Posts for: July, 2015
If you occasionally experience small sores in the softer tissues of your mouth, you may have aphthous ulcers or better known as canker sores. While rarely a health concern, they can be painful and annoying particularly when you’re eating and drinking.
These breaks in the skin or mucosa (the lining membranes of the mouth) usually occur in the thinner tissues found in the cheeks, lips, under the tongue or in the back of the throat. They tend to be most painful (especially while eating acidic foods like citrus or tomato sauce) between the first few hours of appearing and for a couple of days afterward, and will often occur during periods of anxiety, stress or after a minor injury. The sores will normally heal and fade within a couple of weeks.
Although occasional outbreaks of canker sores are quite common with most people, 20-25% of people (more often women) have a recurring form of painful outbreak known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS). Another variation called herpetiform aphthae, similar in appearance to herpes simplex virus sores, is characterized by smaller clusters of ulcers. While the specific causes for canker sores are still unclear, there’s some correlation between them and abnormalities with a person’s immune system, as well as with other systemic conditions like gastrointestinal disorders or vitamin deficiencies.
The basic treatment for canker sores is to first soothe the pain and promote quicker healing. Many over-the-counter medications are available for mild cases that numb the area temporarily and provide a protective covering while the sore heals. For more severe cases, there are also prescription medications (like steroids) that can be applied topically or through injection.
While canker sores are not contagious and usually benign, there are some situations that call for a dental examination: sores that haven’t healed within 2 weeks; increasing occurrences and severity of the sores; and never being completely free of a sore in the mouth. These may indicate some other condition, or be an occurrence of cancer or a pre-cancerous condition.
If you have any concerns, be sure to schedule a visit. We’ll be glad to evaluate any occurrence of the sores and recommend the best course of treatment to ease the pain and annoyance.
If you would like more information on canker sores or other types of mouth ulcers, 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 “Mouth Sores.”
You may be among the one in three Americans who suffer from the pain of tooth sensitivity. Before attempting treatment, though, we must first identify the cause.
Your teeth are made of layers of different organic tissue. The pulp at the center of the tooth contains nerves that transmit pain or pressure sensation to the brain. The pulp is encased by dentin, a layer of tissue composed of tiny tubules that conduct temperature and pressure changes from outside the tooth to the pulp nerves. The hard outer enamel shell shields the dentin from over-stimulation from these sensations.
There are, however, some instances where the dentin may become exposed and cause sensitivity in the tooth. This can occur when the gum tissue recedes and the root of the tooth is exposed to the oral environment. If the root loses its surface coating (referred to as cementum, a cement-like outer layer around the root surfaces) because of over-aggressive brushing (too hard for too long) or advanced periodontal (gum) disease, sensitivity is often the result.
Another instance is enamel erosion. Although made of the hardest substance in the human body, enamel has one major enemy — acid. A high oral acid level brought on by over-consuming acidic foods and beverages or as a symptom of gastric reflux disease dissolves (de-mineralizes) the enamel’s mineral content. Brushing just after eating actually contributes to de-mineralization because the enamel is in a softer state. It requires forty-five minutes to an hour for your saliva to neutralize acid and restore minerals to the enamel — you may actually be brushing away enamel with this practice.
Once we know the underlying cause, we can use an appropriate method to reduce sensitivity. One way is to reduce nerve sensitivity in the dentin’s tubules or block them altogether. There are several chemical products for both home and dental office application that can reduce sensitivity and encourage enamel re-mineralization (as can the fluoride added to toothpaste). We can also strengthen enamel and provide a mechanical barrier to acid through concentrated fluoride in a varnish applied to tooth and root surfaces. And, life-like restorations like crowns or veneers not only improve the appearance of your teeth, they can also provide coverage for exposed dentin.
If you are experiencing painful sensitivity, make an appointment to visit us. Once we know the source, we can treat the problem and reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
As with the rest of the body, tooth pain is an indication that something’s wrong. While the exact cause requires a dental exam, the location, quality and duration of the pain could narrow the possibilities. With that in mind, here are 3 types of tooth pain and what it might be telling you.
Sensitivity. Pain or discomfort when you eat or drink cold foods or bite down could mean you have a small area of decay in the tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root surface from gum recession. Dental work to repair a decayed tooth or filling could alleviate the pain; in the case of gum recession, you may need to reduce overaggressive brushing or seek treatment for periodontal (gum) disease, the two main causes of the condition.
