If you wince in pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold, you’re not alone: tooth sensitivity afflicts one in three Americans. To understand what’s possibly going on, let’s look first at tooth anatomy.
Teeth are mainly composed of three layers: an outer protective enamel that covers the upper crown, a middle layer called dentin and an inner pulp. The dentin is composed of small tubules that transmit outer temperature and pressure sensations to nerves in the pulp.
The enamel serves as a “muffler,” damping sensations to protect the nerves from overload. In the root area, the gums and a thin material called cementum covering the roots also help muffle sensation.
But sometimes teeth can lose this muffling effect and the nerves encounter the full brunt of the sensations. The most common reason is gum recession, usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease. The gums have shrunk back or “receded,” and after a short while the cementum covering will also be lost, exposing the dentin in the root area.
Another problem is enamel erosion caused by mouth acid. Chronic high acidity, often caused by bacterial growth or acidic foods and beverages, can dissolve the enamel’s mineral content, causing decay and exposure as well of the underlying dentin.
To avoid future tooth sensitivity, it pays to prevent these two dental problems. The most important thing you can do is practice daily brushing and flossing to reduce bacterial plaque and see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and checkups.
But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you’ll first need an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If it’s related to gum disease, immediate treatment could help stop or even reverse any gum recession. To address enamel erosion, your dentist may be able to protect and strengthen your teeth with sealants and topical fluoride.
There are also things you and your dentist can do to reduce your symptoms. One is for you to use hygiene products with fluoride, which can take the edge off of sensitivity, or potassium, which helps reduce nerve activity. Your dentist can further reduce nerve sensitivity by blocking the tubules with sealants and bonding agents.
Tooth sensitivity is an irritating problem in itself; more importantly, though, it’s often a warning of something else seriously wrong that needs attention. If you’re feeling a little sensitive in the teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
You depend on your family dentist for most of your oral care. There are some situations, though, that are best handled by a specialist. If you or a family member has a deeply decayed tooth, for example, it might be in your long-term interest to see an endodontist.
From the Greek words, endo ("within") and odont ("tooth"), endodontics focuses on dental care involving a tooth's interior layers, including the pulp, root canals and roots. While general dentists can treat many endodontic problems, an endodontist has the advanced equipment and techniques to handle more complex cases.
The majority of an endodontist's work involves teeth inwardly affected by tooth decay. The infection has moved beyond the initial cavity created in the enamel and dentin layers and advanced into the pulp and root canals. The roots and underlying bone are in danger of infection, which can endanger the tooth's survival.
The most common treatment is root canal therapy, in which all of the infected tissue is removed from the pulp and root canals. Afterward, the empty spaces are filled and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent future infection. General dentists can perform this treatment, primarily with teeth having a single root and less intricate root canal networks. But teeth with multiple roots are a more challenging root canal procedure.
Teeth with multiple roots may have several root canals needing treatment, many of which can be quite small. An endodontist uses a surgical microscope and other specialized equipment, as well as advanced techniques, to ensure all of these inner passageways are disinfected and filled. Additionally, an endodontist is often preferred for previously root-canaled teeth that have been re-infected or conditions that can't be addressed by a traditional root canal procedure.
While your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for a problem tooth, you don't have to wait. You can make an appointment if you think your condition warrants it. Check out the American Association of Endodontists webpage www.aae.org/find for a list of endodontists in your area.
Advanced tooth decay can put your dental health at risk. But an endodontist might be the best choice to overcome that threat and save your tooth.
If you would like more information on endodontic dentistry, 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 “Why See an Endodontist?”
Among dental restorations, implants are the closest prosthetic we have to real teeth. They not only replace the visible crown, but the titanium post imbedded in the jawbone adequately substitutes for the tooth root. Because of their unique design, implants are not only life-like, they’re highly durable and could potentially last for decades.
But while their success rate is remarkably high (more than 95% exceed the ten-year mark), they can fail. Ironically, one possible cause for implant failure is periodontal (gum) disease. Although an implant’s materials are themselves impervious to disease, the tissues and underlying bone that support the implant aren’t. If these natural tissues become infected, the secure hold the implant has can weaken and fail.
A gum infection usually begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Certain strains of bacteria within plaque can infect the gums. One particular form of the disease known as peri-implantitis starts as an initial infection and ensuing inflammation of gum tissues around an implant. The disease can quickly spread down to the bone and destroy the integration between the bone and the implant that helps keep the implant in place.
That’s why it’s important for you to keep the implant and the tissues around it clean of plaque, just as you would the rest of your natural teeth. This requires daily brushing and flossing around the implant and other teeth, and visiting your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings.
You should also be alert to any signs of disease, especially around implants: gum redness, swelling, bleeding or pus formation. Because of the rapidity with which peri-implantitis can spread, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any of these signs.
Preventing gum disease, and treating it promptly if it occurs, is a key part of implant longevity. Preserving your overall dental health will help make sure your implant doesn’t become a loss statistic.
Because it requires jaw movement, eating can be difficult and painful if you have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). During flareups you may switch to foods that are easier to eat but may be less nutritious than those you're giving up.
But there are ways to keep healthier foods in your diet while minimizing TMD discomfort. In many cases, it's a matter of preparing your food differently. Here are a variety of food groups known for their nutritional value and what you can do to prepare them for easier eating with TMD.
Fruits and Vegetables. You should peel any fruits or vegetables with hard or chewy skin like apples, peaches or cucumbers. Try chopping or pureeing fruits and vegetables you can eat raw to reduce their size and make them easier to chew. Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, broccoli or cauliflower can be cooked, then chopped or mashed.
Legumes and nuts. Pod-based vegetables like beans or peas provide a number of nutritional elements, as do nuts with their healthy fats. Your motto with these foods should be "Not too large and not too hard." Be sure then to cook, mash or puree legumes that are larger than a pea. With nuts, try nut butters for a softer serving than eating them out of the shell.
Protein and Dairy. Any meats like poultry or beef should be cut into bite-sized pieces; you can also moisten them with broths, gravies or sauces for easier chewing, or braise or stew them in liquid to tenderize them. You can also consume most milk, yogurt or cheese products you can tolerate. If you can't, try alternatives like meal replacement or whey protein beverages.
Grains. Prepare grains by cooking them until they're softened. Hot cereals like oatmeal offer a lot of nutrition and they're relatively easy to eat. Toast your bread and cut the slice into smaller pieces to minimize jaw movement.
One last tip: take your time while eating. A slower rate not only helps you enjoy your food more, it reduces the amount of work your jaws perform while eating. Less jaw work can help further ease the discomfort of TMD.
If you would like more information on how to relieve TMD pain and dysfunction, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
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