Pain is the body’s warning system: It tells us something is wrong. And depending on the location and intensity of the pain, it can give us vital clues about the problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s not so clear and direct—the pain could arise from any number of sources. Toothaches often fall into this category: Although it’s likely indicating a tooth or gum problem, it could be something else — or even somewhere else.
This is known as referred pain, in which you may feel pain in one location, like your mouth, but the actual source of the problem is somewhere else, like an infected and congested sinus passage. If we’re able to identify the true source and location of the pain, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Besides sinus infections, there are other conditions like trigeminal neuralgia that can refer pain to the mouth. This painful condition involves the trigeminal nerve, a large nerve running on either side of the face that can become inflamed. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, you might feel the pain at various points along the jaw, feeling much like a toothache.
There’s also the case of an earache mimicking a toothache, and vice-versa. Because of the proximity of the ears to the jaws, there is some nerve interconnectedness between them. For example, an infected or abscessed back tooth could feel a lot like an earache.
These and other possible problems (including jaw joint disorders or teeth grinding) can generate pain as if it were coming from the mouth or a single tooth. To be sure you’ll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If your dentist doesn’t find anything wrong with your mouth, he or she may refer you to a medical doctor to explore other possible causes.
Getting to the root cause of pain can help determine which treatment strategy to pursue to relieve it. Finding the actual source is the most efficient way to understand what a pain sensation is trying to tell us.
One of the key elements in a child’s development is their first set of teeth. Although primary (“baby”) teeth last only a few years, they’re critically important for enabling a child to eat solid foods, speak and smile.
But they also provide one more important benefit—they hold the space in the jaw reserved for the permanent teeth developing just under the gums until they erupt. But if a child loses a primary tooth prematurely because of disease or injury, other teeth may drift into the vacant space and crowd it out for the intended permanent tooth. It may then come in misaligned or remain stuck within the gums (impaction).
To avoid this, we try to treat and preserve a diseased primary tooth if at all practical. For a primary molar, one of the large teeth in the back of the mouth, this might include capping it with a stainless steel crown.
Why a metal crown? Primary molars normally don’t fall out until around ages 10-12, so it may be years for a younger child before their permanent molars erupt. All during that time these particular teeth will encounter heavier biting forces than teeth in the front.
A steel crown is often the best solution for a molar given their longer lifespans and encountered biting forces. The crown’s metal construction can stand up to these forces while still protecting the tooth from re-infection from decay. And because molars are typically outside of the “smile zone” occupied by more visible front teeth, the crown’s metal appearance isn’t usually an aesthetic issue.
Crowning a molar usually takes one visit, a dentist typically performing the procedure with local anesthesia and possibly a mild sedative like nitrous oxide gas (“laughing gas”). After removing any decayed structure from the tooth, the dentist will then fit a pre-formed crown over the remaining structure, sized and shaped to match the original tooth as close as possible.
A stainless steel crown is a cost-effective way to added needed years to a primary molar that could otherwise be lost prematurely. Preserving it may help a child avoid bite problems and expensive future treatments.
If you would like more information on dental care for primary teeth, 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids: A Safe and Effective Way to Restore Primary Molars.”
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.”
All-natural fruit juice with no additives: now what could be wrong with that? Nothing—unless your child is over-indulging. Too much of even natural fruit juice could increase their risk of tooth decay.
To understand why, we first need to look at the real culprit in tooth decay: mouth acid produced by oral bacteria as a byproduct of their digestion of sugar. Acid at high levels softens and erodes tooth enamel, which causes tooth decay. Acid levels can rise as populations of bacteria increase often fueled by sugar, one of bacteria's primary food sources.
And not just the added sugar found in soft drinks, snacks or candies—even fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit, can feed bacteria. To lower the risk of tooth decay, dentists recommend limiting the daily amount of sugar a child consumes, including natural fruit juices without added sugar.
That doesn't mean you should nix natural fruit juices altogether—they remain a good source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. But you'll need to keep your child's juice consumption within moderation.
As a guide, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued consumption recommendations for children regarding all-natural fruit juice. The academy recommends the following daily juice amounts by age:
- 7-18: 8 ounces (1 cup) or less;
- 4-6: 6 ounces or less;
- 1-3: 4 ounces or less;
- Under 1: No juice at all.
You can further reduce your child's decay risk by limiting their juice intake to mealtimes, a good practice with any sweetened beverage. Sipping through the day on juice or other sweetened beverages can cause some sugar to stay in the mouth over long periods. This can interfere with the natural ability of saliva to neutralize any acid buildup.
If you're wondering what children could drink instead of juice, low-fat or non-fat milk is an acceptable choice. But the most tooth-friendly liquid to drink is plain water. Drinking nature's hydrator is not only better for their overall health, by reducing the risk of tooth decay, it's also better for their teeth.
If you would like more information on how sugar can affect your child's dental health, 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 “Squeeze Out the Juice.”
Your front teeth are the stars of your smile — so it makes perfect sense to replace them if they’re missing. But is it really necessary to replace a largely unseen back tooth with an implant or bridgework?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Your individual teeth are an interactive part of a dynamic mechanism that enables you to eat, speak and smile. They’re highly adaptable and can move incrementally to accommodate mouth changes — especially when one of them is lost.
Back teeth not only help us chew food efficiently, they also ease some of the pressure from front teeth as we chew. Our efficiency while chewing suffers when they’re missing; other teeth will wear faster and tend to move out of position, “drifting” into the space left by the missing tooth. And without their stimulation during chewing, new bone may grow at a slower rate to replace older bone, reducing bone volume over time.
So, whether visible or not, replacing a back tooth is the best course to take to prevent these adverse consequences. Your two best options are fixed bridgework or dental implants, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Bridgework has been the traditional method for replacing one or a few missing teeth: they’re long-lasting if cared for properly, have a life-like appearance that blends well with other teeth and are a good option when implants aren’t. But they require extensive altering of the anchor teeth (those used on either side of the bridge to secure it) and they’re highly prone for trapping food between them and the gums, increasing the risk of disease.
Dental implants are easily maintained and their installation doesn’t affect adjacent teeth as with a bridge. They’re also durable with a 95% success rate after ten years. On the other hand, the installation process can take several months and visits, and they require a certain amount of bone mass for proper placement and so aren’t ideal for certain patients.
Regardless of its location, if you have a missing tooth or one that may need to be removed, you should visit us for a complete examination. From there we can tell you how your mouth has been impacted by the missing tooth and which replacement option is best for you.
If you would like more information on tooth replacement options, 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 “Replacing Back Teeth.”
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