While mouth pain can certainly get your attention, what exactly hurts may be difficult to identify. It might seem to emanate from a single tooth, or a group of teeth. Then again, it might not be clear whether it's coming from teeth or from the gums.
Still, it's important to pinpoint the cause as much as possible to treat it correctly. One of the main questions we often want to answer is whether the cause originates from within a tooth or without.
In the first case, tooth decay may have entered the pulp at the center of the tooth. The pulp contains nerve bundles that can come under attack from decay and transmit pain signals. Incidentally, if the pain suddenly goes away, it may simply mean the nerves have died and not the infection.
The decay can also spread into the root canals leading to the root and supporting bone, and then make the jump into the gum tissues. One possible sign of this is the one mentioned earlier—you can't quite tell if the pain is from the tooth or the surrounding gums.
The root canals could also serve as a transportation medium for infection in the other direction. In that case, gum disease has advanced into the bone tissues around a tooth near its roots. The infection can then cross into the tooth. Again, both a tooth and the gum tissue around it can become diseased.
We have effective treatments for individual occurrences of interior tooth decay or gum disease: The former usually requires a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill and seal the tooth from future infection; we alleviate gum disease by removing the dental plaque causing it and helping the gum tissues to heal. But combined tooth and gum infection scenarios are more difficult to treat, have a poorer prognosis and may require specialists.
To reduce the risk of either tooth decay or gum disease developing into this greater problem, it's best to take action at the first sign of trouble. So, see your dentist as soon as possible when you encounter oral pain or if you notice swollen or bleeding gums. The earlier we treat the initial outbreak of disease, be it tooth decay or gum disease, the better your chances of a successful and happy outcome.
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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
If you do the right things—keep your teeth clean, see the dentist regularly, and eat a "tooth-friendly" diet—you stand a good chance of having healthy teeth and gums later in life. Even so, after eating well over 75,000 meals by age 70, you can expect some wear from all that biting and chewing.
But there's normal wear—and then there's excessive wear, which can be caused by a variety of factors. When it occurs, accelerated wear can increase your risk of dental disease—and your shorter-toothed smile can make you look older than your actual age.
Here are 3 dental problems that can lead to accelerated tooth wear, and what you can do about them.
Tooth decay. This dental disease can severely weaken a tooth's protective enamel surface, which can in turn increase wear. You can minimize your chances of developing tooth decay by brushing and flossing your teeth daily and undergoing regular dental cleanings. And the sooner you receive treatment for any diagnosed decay, the less likely your enamel will suffer significant damage.
Poor bite. Properly aligned teeth mesh well together while biting and chewing, which minimizes wearing. But misalignments put undue stress on teeth that can lead to accelerated wear. By correcting a bite problem through orthodontics, we can properly align teeth so that they interact with each other normally for less wear.
Teeth grinding. This unconscious habit of gnashing or grinding teeth (often during sleep) can produce abnormally high biting forces. Among other adverse outcomes, this can also increase teeth wearing. If you grind your teeth, there are therapeutic methods that could reduce the habit. You can also obtain a custom night guard to reduce biting forces while you sleep.
If you've already experienced excessive dental wear, there are cosmetic options like porcelain veneers or dental bonding that can restore your smile to a more youthful appearance and help protect your teeth. But if you haven't reached that point, you can make sure you don't by taking care of your teeth and gums and seeking prompt dental treatment for problems leading to accelerated wear.
If you would like more information on teeth wear, 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 and Why Teeth Wear.”
Besides straight and translucent teeth, an attractive smile has another important component: balance. In a great smile, the visible areas of the teeth and gums are in balanced proportion to one another.
But what is the ideal proportion between teeth and gums? Although aesthetic appeal is largely “in the eye of the beholder,” dental professionals typically consider a properly sized tooth to be around 10 mm in visible length. As for the upper gums, no more than 4 mm of tissue should show when smiling. Teeth appearing shorter than 10 mm or the gums displaying more than 4 mm can create an effect called a “gummy smile.”
Fortunately, there are different approaches for correcting a gummy smile, depending on what's causing the appearance of gumminess. Not only are there different causes, but they can be diverse in nature.
Obviously, an actual excess of gum tissue can cause a smile to look gummy—but so can shortened teeth. One possible solution called crown lengthening could help correct either possibility. During the procedure, we remove any excess gum tissue or reposition the gums after reshaping the underlying bone to reveal more of the tooth crown. Worn or shortened teeth can also be made to look longer with porcelain veneers.
