A toothache means you have tooth decay, right? Not necessarily — your pain could be signaling a number of potential causes. Determining where, how much and how often it hurts will help us find out the cause and apply the appropriate treatment.
A single symptom, for example, can mean many things. A twinge of tooth pain as you consume hot or cold foods might indicate localized tooth decay easily repaired by a filling. But it could also mean the tooth's root surface has been exposed as a result of periodontal (gum) disease — aggressive plaque removal and maybe even gum surgery might be necessary. Or it could be a sign of inner pulp decay: in this case you'll likely need a root canal treatment to save the tooth.
Pulp decay can also announce itself with a very sharp and constant pain radiating from one or more teeth. You shouldn't hesitate to see us for an examination — even if the pain goes away. Pain cessation most likely means the nerves in the pulp have died. The infection, however, still exists, so you'll still probably need a root canal treatment.
If you notice severe, continuous pain and pressure around a tooth, particularly about the gums, you may have a localized, inflamed area of infection called an abscess. An abscess can be the result of gum disease, but it might also stem from a foreign body like a popcorn husk, getting stuck below the gums. We'll need to conduct a complete dental examination to determine the cause and how to treat it.
Finally, a sharp pain when you bite down could mean many things such as a loose filling or a fractured (cracked) tooth. The latter especially requires immediate attention to save the tooth.
These are just a few of the possible causes behind mouth or facial pain. Although all of them are serious, a few are true dental emergencies and can't wait if we're going to save a tooth. The sooner you see us, the sooner we can help relieve the pain, minimize any damage and avert disaster.
If you would like more information on treating 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!”
One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is about their child's thumb sucking habit. Our advice: if they're under age 4, there's no need for concern — yet. If they're older, though, you should be concerned about the possible effect on their bite.
Thumb sucking is a universal habit among infants and toddlers and is related to their swallowing pattern during feeding. As they swallow, their tongue thrusts forward to create a seal with the lips around the breast or a bottle nipple. Many pediatricians believe thumb sucking replicates nursing and so has a comforting effect on infants.
Around age 4, though, this swallowing pattern begins to change to accommodate solid food. The tongue now begins to rest at the back of the top front teeth during swallowing (try swallowing now and you'll see). For most children, their thumb sucking habit also fades during this time and eventually stops.
But for whatever reason, some children don't stop. As the habit persists, the tongue continues to thrust forward rather than toward the back of the top front teeth. Over time this can place undue pressure on both upper and lower front teeth and contribute to the development of an open bite, a slight gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut.
While late childhood thumb sucking isn't the only cause for an open bite (abnormal bone growth in one jaw is another), the habit is still a prominent factor. That's why it's important that you start encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking around age 3 and no later than 4. This is best accomplished with positive reinforcement like rewards or praise.
If they've continued the habit a few years after they should have stopped, we may also need to check to see if their swallowing mechanism has become stunted. If so, we may need to use certain exercises to retrain their tongue to take the proper position during swallowing.
While you shouldn't panic, it's important to take action to stop thumb sucking before it becomes a long-term problem. A positive, proactive approach will help avoid costly orthodontic problems later in their lives.
If you would like more information about thumb or finger sucking, 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 Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
There are plenty of options today for replacing missing teeth, including dental implants. But if the teeth have been missing for some time, complications can arise that limit your restorative options.
The most consequential possibility is bone loss. Bone has a life cycle: old cells dissolve (resorb), and are then replaced by new cells, stimulated to grow by the forces applied to the teeth during chewing. But the bone won't receive this stimulation if a tooth is missing — so growth slows down, which causes the bone volume to diminish with time.
Another complication can occur involving other teeth around the open space. These teeth will naturally move or “drift” out of their normal position into the missing tooth space. As a result we may not have enough room to place a prosthetic (false) tooth.
If either or both of these complications occur, we'll need to address them before attempting a restoration. Bone loss itself could eliminate dental implants as an option because they require a certain amount of supporting bone for correct placement. Bone loss could also make correcting misaligned teeth difficult if not impossible.
