Physical pain is never pleasant or welcomed. Nevertheless, it’s necessary for your well-being—pain is your body telling you something isn’t right and needs your attention.
That fully applies to tooth pain. Not all tooth pain is the same—the intensity, location and duration could all be telling you one of a number of things that could be wrong. In a way, pain has its own “language” that can give us vital clues as to what’s truly causing it.
Here are 3 types of tooth pain and what they might be telling you about an underlying dental problem.
Sensitivity to hot or cold. If you’ve ever had a sharp, momentary pain after consuming something hot like coffee or cold like ice cream, this could indicate several causative possibilities. You might have a small area of tooth decay or a loose filling. You might also have an exposed root due to gum recession, which is much more sensitive to temperature or pressure changes. The latter is also a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
Acute or constant pain. If you’re feeling a severe and continuing pain from one particular area of your teeth (even if you can’t tell exactly which one), this could mean the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, has become infected with decay. The pain is emanating from nerves within the pulp coming under attack from the decay. To save the tooth, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the decayed tissue and seal the tooth from further infection. You should see your dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain suddenly stops—that only means the nerves have died, but the decay is still there and threatening your tooth.
Severe gum pain. If there’s an extremely painful spot on your gums especially sensitive to touch, then you may have an abscess. This is a localized area of infection that develops in the gums either as the result of periodontal (gum) disease, or an infection spreading from the tooth pulp into the gum tissues. You’ll need to see a dentist immediately for both pain relief and appropriate treatment (including a possible root canal) to heal the abscessed tissue.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and how to treat it, 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!”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
It takes only a few days of inadequate oral hygiene for bacterial plaque to trigger the periodontal (gum) disease gingivitis. Though sometimes subtle, there are signs to watch for like inflamed, reddened or bleeding gums.
Untreated gingivitis can develop into more advanced forms of gum disease that infect deeper levels of the gums and supporting bone and ultimately cause bone and tooth loss. Fortunately, though, prompt treatment by a dentist removing plaque from teeth and gums, along with you reinstituting daily brushing and flossing, can stop gingivitis and help restore health to your gums.
If you’re under acute stress or anxiety, however, basic gingivitis can develop into something much more serious and painful, a condition called Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG). It’s also known as “trench mouth” from its common occurrence among World War I soldiers experiencing stressful periods in front line trenches without the means for proper oral hygiene.
ANUG develops from a “perfect storm” of conditions: besides anxiety and deficient hygiene practices, ANUG has a high occurrence risk in people who smoke (which dries the mouth and changes the normal populations of oral bacteria) or have issues with general health or nutrition.
In contrast to many cases of basic gingivitis, ANUG can produce highly noticeable symptoms. The gum tissues begin to die and become ulcerative and yellowish in appearance. This can create very bad breath and taste along with extreme gum pain.
The good news is ANUG can be treated and completely reversed if caught early. In addition to plaque removal, the dentist or periodontist (a specialist in the treatment of gum disease) may prescribe antibiotics along with an antibacterial mouthrinse to reduce bacteria levels in the mouth. A person with ANUG may also need pain relief, usually with over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.
It’s important that you seek treatment as soon as possible if you suspect you have ANUG or any gum disease. It’s possible to lose tissue, particularly the papillae (the small triangle of tissue between teeth), which can have an adverse effect on your appearance. You can also reduce your risk by quitting smoking, addressing any stress issues, and practicing diligent, daily oral hygiene and visiting your dentist for cleanings and checkups twice a year or more if needed.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatments for gum disease, 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”
X-ray imaging is a routine part of a child's dental care — and it undeniably makes a difference in preventing and treating dental disease. It's so routine, we can easily forget they're being exposed to an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation.Â And just like other sources of radiation, too much x-ray exposure could increase the risk of cancer.
But while it's possible for your child to be over-exposed to x-rays, it's highly unlikely. That's because healthcare professionals like dentists adhere to a standard known as ALARA when considering and administering x-rays. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable.” In other words, we only want to expose a patient to the lowest and safest levels of x-ray dosage and frequency that will achieve the most benefit.
To achieve that standard, professional dental organizations advocate the use of x-rays only after a clinical examination of the patient, as well as a thorough review of their medical history for any usage of x-rays for other conditions. If x-rays are warranted, we then take further precautions to protect the patient and staff, and only use the type of x-ray application that's absolutely necessary. For most children that will be a set of two or four bitewing radiographs, which are quite effective for detecting decay in back teeth.
This dosage of radiation in a session of bitewing radiographs is roughly a fifth of the background radiation in the environment a child may be exposed to every day. By spacing these sessions at least six months apart, we're able to achieve a high level of decay detection at a safe and reasonable amount of x-ray exposure.
On top of that, the digital advances in x-ray imaging have reduced the amount of radiation energy needed to achieve the same results as we once did with film. These lower exposure levels and the ALARA standard helps ensure your child's exposure to x-rays will be well within safe limits.
If you would like more information on the use of x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Your gums aren’t just for show—they also play an important role in supporting and protecting your teeth. Healthy gums are essential for healthy teeth.
Your gums can take a lot from daily chewing or other environmental factors. Unfortunately, disease or trauma can weaken their resilience. This weakening could lead to gum recession.
Gum recession occurs when the tissues covering a tooth begin to lose their attachment and shrink back (recede). As a result, the tooth appears “longer” as more of it that’s normally below the gum line becomes visible. Not only is gum recession unattractive, it also exposes more of the tooth to disease-causing bacteria.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease, an infection arising from the accumulation of a thin bacterial biofilm on the teeth called plaque. Infected gums become inflamed, a normal defensive response to isolate diseased or damaged tissues from the rest of the body. Chronic inflammation, however, weakens affected tissues over time and results in bone loss.
Other factors can also contribute to gum recession. A tooth that didn’t erupt properly and has come in away from the center of its protective bony housing can impede adequate gum coverage. Your gum tissue thickness, which you genetically inherit, can also increase the risk of gum recession. People with thinner gum tissues are more susceptible to recession than with thicker tissues.
You can also damage your gums (ironically) while trying to care for them. Over-aggressive brushing over time may traumatize the gums to the point that they recede. While it’s essential in removing disease-causing dental plaque, brushing only requires a gentle scrubbing action covering all portions of tooth surfaces. The brush bristles and mild abrasives in the toothpaste do most of the work of plaque removal.
To minimize the chances of gum recession, you should practice proper oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups. And you might also consider orthodontics for improperly positioned teeth that could not only improve your smile, but also your gum health.
And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you begin gum disease treatment, the less likely your gums will recede in the future.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
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