Tooth sensitivity can be quite uncomfortable. But the glancing pain you feel may be more than an irritation — it may also be telling you there’s a deeper problem that needs attention.
As with other types of oral pain, tooth sensitivity can be a symptom for a variety of problems. Some of them are relatively minor, while others require immediate attention. It’s important to pay attention to the details about your tooth sensitivity and what they might be indicating you should do about it.
For example, your teeth may be sensitive to hot or cold foods or beverages. If it’s just a momentary pain it generally doesn’t mean an emergency — it could be a small area of decay on a tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root due to gum recession or overaggressive brushing. Besides seeing us for treatment for any decay, you can adjust your brushing habits to more gentle pressure with a soft-bristled brush. Fluoride toothpaste has also been shown to reduce this kind of sensitivity.
If, however, the pain from hot or cold substances lingers, then decay or some form of trauma may have affected the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. The pulp is rich in nerve fibers and can become inflamed and irritated from the decay or injury. You should visit us as soon as possible: you may require a root canal treatment that will not only relieve the pain but also save the tooth.
If you notice a sharp pain when biting down on food, it’s possible you have a loose filling or even a cracked tooth. As with inner decay, a fracture requires immediate attention. A loose filling should be easy to repair, but if it’s a fracture you may need extensive treatment to save the tooth or, if beyond salvage, have the tooth removed to make way for dental implant or similar restoration.
The key point is not to delay seeking treatment, especially if the pain is persistent, severe or long-lasting. The sooner you visit us about your tooth sensitivity, the sooner you’ll have solutions to stop the discomfort.
If you would like more information on tooth 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 “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of tooth decay, 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 “Root Cavities.”
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Though it sounds like an elite academic society, "The Freshman 15" is anything but. The phrase stands for the weight, pegged at 15 pounds, that many incoming students gain in their first few months at college—the result of poor dietary habits brought on by a hectic schedule and newfound freedoms.
These and other habits have consequences—and not just for unwanted pounds. Many can lead to dental problems, which could continue to overshadow a student's oral health long after college is over.
Here, then, are 5 tips to pass along to your newly minted college student (or anyone else, for that matter) to keep their teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
Brush and floss daily. While a hectic course load beckons, a student should still make time every day to brush and floss their teeth. Along with regular dental cleanings, these two tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a bacterial film that causes dental disease. Daily oral hygiene is good insurance against developing future tooth decay and gum disease.
Cut back on sugar. A student may rely on sugary snacks for a boost of energy throughout their day, but it could be setting them up for dental disease. That's because harmful oral bacteria also feed on sugar. Choose instead real, whole foods and snacks that are better for teeth—and for avoiding those dreaded freshman pounds.
Limit acidic beverages. Besides added sugar, sodas, sports and energy drinks also contain acid, another ingredient unfriendly to teeth. During prolonged contact, acid softens and erodes the mineral content in tooth enamel, opening the door to tooth decay. Those who drink these kinds of beverages should limit their consumption as much as possible.
Don't smoke. Smoking dries out the mouth, preventing saliva from buffering the acid that causes tooth decay. Its main ingredient nicotine restricts the mouth's blood vessels, further increasing the chances of dental disease. Tobacco use in general, including smoking, is also a key risk factor for oral cancer.
Avoid mouth "jewelry." It might be the bomb on campus, but lip rings, tongue bolts and other mouth jewelry can cause dental damage. Besides the possibility of chipped teeth, metal jewelry in or around the mouth is more likely to cause infection. Better to skip this fashion statement for healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on good oral practices, 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
Losing teeth can make it more difficult to eat, not to mention the effect it can have on your smile. But that could be just the beginning of your problems. Missing teeth can contribute to extensive bone loss within your jaws and face. Here's why.
Bone is like any other living tissue—cells develop, function and eventually die, and new cells take their place. Forces generated during chewing stimulate this new growth, helping the jawbone maintain its normal volume and density.
But you lose this stimulus when you lose teeth. This can cause a slowdown in bone cell regrowth that can eventually diminish bone volume. And it can happen relatively quickly: you could lose a quarter or more of jawbone width around a missing tooth within a year.
As this loss continues, especially in cases of multiple missing teeth, the bone can eventually erode to its base level. This loss of dental function can make chewing more difficult, place more pressure on the remaining teeth and adversely affect facial appearance. It could also prevent an implant restoration to replace missing teeth.
Dentures and other forms of dental restoration can replace missing teeth, but not the chewing stimulus. Dentures in particular will accelerate bone loss, because they can irritate the bony gum ridges they rest upon.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can slow or even stop bone loss. Implants consist of a metal post, typically made of titanium, imbedded into the jawbone at the site of the missing tooth with a life-like crown attached. Titanium also has a strong affinity with bone so that bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the implant's surface. This can produce enough growth to slow, stop or even reverse bone loss.
This effect may also work when implants are combined with other restorations, including dentures. These enhanced dentures no longer rest on the gums, but connect to implants. This adds support and takes the pressure off of the bony ridge, as well as contributes to better bone health.
If you've lost a tooth, it's important to either replace it promptly or have a bone graft installed to help forestall any bone loss in the interim. And when it's time to replace those missing teeth, dental implants could provide you not only a life-like solution, but a way to protect your bone health.
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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
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