It might be possible, though, to regenerate lost bone with a bone graft. The graft is placed, sometimes along with growth stimulating substances, within the diminished bone area. It then serves as a scaffold upon which new bone can form.
If the bone becomes healthy again, we can then attempt to move any drifted teeth back to where they belong. Besides braces, there's another treatment option especially popular with adults: clear aligners. These are a series of removable, clear plastic trays that, like braces, exert gradual pressure on the teeth to move them. Patients wear each individual tray for about two weeks, and then switch to the next tray in the series to continue the process.
Unlike their traditional counterparts, clear aligners can be removed for cleaning or for special occasions. More importantly, they're much less noticeable than traditional braces.
Once any problems with bone health or bite have been addressed and corrected, you'll have a fuller range of options for replacing your missing teeth. With a little extra time and effort, you'll soon be able to regain a smile you'll be proud to display.
As in other parts of medicine, lasers are beginning to change the way we provide dental care. More and more dentists are using lasers to make earlier diagnoses of dental disease or provide surgical treatment. One area prime for change is the treatment of teeth with deep decay and in danger of being lost.
For decades now, the best way to save teeth in this condition is with root canal treatment. In this common procedure we access the pulp, remove the infected tissue with specialized hand instruments, and then fill and seal the pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling.
We can now potentially improve the efficiency and increase the success rate of this treatment with laser technology. With their focused light, lasers emit a concentrated burst of energy that's extremely precise. In many instances laser energy can remove the target diseased tissue without damaging nearby healthy tissue.
In this form of root canal treatment, we use lasers to remove tissue and organic debris within the pulp and then shape the root canal walls to better receive the filling. We can also utilize the heat from laser energy to soften and mold the filling, so that it better conforms within the walls of the root canals.
Using lasers in root canal treatments may require less local anesthesia than the traditional approach and also eliminates disturbing or discomforting sounds and vibrations. Dentists who've used the new technology also report less bleeding during the procedure and less pain and occurrences of infection afterwards.
But there are a couple of disadvantages for using lasers in root canal treatment. For one, light travels in a straight line — and many root canal networks are anything but straight. More complex root canal networks may still require the traditional approach. Laser energy could also increase the tooth's inner temperature, which could potentially damage tissues even on the tooth's outer surfaces.
Used in the right circumstances, though, lasers can be an effective means to treat diseased teeth. Â As laser technology continues to advance and becomes a mainstay in dental care, you may soon find it part of your next dental procedure.
At your child's latest dental visit, you found out one of their primary (“baby”) teeth has become decayed and in danger of loss. Of course, you may think, it's only a primary tooth — it's going to come out sooner or later.
But a primary tooth lost “sooner” rather than “later” can create long-term negative consequences for your child's dental health. For the sake of the future permanent tooth, the best treatment strategy could be to put forth the effort and expense to save it.
Besides its role in eating and chewing, a primary tooth's most important function is as a “trailblazer” for the permanent tooth developing below it. A primary tooth doesn't normally loosen and let go until the new permanent tooth is ready to erupt. Until then they hold the new tooth's space in the jaw.
But if the primary tooth is lost prematurely, nearby teeth can drift into and crowd the space so that the permanent tooth comes in out of position. This can result in a malocclusion, or poor bite.
Depending on the state of your child's jaw development, it may be advisable to attempt saving the tooth through a filling or, in the case of deep decay, a modified root canal treatment. If the tooth can't be saved, then placing an orthodontic appliance known as a space maintainer might be necessary. Cemented to a tooth next to the empty space, this appliance has a looped band of metal that butts against the tooth on the other side of the gap, and prevents both teeth from drifting into the space.
Intervening for a decayed primary tooth can seem a waste of time and money since it has a limited lifespan to begin with. But for the health of its companion permanent tooth, as well as possibly avoiding orthodontic treatment, it could be well worth it for your child's long-term dental health.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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