Dull or lingering pain. A dull ache in the rear sinus area could indicate a problem with a back tooth — they share the same nerve pathways as the sinuses, so you may be feeling referred pain. In the case of lingering pain after eating or drinking something hot or cold, there may be decay within the inner pulp chamber of the tooth that’s damaging or even killing the nerve tissue. If so, a root canal treatment might be in order.
Sharp pain. That sudden, excruciating pain when you bite down could mean you’re experiencing advanced decay, a loose filling or possibly a cracked tooth. If the pain seems to radiate from the gums — and they’re swollen and sensitive — you may have developed an abscess brought on by periodontal (gum) disease. In all these cases, appropriate dental treatment like decay removal and filling, root canal treatment or plaque removal may be necessary, depending on the cause and extent of the problem.
Regardless of what kind of pain you’re feeling, you should see us as soon as possible — in many situations waiting will only make the problem worse. The sooner we discover the cause, the sooner we can begin the right treatment to solve the issue and alleviate your pain.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of tooth 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 “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!”
A “gummy” smile, in which the upper gums are too prominent, is a common condition. There are several causes for gummy smiles — determining which one is the first step to having your appearance changed.
Although perceptions vary from person to person, most dentists agree a gummy smile shows 4 mm or more of gum tissue, and the amount is out of proportion with the length of the crown (the visible tooth). Teeth normally erupt through the gums during childhood and continue development until early adulthood, shrinking back from the tooth until stabilizing in place.
This typically produces a crown length of about 10 mm, with a “width to length” ratio of about 75-85%. But variations can produce differences in the relationship between teeth and gums and the width to length ratio of the teeth. The teeth may appear shorter and the gums more prominent. Worn teeth, caused by aging or grinding habits, may also appear shorter.
If tooth to gum proportionality is normal, then the cause may be upper lip movement. When we smile, muscles cause our lips to retract 6-8 mm from the lip’s resting position. If the amount of movement is greater (meaning the lip is hypermobile), it may show too much of the gums. The upper jaw can also extend too far forward and cause the gums to appear too prominent.
There are a number of ways to improve gummy smiles, depending on the cause. Periodontal plastic surgery known as crown lengthening removes and reshapes excess gum tissue to reveal more of the tooth. Lip hypermobility can be reduced with Botox injections (to paralyze the muscles) or in some cases with surgery to reposition the muscle attachments. Orthognathic surgery can be used to surgically reposition an overextended upper jaw. Other cosmetic enhancements such as orthodontics, bonding or porcelain restorations can also prove effective.
The first step is to obtain an accurate diagnosis for your gummy smile. From there, we can devise the best treatment approach to bring your smile back into a more attractive proportion.
If you would like more information on minimizing a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
If you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’ve no doubt experienced red and swollen gums. If, however, you notice an especially inflamed area next to a tooth, you may have developed a gum abscess.
An abscess is a pus-filled sac that develops as a result of chronic (long-standing) gum disease, an infection caused by bacterial plaque that’s built up on tooth surfaces from inadequate oral hygiene or from a foreign body (food debris) getting stuck below the gums. The abscess, which typically develops between the tooth and gums, may be accompanied by pain but not always (the affected tooth may also be tender to bite on). Abscesses may grow larger, precipitated by stress or by a general infection like a common cold, and then abate for a time.
As with other abscesses in the body, a gum abscess is treated by relieving the pressure (after numbing the area with local anesthesia) and allowing it to drain. This is often followed by cleaning any infected root surfaces of bacterial plaque and then irrigating the area with a saline and/or antibacterial solution. We may also prescribe antibiotics afterward and some form of pain control (usually a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen) to help with discomfort.
Although the results of this procedure can be dramatic, it’s just the first step in treating the overall gum disease. After a few days of healing, we continue with a complete examination and recommend further treatment, usually starting with removing bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), the underlying cause for the infection and inflammation, from all tooth and gum surfaces. This may take several sessions before we begin seeing the gum tissues return to a healthier state.
The key to preventing an abscess recurrence (or any symptom of gum disease) is to remove plaque everyday through proper brushing and flossing, and visiting us twice a year (or more if you’ve developed chronic gum disease) for cleanings and checkups. Doing so will raise your chances of avoiding an uncomfortable and often painful gum abscess in the future.
If you would like more information on gum abscesses, 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 “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses.”