Chronic jaw pain can be an unnerving experience that drains the joy out of life. And because of the difficulty in controlling it patients desperate for relief may tread into less-tested treatment waters.
Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are a group of conditions affecting the joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull and their associated muscles and tendons. The exact causes are difficult to pinpoint, but stress, hormones or teeth grinding habits all seem to be critical factors for TMD.
The most common way to treat TMD is with therapies used for other joint-related problems, like exercise, thermal (hot and cold) applications, physical therapy or medication. Patients can also make diet changes to ease jaw function or, if appropriate, wear a night guard to reduce teeth grinding.
These conservative, non-invasive therapies seem to provide the widest relief for the most people. But this approach may have limited success with some patients, causing them to consider a more radical treatment path like jaw surgery. Unfortunately, surgical results haven't been as impressive as the traditional approach.
In recent years, another treatment candidate has emerged outside of traditional physical therapy, but also not as invasive as surgery: Botox injections. Botox is a drug containing botulinum toxin type A, which can cause muscle paralysis. Mostly used in tiny doses to cosmetically soften wrinkles, Botox injections have been proposed to paralyze certain jaw muscles to ease TMD symptoms.
Although this sounds like a plausible approach, Botox injections have some issues that should give prospective patients pause. First, Botox can only relieve symptoms temporarily, requiring repeated injections with increasingly stronger doses. Injection sites can become painful, bruised or swollen, and patients can suffer headaches. At worst, muscles that are repeatedly paralyzed may atrophy, causing among other things facial deformity.
The most troubling issue, though, is a lack of strong evidence (outside of a few anecdotal accounts) that Botox injections can effectively relieve TMD symptoms. As such, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve its use for TMD treatment.
The treatment route most promising for managing TMD remains traditional physical and drug therapies, coupled with diet and lifestyle changes. It can be a long process of trial and error, but your chances for true jaw pain relief are most likely down this well-attested road.
If you would like more information on treating jaw disorders, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”
There’s more to teeth than meets the eye. Hidden beneath the visible crown are the tooth’s roots set within the jawbone, secured and protected by the gums from bacteria and infection. But if the gums shrink back (recede), the roots become exposed and susceptible to disease, especially at the points where multiple roots branch from each other, areas called furcations.
It all begins with periodontal (gum) disease caused by built-up bacterial plaque from insufficient brushing and flossing. The infection triggers inflammation that over time weakens gum tissues. They begin to detach from the teeth, which can eventually lead to gum recession and root exposure.
This also causes bone loss, especially at the furcations. We can detect any loss (known as a furcation invasion) and how far along it may be with x-ray imaging or by manually probing with an instrument called a periodontal probe.
There are three general classes measuring furcation invasions. In the earliest, Class I, we can feel the invasion as a slight groove; in Class II, it increases to two or more millimeters across. In Class III the bone loss extends from one side of the root all the way to the other (a “through and through”).
At this stage a patient is in danger of losing the tooth, so we’ll have to act promptly. This means first removing accumulated dental plaque and calculus (tartar) to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal. With severe damage, we may need to assist healing with bone and gum tissue grafting, in which we place donor grafts to serve as scaffolding for the appropriate tissue to grow upon.
You can help prevent this situation by practicing effective daily hygiene and visiting your dentist for thorough cleanings at least twice a year (or more if recommended). And at the first signs of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—make an appointment as soon as possible to have it checked. The sooner we can detect and treat gum disease, the less likely a furcation invasion or worse will be in your future.
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
You've reached a decision—that old, unattractive smile has to go. You're ready for a complete makeover—and the field of cosmetic dentistry has the materials, techniques and equipment to make it happen.
But it could be a major undertaking requiring a fair amount of time and money. And once all the procedures are complete, what if you're not happy with the results?
Fortunately, you don't have to wait with nervous apprehension until the end of the dental work to see what your smile will look like. We can give you a realistic preview of your new smile before we even begin—and not on a computer monitor. We can actually create a trial smile applied directly to your actual teeth so you can see your new look up close and personal, and in all three spatial dimensions.
That's not to put down enhanced computer presentations. State-of-the-art imaging software can display an accurate representation of your future smile transposed onto an image of your face. But it's still a two-dimensional image, like any other photograph. It can't present the full range, movement or feel of the real thing.
A trial smile can. We shape and sculpt composite resin to resemble the finished dental work and temporarily bond it to your teeth. Once applied, you'll then be able to see what your appearance will look like from different angles and movements. Although we'll have to remove the trial smile before you leave, we can photograph it so you can show it to family and friends for their reaction.
While it's an added expense, a trial smile has two great benefits. First, it helps both of us "test drive" your new look and see how it performs in different ways: as you speak, when you're relaxed and, of course, when you smile. This allows us, if necessary, to fine-tune your planned dental work. Perhaps the biggest benefit, though, is that it can reassure you you've made the right decision to remake your smile.
With a trail smile, there are no surprises—you'll know what the end result will look like before any work is done. And that can be a great motivator toward obtaining the smile you've dreamed of having.
If you would like more information on restoring your 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 “Testing Your Smile Makeover: The Reassurance of a Trial Smile.”
As tough as teeth are, life can take its toll on them and sometimes lead to parts of them chipping off. Although it might not affect a tooth's overall health, it can certainly downgrade its appearance.
But we can restore a chipped tooth like new, and it may not require extensive dental work. Thanks to a versatile dental material called composite resin, we can often bring back a tooth's natural appearance in just one visit.
Tooth-colored resins have been around for decades, but their application has been limited due to issues with durability. Recently developed bonding techniques, though, have made them a workable option for restoring mild to moderate tooth defects.
We do this by applying and bonding the composite resin to a tooth to “fill in” the missing portion. While it's often a short process, it does require a thorough understanding of tooth anatomy, function and aesthetics.
We begin with a comprehensive exam to assess the true condition of a chipped tooth. Some dental defects might be better served with a porcelain restoration like a veneer or crown for best results. Still, there are a wide range of defects for which composite resins is a solid repair choice.
Once we've determined bonding is appropriate, we prepare the tooth by first roughening its outer surface and then etching it with an acid solution to increase bonding strength. We then apply a luting agent, a kind of dental cement, also to aid with bonding.
We then begin applying the composite resin in liquid form, one layer at a time. This layering process helps simulate the color depth and shape of the tooth, and to further incorporate strength into the restoration. We're also careful at this point to match the variations of color with those of the surrounding teeth so that it looks as natural as possible.
As we finish each layer, we apply a curing light to harden the resin. We can then polish the finished product and make adjustments for the bite. The end result is a tooth that not only looks whole, but natural and blended with the rest of your teeth. Bonding could truly change your smile in just one visit.
If you would like more information on cosmetic dental restorations, 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
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