If you have chronic jaw pain, you know how difficult eating, speaking or even smiling can be. Many sufferers will do anything to gain relief, even surgery. But before you go down that road, consider the traditional conservative approach to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) management first—it could provide the most relief with the least risk of side effects.
The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the head. These ball and socket joints also contain a cushioning disk to facilitate movement. This disk is believed to be the primary focus for jaw pain problems known collectively as TMD.
Doctors now believe injury, stress, metabolic issues, jaw anatomy defects or similar factors trigger the chain reaction of muscle spasms, pain and soreness that can erupt during a TMD episode. A TMD patient may experience pain within the jaw muscles or joints themselves, clicking sensations, or an inability to open the jaw to its full range.
TMD therapy has traditionally followed an orthopedic path—treating jaw joints like any other joint. In recent years, though, a more aggressive treatment model has emerged that promotes more invasive techniques like orthodontics, dental work or jaw surgery to relieve discomfort. But the track record for this model, especially concerning jaw surgery, remains hazy at best and offers no guarantee of relief. These techniques are also irreversible and have even made symptoms worse in some patients.
It’s usually prudent, then, to try conservative treatments first. This can include pain and muscle relaxant medication, jaw exercises, stretching and massage, and dietary changes to reduce chewing force. Patients with teeth grinding habits may also benefit from a bite guard worn at night to reduce the biting force during sleep and help the joints relax.
By finding the right mix of treatments, you may be able to find significant relief from TMD symptoms with the conservative approach. If not, you might then discuss more invasive options with your dentist. But even if your dentist recommends such a procedure, you would be wise to seek a second opinion.
TMD can definitely interfere with your quality of life and peace of mind. But there are ways to reduce its effects and make for a happier life.
If you would like more information on managing chronic jaw 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
Eliminating pain and discomfort is one of our major objectives during dental treatment. To that end, our profession has developed a number of anesthetic drugs and deliveries that ensures your experience in the dentist’s chair is as pain-free as possible.
But there’s another experience many people have with dental care that’s different from physical discomfort — emotional anxiety. These negative emotions can range from nervousness about a procedure to extreme fear. Very often the patient has no control over these emotions — they’ve become imbedded from earlier experiences or the influence of others.
Although each can influence and heighten the other, anxiety and physical discomfort are different and require a different approach. Physical pain and sensation is eliminated through anesthesia, either locally through topical application or injection or generally through intravenous medication that renders a person unconscious. Anxiety, on the other hand, requires first building a trustful relationship with an understanding dentist. But it may also call for certain drugs that sedate — promote a feeling of relaxation — rather than numb sensation.
We’ve incorporated a number of sedative medications in dentistry like Valium or Ativan that work well to reduce anxiety before and during treatment. Many are taken orally, usually just before scheduled treatment, and they dissipate from the system quickly afterward. Some medications also have “amnesic” qualities, meaning you won’t remember anything or little at all about the treatment period. This can be helpful in amassing positive treatment experiences that may diminish negative feelings you’ve developed about dental treatment.
It’s important, though, to find the right types of medication that work well for you. For that reason we’ll take a thorough medical history, including prescription or over-the-counter medications and supplements you’re taking and any medical conditions you may have. It’s also important to discuss your diet (certain foods can inhibit the action of some sedatives) as well as if you use tobacco or regularly drink alcoholic beverages.
Taken properly, oral sedation can effectively reduce your anxiety during treatment. As a result, it will be much easier and pleasant for you to receive the care you need for a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on reducing anxiety during dental treatment, 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 “Oral Sedation Dentistry.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
If you’re brushing and flossing daily, as well as seeing your dentist at least every six months, you’re doing the top things needed to maintain your dental health. But all your hygiene efforts could be undermined if you’re not eating a dental-friendly diet. Simply put, there are foods that protect and promote dental health and those that increase your risk of dental disease.
Diets in the latter category are typically high in added sugar and low in natural food fiber. The largest sources of these are processed sugars from sugar cane or beets and high fructose corn syrup. With just a little knowledgeable label reading, you can find sugar and its various aliases added to thousands of processed food items including pastries, candies, sodas and energy drinks.
Heavy consumption of processed sugars also contributes to dental disease. Disease-causing bacteria thrive on sugar as a food source, which fuels both their growth and their production of oral acid. Elevated acid levels can dissolve the minerals in tooth enamel faster than saliva can keep up. Softened enamel opens the door to tooth decay, while increased bacterial growth can lead to periodontal (gum) disease.
A diet, however, low in added sugar and high in fiber can have the opposite effect. Although fresh fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars, they also have indigestible parts called fiber that slow the digestion of any sugars and allow the body to more efficiently process them. With the higher quantity of vitamins and minerals found in unprocessed foods, the overall effect of this diet is a decrease in your risk for dental disease.
Speaking of dental-friendly foods, we should also give honorable mentions to certain dairy items like cheese and milk that stimulate saliva production and are rich in calcium needed for tooth strength. Another beneficial category is both black and green tea, which contain antioxidants to fight disease and fluoride to strengthen enamel.
Adopting a low-sugar/high-fiber diet can have a profound impact on your overall health. Over time, you’ll also reap dental health rewards with stronger teeth and gums and a lower risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on diet and oral 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.”
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