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!”
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
While it’s common for most of us to get an occasional cold sore, you may suffer from regular breakouts. If so, you know firsthand how uncomfortable and embarrassing they can be and seeming to erupt at the most inopportune moments.
What you’re experiencing is the result of a virus — the Herpes Simplex virus (HSV) Type I to be exact. Don’t let the name disturb you — although similar it’s different from the sexually transmitted virus known as HSV Type II. As with any virus the body responds by making and distributing antibodies to stop its attack. That’s typically the end of it but for some people the virus appears to be able to hide in the nerve roots of the mouth and elude the effects of the antibodies.
The sores associated with the virus tend to break out when a person is under stress, experiences trauma to the lip or even from sun exposure. The breakout begins with a slight itching or burning around the mouth that typically advances to more severe itching, swelling, redness and blistering. Eventually the sores will scab over and heal as the outbreak winds down. The period from breakout to final healing (during which you’ll also be contagious to others) usually lasts seven to ten days.
Although normally not a danger to health, cold sore outbreaks can be painful and irritating. In the past, most patients simply had to let the outbreak run its course with topical ointments to ease discomfort.Â In the last two decades, however, new anti-viral medication has proven effective in preventing the outbreaks in the first place or at least lessening their duration.
If you have regular bouts of cold sores prescription drugs like acyclovir or valcyclovir taken orally can help suppress the occurrences altogether, and have few side effects. Topical agents can also be used as a supplement to the drugs to help ease itching and other pain symptoms.
It’s important, though, that you undergo a complete oral examination to rule out more serious conditions associated with mouth sores. If we find that your problem is recurring cold sores, these new treatments could help you escape the cycle of discomfort.
If you would like more information on the treatment of chronic cold sore outbreaks, 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 “Cold Sores.”
Chronic stress is like a tea kettle on the boil—all that “steam” has to go somewhere. We often do this through behaviors like biting our nails, binging on comfort food—or grinding our teeth. That latter habit, however, could have a detrimental effect on teeth, including excessive enamel wear or even fractures.
Also known as bruxism, teeth grinding is the forceful and often involuntary contacting of teeth that often generates abnormally high chewing forces. While not considered a relatively big problem with young children, it can be if you’re an adult. While there could be other causes, chronic stress is often a prime factor for adults with bruxism.
While teeth grinding can occur during the day when you’re awake, it often occurs at night during sleep and may be associated with other sleep disorders like snoring. Although you might not be consciously aware of a grinding episode as it happens, you may notice its effects the next morning, including sore jaws or headaches. Over time, your dentist may begin noticing its effects on your teeth.
So, how can you lessen teeth grinding? For starters, if you’re a tobacco user, quit the habit. Many studies indicate tobacco users report twice the incidence of teeth grinding as non-users. Excessive caffeine, alcohol or drug use can also contribute.
People have also found it helpful to address chronic stress through a number of relaxation techniques like meditation, more relaxing bedtime preparation, bio-feedback or therapy to “de-stress.” Although there’s not a lot of empirical evidence for these techniques’ effectiveness, there’s much anecdotal data from people who’ve found stress relief from them.
There’s also a dental treatment using an occlusal guard that, while not stopping bruxism, can help prevent dental damage. Usually worn during sleep, the custom-made guard fits over the teeth of one jaw, usually the upper. Its high impact plastic prevents the teeth from making solid contact, thus reducing the biting force. You may also be able to reduce bruxism effects through dental work and orthodontics,
You and your dentist can explore the options to find the right treatment strategy for you. By taking action now, you may avoid much more extensive—and expensive—problems with your teeth down the road.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding and what to do about 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 “Teeth Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”
You brush and floss every day to rid your teeth and gums of disease-causing plaque. But while “showing up” is most of the battle, the effectiveness of your technique will win the war.
So, how good are you at removing plaque? One quick way to find out is the “tongue test”—simply rub your tongue along your teeth: they should feel smooth and “squeaky” clean. Surfaces that feel rough and gritty probably still contain plaque.
For a more thorough evaluation, your dental hygienist may use a product during your regular dental visit called a plaque disclosing agent. It’s a solution applied to your teeth that dyes any bacterial plaque present on tooth surfaces a certain color while leaving clean surfaces un-dyed. The disclosing agent shows you where you’re effectively removing plaque and where you’re not.
These products aren’t exclusive to the dental office—you can use something similar at home if you’d like to know how well you’re doing with your hygiene before your next visit. You can find them over-the-counter as tablets, swabs or solutions. You may even find some that have two dye colors, one that reveals older plaque deposits and the other newer plaque.
You simply follow the product’s directions by first brushing and flossing as usual, then chewing the tablet, daubing the swab on all tooth and gum surfaces, or swishing the solution in your mouth like mouthwash for about 30 seconds before spitting it out. You can then use a mirror to observe any dye staining. Pay attention to patterns: for example, dyed plaque scalloping along the gum line means you’ll need to work your brush a little more in those areas.
The dye could color your gums, lips and tongue as well as your teeth, but it only lasts a few hours. And while plaque disclosing agents are FDA-approved for oral use, you should still check the ingredients for any to which you may be allergic.
All in all, a plaque disclosing agent is a good way to occasionally check the effectiveness of your plaque removal efforts. By improving your technique you may further lower your risk of dental disease.
If you would like more information on learning how effective your oral hygiene really is, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
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