A toothache might mean you have tooth decay—or maybe not. It could also be a sign of other problems that will take a dental exam to uncover. But we can get some initial clues about the underlying cause from how much it hurts, when and for how long it hurts and where you feel the pain most.
Let's say, for instance, you have a sharp pain while consuming something cold or hot, but only for a second or two. This could indicate isolated tooth decay or a loose filling. But it could also mean your gums have receded and exposed some of the tooth's hypersensitive root surface.
While over-aggressive brushing can be the culprit, gum recession is most often caused by periodontal (gum) disease. Untreated, this bacterial infection triggered by accumulated dental plaque could eventually cause tooth and bone loss, so the sooner it's attended to the better.
On the other hand, if the pain seems to linger after encountering hot or cold foods and liquids, or you have a continuous throbbing pain, you could have advanced tooth decay that's entered the inner pulp where infected tooth nerves are reacting painfully. If so, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp and root canals to prevent further infection.
If you have this kind of pain, see a dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain stops. Cessation of pain may only mean the nerves have died and can no longer transmit pain; the infection, on the other hand, is still active and will continue to advance to the roots and bone.
Tooth pain could also indicate other situations: a cracked tooth, an abscess or even a sinus problem where you're feeling the pain radiating through the teeth. So whatever kind of pain you're feeling, it's your body's alarm signal that something's wrong. Promptly seeing your dentist is the best course of action for preserving your health.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
In real life he was a hard-charging basketball player through high school and college. In TV and the movies, he has gone head-to-head with serial killers, assorted bad guys… even mysterious paranormal forces. So would you believe that David Duchovny, who played Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files and starred in countless other large and small-screen productions, lost his front teeth… in an elevator accident?
“I was running for the elevator at my high school when the door shut on my arm,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had fainted, fallen on my face, and knocked out my two front teeth.” Looking at Duchovny now, you’d never know his front teeth weren’t natural. But that’s not “movie magic” — it’s the art and science of modern dentistry.
How do dentists go about replacing lost teeth with natural-looking prosthetics? Today, there are two widely used tooth replacement procedures: dental implants and bridgework. When a natural tooth can’t be saved — due to advanced decay, periodontal disease, or an accident like Duchovny’s — these methods offer good looking, fully functional replacements. So what’s the difference between the two? Essentially, it’s a matter of how the replacement teeth are supported.
With state-of-the-art dental implants, support for the replacement tooth (or teeth) comes from small titanium inserts, which are implanted directly into the bone of the jaw. In time these become fused with the bone itself, providing a solid anchorage. What’s more, they actually help prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs after tooth loss. The crowns — lifelike replacements for the visible part of the tooth — are securely attached to the implants via special connectors called abutments.
In traditional bridgework, the existing natural teeth on either side of a gap are used to support the replacement crowns that “bridge” the gap. Here’s how it works: A one-piece unit is custom-fabricated, consisting of prosthetic crowns to replace missing teeth, plus caps to cover the adjacent (abutment) teeth on each side. Those abutment teeth must be shaped so the caps can fit over them; this is done by carefully removing some of the outer tooth material. Then the whole bridge unit is securely cemented in place.
While both systems have been used successfully for decades, bridgework is now being gradually supplanted by implants. That’s because dental implants don’t have any negative impact on nearby healthy teeth, while bridgework requires that abutment teeth be shaped for crowns, and puts additional stresses on them. Dental implants also generally last far longer than bridges — the rest of your life, if given proper care. However, they are initially more expensive (though they may prove more economical in the long run), and not everyone is a candidate for the minor surgery they require.
Which method is best for you? Don’t try using paranormal powers to find out: Come in and talk to us. If you would like more information about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework,” and “Dental Implants.”
Compared to other dental restorations—a few of which have been around for over a century—implants are a relatively recent development. But even though it's just now entering its fourth decade, recent advances have catapulted implant therapy well beyond where it began.
That's due mainly to digital technology. Two examples of this, computed tomography (CT) and 3-D printing, are increasing the accuracy and efficiency of implant placement.
Properly placing an implant is one of the most important elements in achieving a natural and attractive result. But finding the best location is often difficult due to a lack of suitable bone volume, the patient's bite or the proximity of anatomical structures like nerves and blood vessels. CT imaging, especially Cone Beam CT scanners (CBCT), is helping to make implant placement planning easier.
