A scoop of ice cream is one of life's little pleasures. But for one in three Americans, it could be something altogether different—an excruciating pain when cold ice cream meets teeth. This short but painful experience that can happen when dental nerves encounter hot or cold temperatures is called tooth sensitivity.
A look at tooth anatomy will help explain why. Teeth are mainly composed of outer enamel, a layer of nerves and blood vessels within the tooth called the pulp, and dentin, a porous layer in between. The pulp nerves pick up temperature and pressure sensations from outside the teeth through a network of tiny passageways (tubules) in the dentin. Enamel muffles these sensations before traveling the tubules, which prevents overstimulation of the nerves.
This careful balance can be disrupted, however, if the enamel becomes eroded by acid from foods or beverages, or as a byproduct of bacteria. This exposes the underlying dentin to the full brunt of outward sensations, which can then impact the nerves and cause them to overreact.
This hyper-sensitivity can also occur around the tooth roots, but for a different reason. Because the gums primarily protect this area rather than enamel, the roots can become hyper-sensitive if they lose gum coverage, a condition known as gum recession caused mainly by gum disease or over-aggressive hygiene.
Besides using dental products that block nerve sensation, reducing sensitivity largely depends on addressing the underlying cause. If gum disease, the focus is on removing plaque, a bacterial film on dental surfaces that causes and sustains the disease. Stopping an infection allows the gums to heal and hopefully regain their original teeth coverage. More advanced cases, though, may require grafting surgery to foster gum regeneration.
If the cause is enamel erosion or other results of decay or trauma, we can utilize a number of treatments depending on the extent of tooth damage including cavity filling, root canal therapy or crowning. As a last resort, we may need to remove a tooth that's beyond reasonable repair.
If you've begun to experience sensitive teeth, it's important that you see us as soon as possible. The earlier we can diagnose the cause, the less invasive we can be with treatments to ease or even stop this most unpleasant experience.
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.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Dorit Kemsley isn't shy. Best known to fans as an outspoken and sometimes outrageous cast member of the reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kemsley is never reticent about “mixing it up” with fellow castmates or their significant others. Recently, though, she confessed to something that left her less than confident: her smile.
Kemsley has been self-conscious about her smile because her teeth looked noticeably short, worn down from an unconscious habit of grinding her teeth. Although teeth grinding is more common among children (who normally grow out of it by adolescence), it can persist into adulthood, usually from difficulties managing high stress (a likely component in the fashion designer/reality show star's busy life).
Stress-induced teeth grinding can occur during waking hours or, more likely, during deep sleep. The accumulating, long-term effects from the habit can lead not only to worn teeth but to weakened gum support, a high risk of tooth fracture or jaw pain and dysfunction.
So, how do you know if you grind your teeth, especially if it's only happening at night? Typical signs include sore jaws after awaking from sleep, increased tooth pain or sensitivity or, like Kemsley, a noticeable difference in your tooth length. Your family or sleeping partner may also complain about the “skin-crawling” noise you make during the night.
There are ways to lessen the effects of teeth grinding. The first step is to have us verify the underlying cause for the habit. If it's tension from stress, then you might reduce the habit's occurrences by learning better stress management or relaxation techniques through individual counseling, group support or biofeedback therapy. We can also fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night or through the day that reduces the force generated during teeth grinding.
And if you've already experienced accelerated tooth wear like Kemsley with a resultant “small teeth” smile, you might pursue the same solution as the RHOBH star: dental veneers. These thin, life-like wafers of porcelain are custom-made to mask imperfections like chips, staining, slight tooth gaps and, yes, worn teeth.
Veneers are often less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic techniques, yet they can have a transformative effect, as Kemsley's Instagram followers have seen. In conjunction with other dental treatments needed to repair any underlying damage caused by a grinding habit, veneers are an effective fix for the smile you present to the world.
If you suspect you may have a grinding habit, see us for a complete examination. From there, we'll help you protect your teeth and your smile.
You're more apt to lose teeth because of periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay than any other cause. But neither of these bacterial diseases have to happen: You can prevent them through daily brushing and flossing and twice-a-year dental cleanings.
But that's not all: You can also boost your dental care practices by eating foods that strengthen and protect teeth. On the other hand, a poor diet could reduce the effectiveness of your oral hygiene practices in preventing tooth decay or gum disease.
A diet that might lead to the latter is often high in refined sugar (sucrose), often added to processed foods and snacks to improve taste. But sucrose is also a top food source for oral bacteria, increasing their numbers when it's readily available. A higher bacterial population greatly increases your risk for tooth decay or gum disease.
On the other hand, certain foods benefit your overall dental health. Fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are filled with nutrients and minerals like vitamin D or calcium that strengthen teeth against disease. And although they can also contain natural sugars, these don't pose the same problems as added sucrose due to the plant fiber you consume with them.
Dairy foods can also help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. Milk and cheese contain minerals like calcium and phosphorus, and a protein called casein, all of which strengthen teeth against decay. The enzymes in cheese stimulate saliva, which in turn neutralizes mouth acid and prevent it from harming enamel.
Some foods are also natural sources of fluoride, a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel. One example is black tea, which also, along with green tea, contains antioxidants that protect against cancer.
The best strategy for “tooth-friendly” nutrition is to pursue a diet that's high in fiber-rich natural foods and low in sugar-added processed foods. In practice, you'll want most of your diet to consist of fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy food, while minimizing foods with added sugar.
Following this kind of diet will certainly benefit your overall health. But it will also make it easier for you to prevent dental disease and keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on how nutrition can boost your 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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