Nothing grabs your attention like a sharp tooth pain, seemingly hitting you out of nowhere while you’re eating or drinking. But there is a reason for your sudden agony and the sooner you find it out, the better the outcome for your oral health.
To understand tooth sensitivity, we need to first look at the three layers of tooth anatomy. In the center is the pulp filled with blood vessels and nerve bundles: it’s completely covered by the next layer dentin, a soft tissue filled with microscopic tubules that transmit sensations like pressure or temperature to the pulp nerves.
The third layer is enamel, which completely covers the crown, the visible part of a tooth. Enamel protects the two innermost tooth layers from disease and also helps muffle sensations so the tooth’s nerves aren’t overwhelmed. The enamel stops at about the gum line; below it the gums provide similar protection and sensation shielding to the dentin of the tooth roots.
Problems occur, though, when the dentin below the gums becomes exposed, most commonly because of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection caused by dental plaque triggers inflammation, which over time can weaken gum tissues and cause them to detach and shrink back (or recede) from the teeth. This can leave the root area vulnerable to disease and the full brunt of environmental sensations that then travel to the nerves in the pulp.
Tooth decay can also create conditions that cause sensitivity. Decay begins when certain oral bacteria multiply and produce higher than normal levels of acid. The acid in turn dissolves the enamel’s mineral content to create holes (cavities) that expose the dentin. Not treated, the infection can eventually invade the pulp, putting the tooth in danger of being lost unless a root canal treatment is performed to remove the infection and seal the tooth from further infection.
So, if you begin experiencing a jolt of pain while eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, see your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. And protect your teeth from dental disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing, as well as seeing your dentist for regular dental cleanings and checkups. Don’t ignore those sharp pains—your teeth may be trying to tell you something.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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.”
We often don't realize how important something is until it's gone. Like saliva: you're usually not aware that it's cleaning the mouth, neutralizing mouth acid or helping with digestion. But that could change if your saliva flow drops below normal: your health may soon suffer with your mouth taking the brunt.
In particular, reduced saliva flow increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Both diseases are linked to oral bacteria. While many of the myriad strains in the mouth are beneficial, a few bacteria can infect and inflame gum tissues. Bacteria also produce acid, which can soften and erode enamel and make the teeth more susceptible to decay.
Saliva inhibits bacteria in a number of ways. It first clears the mouth of leftover food so not as much stays behind to form bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. You still need to brush and floss daily to remove plaque, but it's less effective without saliva's cleansing action. Saliva also contains antibodies that destroy disease-causing bacteria and other organisms, which keeps their populations in the mouth low.
One of saliva's most important functions, though, is buffering acid. The mouth's ideal pH level is neutral, but many foods we eat can cause it to become more acidic.Â Even a slight acidic rise after eating can soften the minerals in enamel. But saliva goes to work immediately and usually restores normal pH within a half hour to an hour. It also aids in re-mineralizing the enamel.
For these reasons, it's important for you to find out the cause of chronic dry mouth and treat it. If it's a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor about an alternative, or drink more water before and after you take your dose. Certain products can also stimulate saliva flow, like chewing gum with xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener that has dental health-protecting properties too.
Although you often don't notice this unsung bodily fluid swishing in your mouth, it's important that you take care of it. Keeping your saliva flowing will help ensure better oral health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
It’s important for your child’s current and future health that we watch out for tooth decay. Taking x-rays is a critical part of staying one step ahead of this common disease.
But while x-ray imaging is commonplace, we can’t forget it’s still a form of radiation that could be potentially harmful, especially for a child whose tissues are rapidly developing. We must, therefore, carefully weigh the potential benefits against risk.
This concern has given birth to an important principle in the use of x-rays known as ALARA, an acronym for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” In basic terms, we want to use the lowest amount of x-ray energy for the shortest period of time to gain the most effectiveness in diagnosing tooth decay and other conditions.
A good example of this principle is a common type of radiograph known as a bitewing. The exposable x-ray film is attached to a plastic devise that looks like a wing; the patient bites down on it to hold it in place while the x-ray exposure takes place. Depending on the number of teeth in a child’s mouth, an appointment usually involves 2 to 4 films, and children are typically spaced at six months apart. Frequency of x-rays depends on your child’s tooth decay risk: lower risk, less need for frequent intervals.
Each bitewing exposes the child to 2 microsieverts, the standard unit for radiation measurement. This amount of radiation is relatively low: by contrast, we’re all exposed to 10 microsieverts of background radiation (natural radiation occurring in the environment) every day or 3,600 microsieverts annually. Even two appointments of four bitewings each year is a fraction of a percent of the background radiation we’re exposed to in the same year.
This conservative use of x-rays is well within safe parameters for children. As x-ray technology continues to advance (as with the development of digital imaging) we anticipate the exposure rate to diminish even more. Prudently used, x-rays remain one of our best tools for ensuring your child’s teeth are healthy and developing normally.
If you would like more information on the use of 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.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Home whitening kits are a popular way to turn a dull smile into a dazzling one. But these self-applied products only work for teeth with outer enamel stains — if the discoloration originates inside a tooth, you’ll need professional treatment.
Known as “intrinsic staining,” this type of discoloration most often occurs within a tooth’s pulp or dentin layers. There are a number of causes like tooth trauma or tetracycline use at an early age. A root canal treatment used to remove infection from deep within a tooth can also cause discoloration: sometimes blood pigments left after tissue removal or the filling materials themselves can stain a tooth’s interior.
Intrinsic staining can often be treated by placing a bleaching agent, usually sodium perborate, into the tooth’s pulp chamber. But before undertaking this procedure on a tooth that’s undergone a root canal treatment,Â we want to first ensure the filling is intact and still adequately sealing the tooth from infection. We also want to make sure the supporting bone is also healthy.
If all’s well, we access the pulp in the same way as the root canal treatment, and preferably through the same access hole. We then clean out the pulp chamber of any stained matter and then ensure the root canals remain filled and sealed off from the pulp chamber.
We can then place the bleaching agent into the pulp, a process that will need to be repeated every three or four days to achieve the desired level of brightness. After each session we place a cotton pellet over the opening and held in place with a temporary adhesive; we can easily remove and re-apply this covering during subsequent sessions. Once we’ve achieved the desired color change, we seal the tooth with a permanent filling and restore the access cavity with a tooth-colored composite resin material bonded to the enamel and dentin.
There are other options for an intrinsically stained tooth like veneers or crowns that outwardly cover the discoloration. Internal bleaching, however, is a more conservative approach that causes less alteration of the tooth. If successful, it can restore a stained tooth to a brighter, more attractive shade.
If you would like more information on internal bleaching, 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 “Whitening Traumatized Teeth.”
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