Pain is the body’s warning system: It tells us something is wrong. And depending on the location and intensity of the pain, it can give us vital clues about the problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s not so clear and direct—the pain could arise from any number of sources. Toothaches often fall into this category: Although it’s likely indicating a tooth or gum problem, it could be something else — or even somewhere else.
This is known as referred pain, in which you may feel pain in one location, like your mouth, but the actual source of the problem is somewhere else, like an infected and congested sinus passage. If we’re able to identify the true source and location of the pain, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Besides sinus infections, there are other conditions like trigeminal neuralgia that can refer pain to the mouth. This painful condition involves the trigeminal nerve, a large nerve running on either side of the face that can become inflamed. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, you might feel the pain at various points along the jaw, feeling much like a toothache.
There’s also the case of an earache mimicking a toothache, and vice-versa. Because of the proximity of the ears to the jaws, there is some nerve interconnectedness between them. For example, an infected or abscessed back tooth could feel a lot like an earache.
These and other possible problems (including jaw joint disorders or teeth grinding) can generate pain as if it were coming from the mouth or a single tooth. To be sure you’ll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If your dentist doesn’t find anything wrong with your mouth, he or she may refer you to a medical doctor to explore other possible causes.
Getting to the root cause of pain can help determine which treatment strategy to pursue to relieve it. Finding the actual source is the most efficient way to understand what a pain sensation is trying to tell us.
Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to spotlight an often unsung group: individuals providing primary care for another family member. During November, National Family Caregivers Month recognizes those caring for children with special needs or senior adults with life challenges—and part of that ongoing care includes watching out for their loved one's oral health.
Keeping teeth and gums healthy requires a concerted personal effort to prevent dental disease. While most of us can handle this on our own, some need assistance. If you're caring for someone like this, be sure you focus on two main areas: daily hygiene and regular dental visits. These are the two foundation stones for preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
The relatively simple tasks of brushing and flossing are crucial for disease prevention—but they can pose a challenge for someone with diminished physical, mental or behavioral capacity. In some cases, you as a caregiver may have to perform the task for them.
But even someone with severe limitations may be able to do these tasks for themselves with some adaptations. For one, choose a place for brushing and flossing that's most comfortable for the person (not necessarily the bathroom) and keep to a routine schedule. Above all, approach the task in a positive and playful way, especially for children.
Choose a toothbrush and flosser that your loved one can easily handle. Flossers are also available with toothbrush-sized grips for those with less manual dexterity. An older person with arthritis may need an extra-large grip or a toothbrush modified with a bicycle handle. As an alternative, both children and older adults may benefit from using an electric toothbrush. Some special needs children can have a gag response to toothpaste, so you may wish to use less or substitute it with a diluted fluoride mouthwash on the brush.
Dry mouth is a concern among many older adults, often due to the medications they take. In fact, hundreds of medications can have dry mouth as a side effect. Saliva serves the important oral health function of washing away food debris and neutralizing acid in the mouth, but when saliva production is low, it is not only uncomfortable—it greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. To help with dry mouth, encourage your loved one to drink more water during the day and ask us to recommend a product that will boost their saliva production. You can also ask their physicians about drug alternatives without dry mouth side effects.
To make dental visits easier, be sure we know about any needs or conditions that might affect their care. If possible, accompany your older family member during their visit: Because health problems often increase with age, even routine visits may be more involved.
We understand that caring for family members who need assistance can be demanding, with needs often being prioritized. We urge you to keep dental care on the high-priority list—it could make a difference with the rest of their health and overall quality of life.
If you would like more information about oral care for a family member with special needs, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging and Dental Health.”
Modern dentistry offers several great ways to permanently replace missing teeth, including high-tech dental implants and traditional fixed bridgework. But sometimes, for one reason or another, it isn’t possible to have these treatments done right away. If you need an aesthetic way to temporarily replace missing teeth, a flexible partial denture could be the answer you’re looking for.
Certain kinds of removable partial dentures (RPDs) can be used as permanent tooth replacement systems, especially for people who aren’t candidates for dental implants or fixed bridges. But in the past, if you needed a temporary tooth replacement, one of the few alternatives was the type of rigid RPD often called a “flipper.” This consists of a firm, relatively thick acrylic base that supports one or more lifelike replacement teeth. It attaches to the “necks” of existing natural teeth via metal clasps, which gives it stability and strength.
However, the same rigidity and thickness that gives these rigid RPDs their durability can make them uncomfortable to wear, while the acrylic material they are made of is capable of staining or breaking. Over time, the RPDs are prone to coming loose — and they are also easy to flip in and out with the tongue, which gives them their nickname.
Flexible partial dentures, by contrast, are made of pliable polyamides (nylon-like plastics) that are thin, light and resistant to breakage. Instead of using metal wires to attach to the teeth, flexible RPDs are held securely in place by thin projections of their gum-colored bases, which fit tightly into the natural contours of the gumline. Their elasticity and light weight can make them more comfortable to wear. Plus, besides offering aesthetic replacements for missing teeth, their natural-looking bases can cover areas where gums have receded — making existing teeth look better as well.
All RPDs must be removed regularly for thorough cleaning — but it’s especially important for flexible RPD wearers to practice excellent oral hygiene. That’s because the projections that hold them in place can also trap food particles and bacteria, which can cause decay. And, like most dentures, RPDs should never be worn overnight. Yet with proper care, flexible RPDs offer an inexpensive and aesthetic way to temporarily replace missing teeth.
Mayim Bialik has spent a good part of her life in front of TV cameras: first as the child star of the hit comedy series Blossom, and more recently as Sheldon Cooper’s love interest — a nerdy neuroscientist — on The Big Bang Theory. (In between, she actually earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA…but that’s another story.) As a child, Bialik had a serious overbite — but with all her time on camera, braces were just not an option.
“I never had braces,” she recently told Dear Doctor – Dentistry & Oral Health magazine. “I was on TV at the time, and there weren’t a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.” Instead, her orthodontist managed to straighten her teeth using retainers and headgear worn only at night.
Today, there are several virtually invisible options available to fix orthodontic issues — and you don’t have to be a child star to take advantage of them. In fact, both children and adults can benefit from these unobtrusive appliances.
Tooth colored braces are just like traditional metal braces, with one big difference: The brackets attached to teeth are made from a ceramic material that blends in with the natural color of teeth. All that’s visible is the thin archwire that runs horizontally across the teeth — and from a distance it’s hard to notice. Celebs like Tom Cruise and Faith Hill opted for this type of appliance.
Clear aligners are custom-made plastic trays that fit over the teeth. Each one, worn for about two weeks, moves the teeth just a bit; after several months, you’ll see a big change for the better in your smile. Best of all, clear aligners are virtually impossible to notice while you’re wearing them — which you’ll need to do for 22 hours each day. But you can remove them to eat, or for special occasions. Zac Efron and Katherine Heigl, among others, chose to wear clear aligners.
Lingual braces really are invisible. That’s because they go behind your teeth (on the tongue side), where they can’t be seen; otherwise they are similar to traditional metal braces. Lingual braces are placed on teeth differently, and wearing them often takes some getting used to at first. But those trade-offs are worth it for plenty of people. Which celebs wore lingual braces? Rumor has it that the list includes some top models, a well-known pop singer, and at least one British royal.
So what’s the best way to straighten your teeth and keep the orthodontic appliances unnoticeable? Just ask us! We’d be happy to help you choose the option that’s just right for you. You’ll get an individualized evaluation, a solution that fits your lifestyle — and a great-looking smile!
For more information about hard-to-see (or truly invisible) orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “Clear Aligners for Teenagers.”
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on dental health, 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”
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