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.”
A relatively easy and inexpensive way to improve your smile is to whiten your teeth. In fact, you may even be able to do it yourself at home. Although there are differences between at-home and professional whitening, the former can still be effective.
That effectiveness, though, might be dependent on how well you understand what home whitening can do and what it can’t. So before you purchase your kit, here are a few things to know about DIY teeth whitening.
Home kits are safe—when used as directed. Although nothing in life is completely risk-free, home whitening kits are relatively safe. But only if you follow the directions: If you overuse the bleaching solution beyond its intended use, you could wind up with permanent damage to your tooth enamel that can be costly to treat.
Bleaching solutions are relatively mild. Nearly all home kits use carbamide peroxide, a form of hydrogen peroxide, as their bleaching agent. Home kits usually contain no more than 10% of this agent, much lower than professional solutions. Used as directed, this amount of bleaching agent poses little to no risk to dental or general health. On the other hand, the weaker home kit solution does limit the extent of brightness you can achieve compared to stronger professional treatments.
For top results (or certain conditions), consider professional whitening. While you can obtain good results with a home whitening kit, professional whitening provides more precise brightness control and range, and may possibly last longer. That’s because your dentist has more advanced techniques and equipment, as well as stronger bleaching solutions. And, if your discoloration originates inside your teeth, a home kit won’t help—only a dentist can address that kind of discoloration.
Even if you decide to “go solo,” your dentist can still give you advice on what to look for in a home kit, as well as tips for the actual procedure. But whether you whiten at home or let your dentist do it, teeth whitening can take years off your smile and give you a more attractive look.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 Whitening Safety Tips: Are Bleaching Products Safe?”
Root canal treatment can be an effective life preserver for a heavily decayed tooth. The question a lot of people ask, though, is how long might the tooth survive after treatment.
That’s an important concern since the treated tooth was in dire straits beforehand as decay had infected its inner most layer, the pulp. The infection, which had caused the living bundles of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue within to become inflamed and diseased, was poised to invade even deeper through the root canals. During the root canal treatment, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the empty chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling to seal the tooth from further infection.
The protection, though, isn’t an absolute certainty: how long a treated tooth survives depends on a number of factors. For one, the earlier a diseased tooth can be initially diagnosed — especially if the infection hasn’t spread into the jawbone — the better the procedural outcome. Likewise, the chances of longevity are also better if the initial root canal treatment was thorough in identifying and filling all the root canals as well as capping the tooth with a life-like crown in a timely manner after treatment.
The type and location of the tooth can also affect its long-term health. Front teeth, with their single roots and canals are easier to access and treat. Back teeth, by contrast, can have two or more roots and a more intricate canal network. These kinds of complications could require the use of special microscopic equipment and the expertise of an endodontist, a specialist in root canals.
Even if a re-infection occurs, the tooth isn’t necessarily lost. A repeat root canal treatment that addresses these and other issues, could give the tooth a “third” chance. In any case, if a tooth is worth saving attempting a root canal treatment is generally preferable to losing the tooth and replacing it with a prosthetic tooth — it’s well worth the try.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will it Last.”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
If your smile is, to put it mildly, “unattractive,” you may think only extensive and expensive dental work can change it. But depending on your teeth’s actual condition, you might be able to obtain a new smile with a less-invasive option: porcelain veneers.
As their name implies, veneers are thin layers of dental porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to cover imperfections. They’re custom designed and manufactured by a dental technician to match the natural color, shape and size of the teeth they’re covering and to blend with neighboring teeth.
Veneers are quite effective for heavily stained, chipped or moderately misaligned teeth that are otherwise healthy. They can even be used to address slight gaps between teeth and restore worn teeth to make them appear larger and more youthful.
Overall, they’re less invasive than other dental restorations. That said, though, most veneers will still require some alteration of the affected teeth. This is because although quite thin they can still appear bulky after they’re bonded to the teeth. We can minimize this by removing a small amount of a tooth’s outer enamel. While this alteration is modest compared to other restorations, it’s nonetheless permanent– your teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
Veneers also require special consideration while biting. You’ll need to exercise care and avoid biting hard items like candies (or using your teeth as tools) or the veneer could break. Similarly if you have a teeth grinding habit, you may want to consider having a custom guard created that you wear at night to prevent solid contact between your teeth. The excessive force generated while grinding or clenching teeth could also shatter veneers.
Veneers may not be the answer in all cosmetic dental situations, such as extensive disfigurements or bite problems. To know for sure if your particular dental condition could benefit, see your dentist for a complete dental examination and discuss whether obtaining veneers is a viable option for you. If so, you may be able to gain a much more attractive smile from this less invasive but no less effective option.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers and other 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
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