A gummy smile could also be caused by a hypermobile lip, in which the lip rises higher than normal while smiling. We may be able to prevent this temporarily by injecting Botox into the lip muscles, which paralyzes them and inhibits their ability to move upward. A more permanent approach is to surgically restrict the upward movement of the lip muscles.
The gums may also seem too prominent if the upper jaw is longer in proportion to the face. One way to correct this is orthognathic surgery, a procedure that moves the upper jaw to a higher position on the skull. This can reduce the jaw profile with the face and subsequently affect how much of the gums show while smiling.
These solutions range from relatively minor to significantly invasive. The first step, though, is to find out what's really behind your gummy smile before taking the next step to make it more attractive.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
If you think brushing and flossing and regular dental visits are all you need to do to avoid dental disease, you're missing a key component in your prevention plan. What you eat could also help close the door on tooth decay or gum disease—or open it even wider if you're eating nutritionally deficient foods.
Let's look first at the latter scenario. Like us, the oral bacteria most responsible for dental disease also have to eat to survive and thrive. And, often like us, they have a favorite food—provide them ample amounts of that and they'll continue to multiply and raise your risk of disease.
That favorite bacterial food is simple carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar. A diet heavy in added sugar can increase oral bacteria, which in turn elevates your chances of a gum infection. Bacteria's main by-product, acid, may also increase. That's bad news for your teeth. At high levels, acid contact softens and erodes enamel, the precursor to tooth decay.
Obviously, then, a "tooth-friendly" diet should be low on sugar and other simple carbohydrates like refined breads, pasta or pastries. Soda, energy and sports drinks high in both sugar and acid should also be avoided or restricted to mealtimes. You should also be careful with how much fruit you're eating as their natural sugars can also feed bacteria.
A well-rounded diet, however, isn't simply about avoiding foods—you'll also want to include foods that help you build and maintain healthy teeth and gums. That includes:
- Fiber-rich plant foods: Their fiber reduces the effects of any carbohydrates and they're packed with nutrients;
- Whole grains: Whole grains don't promote decay as refined products do, and chewing them stimulates saliva flow for neutralizing acid;
- Fresh fruits: Eaten in moderation, fruits can provide a bevy of vitamins and minerals. But avoid dried fruits as their sugars are more concentrated;
- Dairy: Milk-based products, particularly cheese, contain nutrients like Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus, which strengthen teeth against dental disease.
For the most part, a diet that promotes overall well-being will also provide optimum benefits for your dental health. Along with your dental hygiene efforts, eating the right foods can help protect your teeth and gums from both tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on how better nutrition can boost your 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Disasters are an unfortunate part of life—and not just on the epic scale of a hurricane, flood or earthquake. You could easily find yourself having your own "personal pizza"-sized disaster—a car accident, a sports injury or even a tumble on a leisurely hike. And oftentimes, the consequences could affect your mouth, teeth or jaws.
We can't always account for every variable in life, but we can prepare for possible disasters, big or small. That includes being ready for a possible dental injury.
September is National Preparedness Month, when safety and emergency professionals seek to raise awareness about what people can do to prepare for when disaster strikes. When it comes to protecting you and your family's oral health, here are a few things you can do to stop or lessen the impact of a dental injury.
Use a mouthguard. These soft, plastic appliances that fit in the mouth cushion the force of a hard blow to the face and jaws. They're a must for any contact sport like football or basketball, but also for other outdoor activities like trail biking. It's also worth the investment in comfort and effectiveness to have your dentist create a mouthguard customized just for you.
Create a dental first aid kit. It's a good idea to carry along a first aid kit during sports or other physical activities. It's a great idea to include a few extra items in case of injuries to the teeth or gums. A dental mirror and flashlight, medical-grade gloves, "Save a Tooth" kits (for knocked out teeth) or even tea bags to help stop bleeding gums are handy to have if you or someone with you suffers a dental-related injury.
Know what to do in case of dental injury. As careful as you might be, you can't completely eliminate the risk of dental injury, so it's wise to know how to render specific first aid for a variety of mouth-related injuries. To that end, we've provided a free dental injury field guide that you can print to review or to include in your emergency first aid kit.
Locate dental providers away from home. Serious injuries that result in loose, knocked out or misaligned teeth need immediate dental care. No problem if your regular dentist is close at hand—but what if you're out of town or on vacation? Before you go, locate a dental provider at your destination that you can see in case of emergency, and keep their contact information close at hand.
It's no fun going through an adverse event, especially with the possibility of injury. It's even worse to meet disaster unprepared. By following these guidelines, you can have a better handle on the injury risks to you and your family's dental health.
If you would like more information about protecting your teeth from injury, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
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