Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is an umbrella term for a number of chronic jaw problems. These conditions cause recurring pain for 10 to 30 million Americans, especially women of childbearing age.
But even after decades of treatment and research, a full understanding of TMD's underlying causes eludes us. That doesn't mean, however, that we haven't made progress—we have indeed amassed a good deal of knowledge and experience with TMD and how best to treat it.
A recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients helps highlight the current state of affairs about what we know regarding these disorders, and where the future may lie in treatment advances. Here are a few important findings gleaned from that survey.
Possible causes. When asked what they thought triggered their TMD episodes, the top answers from respondents were trauma, stress and teeth clenching habits. This fits in with the consensus among experts, who also include genetic disposition and environmental factors. Most believe that although we haven't pinpointed exact causes, we are over the target.
Links to other disorders. Two-thirds of survey respondents also reported suffering from three or more other pain-related conditions, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic headaches. These responses seem to point to possible links between TMD and other pain-related disorders. If this is so, it could spur developments in better diagnostic methods and treatment.
The case against surgery. Surgical procedures have been used in recent years to treat TMD. But in the survey, of those who have undergone surgery only one-third reported any significant relief. In fact, 46% considered themselves worse off. Most providers still recommend a physical joint therapy approach first for TMD: moist heat or ice, massage and exercises and medications to control muscle spasms and pain.
These findings underscore one other important factor—there is no “one size fits all” approach to TMD management. As an individual patient, a custom-developed action plan of therapy, medication, and lifestyle and diet practices is the best way currently to reduce the effects of TMD on your life.
If you would like more information on TMD management and treatment, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
"Debit or credit?" "Buy or rent?" "Paper or plastic?" Decisions, decisions. It's great to have more than one good option, but it can also provoke a lot of thought in making the right choice. Here's another decision you may one day have to face: "Save my tooth or replace it?"
It's hard to pass up replacing a tooth causing you misery, especially when the alternative is a functional and attractive dental implant. But before you do, consider this important message the American Association of Endodontists relay during Save Your Tooth Month in May: Before you part with a tooth, consider saving it as the best option for your oral health.
Even an implant, the closest dental prosthetic we now have to a real tooth, doesn't have all the advantages of the original. That's because your teeth, gums and supporting bone all make up an integrated oral system: Each component supports the other in dental function, and they all work together to fight disease.
Now, there are situations where a tooth is simply beyond help, and thus replacing it with an implant is the better course of action. But if a tooth isn't quite to that point, making the effort to preserve it is worth it for your long-term health.
A typical tooth in peril is one with advanced tooth decay. Decay begins when acid softens tooth enamel and creates a cavity. At this stage, we can often fill it with a tooth-colored filling. But if it isn't caught early, the decay can advance into the tooth's interior pulp, well below the enamel and dentin layers.
This is where things get dicey. As decay infects the pulp, it can move on through the root canals to infect the underlying bone. If this happens, you're well on your way to losing the tooth. But even if the pulp and root canals have become infected, we may still be able to save the tooth with root canal therapy.
Here's how it works: We first drill a tiny access hole into the infected tooth. Using special instruments, we remove all of the infected tissue from within the pulp chamber and root canals. After a bit of canal reshaping, we fill the now empty spaces with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. After it sets, it protects the tooth from any more infection.
Contrary to what you might think, root canals aren't painful, as your tooth and the surrounding tissue are completely anesthetized. In fact, if your tooth has been hurting, a root canal will stop the pain. Better yet, it could save a tooth that would otherwise be lost—a satisfying outcome to a wise decision.
If you would like more information about tooth decay treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
If you suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to see a dentist. No, really—your recurring sinusitis might stem from a decayed tooth.
Tooth decay can start as a cavity, but left untreated can advance within the tooth and infect the pulp and root canals. If it reaches the end of the root, it can cause the root tip and surrounding bone to break down.
A severe toothache is often a good indicator that you have advanced tooth decay, which can usually be stopped with a root canal treatment. But a decayed tooth doesn't always produce pain or other symptoms—you could have a “silent” infection that's less likely to be detected.
A symptomless, and thus untreated, infection in an upper back tooth could eventually impact the maxillary sinus, a hollow air-filled space located just above your back jaw. This is especially true for people whose tooth roots extend close to or even poke through the sinus floor.
That “silent” infection in your tooth, could therefore become a “loud” one in the sinuses causing chronic post-nasal drip, congestion and, of course, pain. Fortunately, a physician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist might suspect a dental origin for a case of recurring sinusitis, a condition known as maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin (MSEO).
