Each year doctors treat about 150,000 new cases of severe facial pain. If you're one of those people, you don't have to suffer—there are ways to gain relief from these painful episodes.
Those recurring episodes are known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). As the name implies, the source of the pain are the trigeminal nerves, which originate in the brain stem and extend on either side of the face. Each is divided into three branches (hence the "tri" in trigeminal) that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
TN can involve one or more of these branches, resulting in mild to severe pain that can last for several seconds. Jaw movements like chewing or speaking can trigger an episode, as well as a light touch to the face.
There are various proposed causes for TN, including links with inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis, which damages the insulating sheathing around nerve cells. The most common cause, though, appears to be a blood vessel pressing against the nerve. The compression causes hypersensitivity in that area of the nerve so that it transmits pain at the slightest sensation.
Other conditions like jaw joint pain disorders (TMD) or a dental abscess can cause similar pain symptoms, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis. If your doctor does identify your condition as TN, you may then need a comprehensive approach to treatment involving a team of care providers, including your dentist.
For the most part, TN can be managed, beginning with the most conservative approach to gain relief, often with medications to block the nerve's pain signals to the brain or decrease abnormal nerve firings. If that proves insufficient, though, more intensive treatments are available.
One possible treatment for an impinging blood vessel is a microsurgical procedure to expose the affected nerve and relocate the vessel. While this can be effective, the surgery does carry some risk of facial numbness or decreased hearing. If the risks are too high for conventional surgery, an alternative procedure uses a precise beam of high-dose radiation to relieve the pressure from the vessel.
The most important thing to know about TN, though, is that it is possible to control it and relieve future pain episodes. If you're experiencing these symptoms, see your dentist or doctor for an exam and accurate diagnosis.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”
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.”
The journey to a straighter smile with braces can be difficult. One of the biggest dangers you'll face is an increased risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. To curtail plaque growth, you must brush and floss daily and visit your dentist regularly for more thorough cleanings. If you don't, accumulated plaque can trigger an infection with potentially disastrous consequences for your dental health.
But wearing braces can make you more vulnerable to gum disease. The braces and wires can get in the way of brushing and flossing. To add to the difficulty, the gums often react to being in close proximity to braces, causing their tissues to swell or overgrow. And if the patient is a teenager, the normal hormonal surge that occurs during these years could compound this vulnerability even more.
To prevent an infection, you'll need to practice extra diligence cleaning your teeth with brushing and flossing. It takes more time and effort, but it's worth it to lower your disease risk. To help even more, consider using tools like specialized brushes that can maneuver better around hardware and floss threaders that can get floss under wires. You might also consider a water flosser, which uses pressurized water to remove plaque between teeth.
In addition to your orthodontic visits, you should also maintain your regular cleaning schedule with your family dentist—or more often if they recommend. Besides cleaning, your dentist also monitors for signs of developing gum disease. They can also prescribe mouthrinses for controlling bacterial growth.
Even with diligent hygiene, your gums may still adversely react to the braces. This may not be a problem if your gum tissues don't appear to be detaching from the teeth. But your dentist or orthodontist may recommend you see a periodontist (a gum specialist) to help monitor that aspect of your care. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces and allow the gums to heal.
Keeping your teeth clean and your mouth disease-free is no easy task while wearing braces. But it can be done—and with your dentist's help, you can achieve a straighter and healthier smile.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
X-ray imaging is such an intricate part of dentistry, we usually don't think twice about it. Without it, though, the fight against dental disease would be much harder.
At the same time, we can't forget that x-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. It's that very quality and the difference in the absorption rate between denser bone and teeth and softer diseased tissue that makes disease diagnosis possible.
But this same penetrative power can potentially harm the tissues it passes through. For that reason when practicing any form of x-ray diagnostics, dentists follow a principle known as ALARA, an acronym for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable." In lay terms ALARA means getting the most benefit from x-rays that we can with the lowest dose and exposure time possible.
While practicing ALARA with x-rays is important for patients of any age, it's especially so for children who are more sensitive to radiological energy given their smaller size and anatomy. We can't use the same settings, dosages or exposure times with them as with an adult.
To protect children, dentists have developed techniques and protocols that lessen their exposure time and rate, while still providing usable images for diagnosing disease. The bitewing is a good example of safe and effective pediatric x-ray imaging.
A bitewing is a plastic device holding exposable film that patients bite down on and hold in their mouth while x-raying. The x-rays pass through the teeth and gums and expose the film behind them on the bitewing. Using a bitewing we can capture a set of two to four radiographs to give us a comprehensive view of the back teeth, while exposing the child less radiation than they normally receive daily from background environmental sources.
This and other advances in equipment and digital imaging greatly reduce the amount of radiation patients receive during x-rays. If, though, you're still concerned about your child's x-ray exposure, talk with your dentist who can explain in more detail the x-ray safety protocols they follow. Just like you, they want your child to be as safe as possible while still benefiting from the diagnostic power of x-rays.
If you would like more information on safety precautions using x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
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