Unlike the static, two-dimensional views of standard x-rays, CBCT takes hundreds of images and digitally blends them together to create a virtual 3-D model of the patient's jaw and face. Dentists can view this highly detailed model on a computer monitor from various vantage points and better identify possible obstructions. With better information about what "lies beneath," they can more accurately pinpoint the best implant site.
Creating the ideal plan is one thing—successfully implementing it is another. Dentists often create a surgical guide that helps them drill in precisely the right positions during surgery. The guide, which resembles a mouthguard, fits over the gums and contains marker locations for drilling.
Many dentists are now using 3-D printing to create these surgical guides. A 3-D printer turns a digital model of the guide based on measurements of the patient's mouth and proposed implant locations into an actual physical object "printed out" layer by layer of special polymer material. The end product can be more precise than guides created by other means.
These and other technological developments are helping implant therapy rise to a new level of success. With the resulting increase in accuracy, efficiency and less treatment time, tomorrow's implant patients will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
If you would like more information on restoring missing teeth with dental implants, 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 Technology Aids Dental Implant Therapy.”
Because the mouth is one of the most sensitive areas of the body, we go to great lengths to eliminate pain and discomfort associated with dental work. Anesthesia, both local and general, can achieve this during the actual procedure—but what about afterward while you’re recuperating?
While a few procedures may require prescription opioids or steroids to manage discomfort after a procedure, most patients need only a mild over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. There are several brands available from a group of medicines called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen work by blocking the release of prostaglandins into the body, which cause inflammation in tissues that have been damaged or injured.
Unlike their stronger counterparts, NSAIDs have fewer side-effects, cost less and aren’t addictive. And unlike opioids NSAIDs don’t impair consciousness, meaning patients can usually resume normal activities more quickly.
But although they’re less dangerous than opioids or steroids, NSAIDs can cause problems if taken at too strong a dose for too long. Its major side effect is interference with the blood’s clotting mechanism, known as “thinning the blood.” If a NSAID is used over a period of weeks, this effect could trigger excessive external and internal bleeding, as well as damage the stomach lining leading to ulcers. Ibuprofen in particular can damage the kidneys over a period of time.
To minimize this risk, adults should take no more than 2400 milligrams of a NSAID daily (less for children) and only for a short period of time unless directed otherwise by a physician. For most patients, a single, 400 milligram dose of ibuprofen can safely and effectively relieve moderate to severe discomfort for about 5 hours.
Some patients should avoid taking a NSAID: pregnant women, those with a history of stomach or intestinal bleeding, or heart disease (especially if following a daily low dose aspirin regimen). If you have any of these conditions or similar concerns, be sure you discuss this with your dentist before your procedure for an alternative method for pain management.
If you would like more information on managing discomfort after dental procedures, 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 “Treating Pain with Ibuprofen.”
Somewhere around age 6, your child’s primary (baby) teeth will begin to give way to their permanent set. If all goes well, you’ll notice all the front teeth erupting in the right position: the top teeth slightly overlapping the bottom and all coming in without crowding.
Sometimes, though, the process doesn’t occur as it should and a bad bite (malocclusion) may develop. You can get a head start on treatment if you know what to look for. Here are a few problems for which you should see a dentist — or more likely an orthodontist — for a thorough evaluation.
Spacing problems. Teeth should normally come in right next to each other without a noticeable gap. But if you notice excessive space between the permanent front teeth especially, this may be an indication there’s a discrepancy in size between the teeth and the jaws. At the other end of the spectrum, if teeth on the same arch appear to overlap each other, this indicates crowding in which there’s not enough space for the teeth to erupt properly.
Bad bites. Malocclusions can take different forms. In an underbite, the front bottom teeth bite in front of the upper teeth. If there’s a noticeable gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed, this is known as an open bite. Front teeth biting too far down over the lower teeth is a deep bite and could even include biting into the soft tissue of the hard palate. Cross bites can occur in either the front or back teeth: if in the front, some of the lower teeth will bite in front of the upper; if in the back, some of the lower teeth bite outside the upper rather than normally on the inside.
Abnormal eruptions. You should also be alert for protusions, in which the upper teeth or the jaw appears to be too far forward, or retrusions, in which the lower teeth or jaw appears to be too far back. You should also be concerned if permanent teeth erupt far from their normal position — this is especially likely if the primary tooth was also out of position, or was lost prematurely or not in the right order.
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