoration. While the process can take a few months and a number of treatment visits, in the end you'll have new life-like teeth that could serve you well for decades.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery.”
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