Life would be harrowing if we had no ability to feel pain. Although experiencing it is unpleasant, pain's purpose is to alert us to something wrong in our body. Without pain diseases and other problems could worsen to the point of life-threatening.
But pain without a purpose — the nerves simply misfiring — can make life miserable. This can happen with the trigeminal nerves that exit the brain stem and end on each side of the face. Each nerve has three branches that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
When they don't work properly, trigeminal nerves can give rise to a disorder known as trigeminal neuralgia. Beginning often as an occasional twinge, they may escalate to several seconds of mild to excruciating pain occurring over weeks, months or even years. An episode may erupt from chewing, speaking or even lightly touching of the face.
We see this condition most often in people over fifty, particularly women. We don't know the exact cause, but there's strong suspicion that the nerve's protective sheath has been damaged, similar to what occurs with multiple sclerosis or other inflammatory conditions. Another possibility is a blood vessel putting pressure on the nerve and disrupting its normal operation. Such an impinged nerve might transmit pain signals at the slightest stimulation and then fail to “switch off” when the stimulation stops.
Although we can't cure trigeminal neuralgia, we can help you manage it and reduce discomfort during episodes. We'll first try conservative, less-invasive techniques, like signal-blocking medications or drugs that reduce abnormal firing.
If these aren't effective, we may then recommend a surgical solution. One such procedure is known as percutaneous treatment in which we insert a thin needle to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent their firing. If we've determined an artery or vein has compressed the nerve, we might surgically relocate the vessel. These techniques can be quite effective but they do have possible side effects like numbness or hearing loss.
If you've experienced facial pain, don't continue to suffer. Visit us for a complete examination and learn about your options for pain relief. More than likely, there's a way to reduce your pain and improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on facial 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
Brushing and flossing your teeth provides a lot of benefits, including a brighter smile and fresher breath. But the primary benefit—and ultimate goal—is removing dental plaque. This biofilm of bacteria and food remnants on tooth and gum surfaces is the number one cause for dental disease.
Brushing and flossing can effectively keep plaque under control. Unfortunately, plaque can be a stubborn foe, hiding in areas easily missed if you're not thorough enough.
So how do you know you're doing a good job brushing and flossing? One quick way is to use your tongue or dental floss to feel for any grittiness, a possible sign of remaining plaque. Ultimately, your dentist or hygienist can give you the best evaluation of your hygiene efforts during your three or six-month checkup.
But there's another way to find out more definitively how well you're removing plaque in between dental visits: a plaque disclosing agent. These over-the-counter products contain a dye solution that stains plaque so it stands out from clean tooth surfaces.
A disclosing agent, which can come in the form of tablets, swabs or a liquid, is easy to use. After brushing and flossing, you apply the agent according to the product's directions. The dye reacts with plaque to stain it a distinct color. You may also find products with two-tone dyes that stain older and newer plaque different colors to better gauge your overall effectiveness.
You then examine your teeth in the bathroom mirror, looking especially for patterns of missed plaque. For example, if you see dyed plaque running along the gum line, you'll know you need to concentrate your hygiene there.
After observing what you can do to improve your future efforts, you can then brush and floss your teeth to remove as much of the dyed plaque as you can. The staining from the dye is temporary and any remaining will fade over a few hours.
Using a disclosing agent regularly could help you improve your overall hygiene technique and reduce your risk of disease. Ask your dentist for recommendations on products.
If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
While many people still consider dental implants the "new kids on the block" in dental restoration, they're now in their fourth decade of use. And since their inception implant technology has continued to improve and revolutionize how we replace missing teeth.
Implants are a different "species" compared to other restoration methods. To be precise, an implant is a tooth root replacement—usually a titanium metal post imbedded directly into the jaw bone. Titanium is not only a biocompatible metal, but bone cells naturally grow on its surface to create a strong and durable hold. It's this secure hold that's most responsible for implants' high long-term success rate.
But we should also credit some of this success to the steady stream of advances over the years in implant construction and supporting technologies. For one thing, we're now more accurate and precise with implant placement thanks to advances in computer tomography (CT) and cone beam CT (CBCT) scanning.
These digital processes merge a series of images taken by a special camera to form a three-dimensional model of the jaw. We can manipulate this model on a computer monitor to view it from different vantage points. It can help us locate and avoid anatomical structures like nerves and sinuses when determining where to place a future implant. CT and CBCT are especially useful when there's a concern about adequate available bone, a necessity for stable implants.
Technology has also improved how we create surgical guides, often used during implant surgery to obtain the most accurate results. Surgical guides are custom-made devices that fit over the teeth with the drilling locations for the implants marked on them. Recent advances in 3-D printing have made these guides even more accurate so that they fit more securely in the mouth. This greater stability increases their accuracy during the drilling sequence during surgery.
These and other advances are helping ensure every implant is a success story. The end result is both a functional restoration and a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “How Technology Aids Dental Implant Therapy.”
As permanent teeth gradually replace primary (“baby”) teeth, most will come in by early adolescence. But the back third molars—the wisdom teeth—are often the last to the party, usually erupting between ages 18 and 24, and the source of possible problems.
This is because the wisdom teeth often erupt on an already crowded jaw populated by other teeth. As a result, they can be impacted, meaning they may erupt partially or not at all and remain largely below the gum surface.
An impacted tooth can impinge on its neighboring teeth and damage their roots or disrupt their protective gum attachment, all of which makes them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Impacted teeth can also foster the formation of infected cysts that create areas of bone loss or painful infections in the gums of other teeth.
Even when symptoms like these aren’t present, many dentists recommend removing the wisdom teeth as a preemptive measure against future problems or disease. This often requires a surgical extraction: in fact, wisdom teeth removal is the most common oral surgical procedure.
But now there’s a growing consensus among dentists that removing or not removing wisdom teeth should depend on an individual’s unique circumstances. Patients who are having adverse oral health effects from impacted wisdom teeth should consider removing them, especially if they’ve already encountered dental disease. But the extraction decision isn’t as easy for patients with no current signs of either impaction or disease. That doesn’t mean their situation won’t change in the future.
One way to manage all these potentialities is a strategy called active surveillance. With this approach, patient and dentist keep a close eye on wisdom teeth development and possible signs of impaction or disease. Most dentists recommend carefully examining the wisdom teeth (including diagnostic x-rays and other imaging) every 24 months.
Following this strategy doesn’t mean the patient won’t eventually have their wisdom teeth removed, but not until there are clearer signs of trouble. But whatever the outcome might be, dealing properly with wisdom teeth is a high priority for preventing future oral health problems.
If you would like more information on wisdom teeth and their potential impact on 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come with a Dilemma.”
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