Antibiotic treatment can clear up sinusitis symptoms short-term. It's unlikely, though, it will do the same for a dental infection, which may continue to trigger subsequent rounds of sinusitis. The best approach is for a dentist, particularly a specialist in interior tooth disease called an endodontist, to investigate and, if a decayed tooth is found, treat the source of the infection.
As mentioned earlier, the solution is usually a root canal treatment. During this procedure, the dentist completely removes all infected tissue within the pulp and root canals, and then fills the empty spaces to prevent future infection. In one study, root canal therapy had a positive effect on alleviating sinusitis in about half of patients who were diagnosed with a decayed tooth.
If your sinusitis keeps coming back, speak with your doctor about the possibility of a dental cause. You may find treating a subsequently diagnosed decayed tooth could alleviate your sinus problem.
If you would like more information on how your dental health could affect the rest of your body, 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”
Picture yourself with a beautiful smile…what do you see? Besides straight and uniform teeth framed by the gums, you should also see one other thing indicative of a great smile—your teeth an attractive shade of translucent white.
But as you age your teeth can begin to dull as the enamel loses its translucency and the underlying dentin thickens and yellows. You no longer have the bright smile you once had in younger days.
But if the discoloration is mainly on the outer enamel, teeth whitening could be your answer for regaining your youthful smile. This is a procedure in which we apply a solution containing a bleaching agent (usually hydrogen peroxide) to your teeth. Aided by heat or light to activate it, the solution can temporarily whiten the enamel.
Teeth whitening isn't an exclusive treatment provided by a dentist—there are a number of retail products that enable you to bleach your teeth at home. But there are distinct advantages to having your teeth professionally whitened.
For one, we can control the level of brightness by adjusting the strength of the bleaching solution. This allows you to achieve the kind of look you want—from a more natural and subtler shade to a more dazzling color often called “Hollywood White.”
Any external teeth whitening application will fade with time, regardless of whether they're professional or DIY. But a dental office whitening may last longer due to our stronger solutions and curing techniques. And, by caring for your whitening (by avoiding tobacco and food items that stain teeth) and obtaining occasional touch-ups in our office, the shine could last for a few years.
Again, this particular whitening technique only works with outer staining and yellowing. If your discoloration originates from inside the teeth, you'll need a more invasive method. And your teeth should be reasonably healthy before undergoing whitening.
All in all, though, teeth whitening is an easy and affordable way to brighten your smile. It could help you take years off your appearance.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Teeth Whitening: Brighter, Lighter, Whiter….”
Wearing braces can pose challenges for your daily life and habits. One in particular is trying to keep your teeth and gums clean.
Braces or not, your oral hygiene needs to be thorough. Every day, your teeth accumulate a thin film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque that can cause tooth decay or gum disease. It's essential to remove as much as possible each day by brushing and flossing.
That's a more difficult task with braces. The brackets and wires interfere with accessing many of your teeth's surfaces with a toothbrush or floss. As a result, braces wearers on average have a higher incidence of dental disease than non-wearers.
But while it's difficult to keep your mouth clean wearing braces, it's not impossible. Here are some tips and tools for making oral hygiene easier during orthodontic treatment.
A low-sugar diet. Besides items like chips that could damage your braces, you should also limit your consumption of foods and snacks with added sugar. This carbohydrate is a primary food source for disease-causing bacteria. Limiting sugar in your diet can help reduce plaque buildup.
The right toothbrush. Brushing with braces is easier if you use a soft multi-tufted brush with microfine bristles. The smaller bristles maneuver better around the braces than larger bristled brushes. You'll still need to make multiple passes above and below the wires to be sure you're brushing all tooth surfaces.
Flossing tools. Traditional flossing using just your fingers can be next to impossible to perform with braces. But a tool like a floss holder or threader can make it easier to get between teeth. You might also try a water flosser that removes plaque from between teeth with a pressurized spray of water.
Dental treatments. Your dentist can give your teeth extra protection while you're wearing braces with topically applied fluoride to strengthen enamel. Using mouthrinses with an antibacterial ingredient like chlorhexidine may also reduce harmful bacteria.
Be sure you also keep up regular visits with your family dentist while wearing braces, and especially if you begin to notice puffy and reddened gums or unusual spots on your teeth. The sooner any case of dental disease is detected, the less impact it will have on your dental health.
If you would like more information on dental care while undergoing orthodontic treatment, 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
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