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.
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
If you suffer from a temporomandibular (“jaw joint”) pain disorder (TMD), you know any activity involving jaw movement can be uncomfortable. That includes eating.
But avoiding eating isn’t an option—which means you may be attempting to minimize discomfort during flare-ups by choosing soft, processed foods that don’t require a lot of jaw force. While this may certainly ease your TMD symptoms, you might also be cheating your health by eating foods not optimally nutritious.
It doesn’t have to be a trade-off: with a few simple techniques you can still eat whole, natural foods while minimizing jaw joint pain. Here are 3 tips for making mealtime less stressful during TMD flare-ups.
Cut food into manageable bite sizes. Preparing your food beforehand will make a big difference in how much effort your jaws exert as you eat. Make sure all your food portions of vegetables, fruits or meats are cut or prepared into small, manageable bite sizes. It also helps to remove the tough outer skin of some fruits and vegetables or to mash other foods like potatoes or beans.
Use cooking liquids to soften food. For foods that aren’t naturally moist, you can add liquids to soften them and make them easier to chew. Incorporate gravies, sauces or marinating liquids into your meal preparation to help soften tougher foods like poultry, meats or some vegetables.
Go easy with your chewing and biting motion. The strategy here is to minimize jaw movement and force as much as possible. While preparing your food as mentioned before will help a lot, how you bite and chew will also make a big difference. Limit your jaw opening to a comfortable degree, take small bites and chew slowly.
Managing a jaw joint disorder is an ongoing process. When practiced together with other treatments like therapy or medication, eating deliberately can help make life with TMD easier.
If you would like more information on coping with jaw joint disorder, 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.”
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.”
Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
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