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.”
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.”
Dental veneers are a popular way to improve teeth with chips, stains, gaps or other defects. They're typically made of dental porcelain, ceramic-like materials prized for their ability to mimic the texture, color and translucency of natural teeth.
But dental porcelain doesn't come in one form—a dentist can utilize variations of it to better match a patient's need. For example, one patient may need a porcelain with added strength, while another may need one that provides better coverage of underlying discoloration.
The foundational materials for veneer porcelain are glass ceramics. Also used for crowns, glass ceramics have been the preferred choice of dentists for some time to achieve life-like results. In terms of veneers, dental technicians first mix the powdered form of the porcelain with water to create a paste. They then use the paste to build up the body of a veneer layer by layer.
But while the high degree of silica (glass) in this type of porcelain best resembles the translucence of natural teeth, early forms of it lacked strength. This changed in the 1990s when technicians began adding a material called leucite to the ceramic mixture that enhanced its strength and durability.
Today, you'll also find lithium disilicate used, which is twice as strong as leucite and is quite useful when creating thinner veneers. Both of these strength materials can be pressed and milled into shape, which helps achieve a more accurate fit. Along with the underlying glass ceramic, the result is a veneer that's both durable and incredibly life-like.
Although today's porcelain veneers are far superior in durability than earlier forms, they can be damaged when biting down on hard objects. To make sure your veneers last as long as possible, you should avoid biting down directly on hard-skinned fruit, or using your veneered teeth to crack nuts or crunch ice (or any other teeth, for that matter).
But with proper care, today's veneers have exceptional longevity. And, thanks to the superior dental materials that compose them, they'll look great for years.
If you would like more information on dental veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Your Smile—Better Than Ever.”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Your teeth can take decades of daily biting and chewing and not miss a beat. But they do have a nemesis, dental disease, which can easily get the upper hand. As a result, millions of people lose teeth each year to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But while both the living tissue that makes up teeth and gums are susceptible to bacterial attack, the non-living materials in a life-like dental implant are impervious to disease. That being the case, you would think your implants wouldn't need as much hygiene as your other teeth.
But they still do. True, implants in themselves aren't affected by infection, but the bone and other tissues that support them can become diseased. This often happens with advanced cases of gum disease.
There is, in fact, a particular form of gum infection associated with implants called peri-implantitis ("peri"—around; "it is"—inflammation), which occurs in the gums around an implant. Once it starts, peri-implantitis can advance at a rapid pace.
This is because implants don't have the gum attachment of real teeth, which can fight and slow the advance of a gum infection. Because an implant doesn't have this attachment, any infection around it continues virtually unimpeded. If the bone supporting an implant becomes infected, it can weaken to the point that the implant fails.
But this dire scenario can be avoided with continuing hygiene and maintenance of the gum tissues surrounding the implant. You should brush and floss every day around implants to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease, just as you do with natural teeth.
It's also important to keep up regular dental visits for cleanings to remove lingering plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). Your dentist may also notice and clean away any residual cement from the restoration, which can also cause gum inflammation.
And, you should promptly see your dentist if you notice any telltale signs of a gum infection, such as swelling, redness or bleeding, especially around implants. The quicker we diagnose and treat a case of gum disease, particularly peri-implantitis, the less likely it will endanger your implant.
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