After ruling out other possibilities for your constant jaw joint pain, your doctor has diagnosed you with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Now that you know what you have, what can you do about it?
Unfortunately, it's not always an easy answer. Ideas about treatment are almost as numerous as theories on the causes of TMD. By and large, though, we can classify treatment into two broad categories: conservative and aggressive.
The conservative approach is the result of many years of experimentation and application; it's also much less invasive than aggressive treatments. For most patients, though, these treatments can offer significant relief from pain and dysfunction.
Conservative treatments are based primarily on the philosophy that the temporomandibular joint is like any other joint, and should be treated that way. Treatments include thermal therapies like ice or heat packs applied to the jaw, physical therapy (gentle stretching, jaw exercise, and massage) and pain and muscle relaxant medication. In cases where teeth grinding may be a contributing factor, we might recommend a bite guard worn in the mouth to reduce biting pressure.
On the other end of the spectrum are treatments like altering the bite or the position of the jaw. The purpose of bite alteration is to change the dynamic when the jaws are in contact during chewing or clenching, and reduce pressure on the joints. This is often done by reshaping the teeth's biting surfaces, moving the teeth with orthodontics or performing crown and bridgework. Another possibility, actually modifying the lower jaw location, requires surgery. All of these aggressive treatments are done in order of less to more invasiveness.
These more aggressive treatments, especially jaw surgery, are irreversible. Furthermore, studies on results have not been encouraging — there's no guarantee you'll receive relief from your symptoms. You should consider the aggressive approach only as a last resort, after you've tried more conservative measures. Even then, you should get a second opinion before undergoing more invasive procedures.
Hopefully, you'll see relief from therapies that have made a significant difference for most TMD sufferers. And that's our goal: to reduce your pain and dysfunction and help you regain your quality of life.
If you would like more information on TMD causes and treatments, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
Like other living tissue, your teeth can feel. Dentin, the layer below the enamel, houses fluid-filled conduits that transmit temperature or pressure sensations to a nerve network within the tooth’s inner pulp. It’s so effective that incoming sensations must be buffered — “toned down”— to avoid a painful overload of the nerves. The enamel above the gum line and a bone-like substance called cementum below help do this.
Unfortunately, if teeth lose this protection they can become hypersensitive. This can cause a flash of sharp pain while eating or drinking something cold or hot or just biting down.
There are a number of causes for tooth sensitivity, any of which can influence how we treat it. While you’ll need a dental exam to know for sure, your hypersensitivity will more than likely stem from one of these 3 problems.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This is an infection caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on the teeth due to poor oral hygiene. The inflamed gum tissues weaken and detach from the teeth, causing them to shrink back or recede. This leaves the cementum unprotected, which easily erodes and exposes the dentin to acid and bacteria — and hypersensitivity. Clinically removing the plaque helps the affected gums heal. In extreme cases, the gums may need surgical grafting to regenerate.
Overaggressive brushing. While a lack of oral hygiene can contribute to gum recession, ironically too much hygiene — brushing too hard for too long — can damage your gums and cause them to recede. Brushing really doesn’t require a lot of elbow grease — a gentle scrubbing motion over all tooth surfaces is sufficient to remove plaque. Fine-tuning your brushing will help your gums to recover and heal.
Mouth acid. Although quite strong, enamel has one formidable enemy: acid, which can erode enamel and expose the dentin. Over-indulgence in acidic foods and beverages can make your mouth more acidic; more likely, though, bacterial plaque will again be the culprit, because bacteria excrete an acidic waste product. You can reduce mouth acid with daily brushing and flossing and consuming less acidic foods and beverages.
If you’re experiencing any kind of tooth pain, see us for an examination. We’ll determine the cause and initiate the appropriate treatment to regain your oral health.
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: Understanding Your Options.”
Dental implants are considered today’s premier method for restoring missing teeth. Obtaining an implant, though, is often a long process and the implants themselves must be surgically placed within the jaw bone. Nothing to worry about, though: implant surgery is a minor to moderate procedure akin to a surgical tooth extraction.
Still like any surgery, this procedure does involve cutting into the soft tissues of the gums and could allow oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream. While most bacteria in the mouth are harmless (and even beneficial) a few strains can cause disease. For some people, especially those with certain heart conditions or joint replacements, this could potentially cause serious issues in other parts of their body that might be highly susceptible to infection.
To guard against this, it’s been a long-standing practice in dentistry to prescribe antibiotics to certain high risk patients before a procedure. Although this departs from the normal use of antibiotics for already occurring infections, due to the circumstances this has been deemed an acceptable measure to prevent disease.
In the past, the categories of patients for which preventive antibiotics were appropriate had been more extensive. In recent years, though, both the American Dental Association and the American Heart Association have adjusted their recommendations. Today, your dental provider may recommend antibiotic pre-treatment if you have a prosthetic (artificial) heart valve, a history of infective endocarditis (inflammation of the inner linings of the heart), a heart transplant or certain congenital heart conditions.
While physicians may still recommend premedication with antibiotics for patients with joint replacements, it’s not as blanket a standard as it might once have been. It’s now only recommended for certain cases, such as patients who’ve received a prosthetic joint within the last two years.
There’s still an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of antibiotic pre-medication. However, there’s evidence medicating before procedures with antibiotics can be beneficial in avoiding infection. If you fall into one of the categories just mentioned or are concerned about infection, feel free to discuss with your dentist if using antibiotics before your implant surgery is wise move for you.
If you would like more information on antibiotic treatment before oral surgery, 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 “Implants & Antibiotics: Lowering Risk of Implant Failure.”
You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that someone playing hockey, racing motocross or duking it out in an ultimate fighter match had a tooth knocked out. But acting in a movie? That's exactly what happened to Howie Mandel, well-known comedian and host of TV's America's Got Talent and Deal or No Deal. And not just any tooth, but one of his upper front teeth—with the other one heavily damaged in the process.
The accident occurred during the 1987 filming of Walk Like a Man in which Mandel played a young man raised by wolves. In one scene, a co-star was supposed to yank a bone from Howie's mouth. The actor, however, pulled the bone a second too early while Howie still had it clamped between his teeth. Mandel says you can see the tooth fly out of his mouth in the movie.
But trooper that he is, Mandel immediately had two crowns placed to restore the damaged teeth and went back to filming. The restoration was a good one, and all was well with his smile for the next few decades.
Until, that is, he began to notice a peculiar discoloration pattern. Years of coffee drinking had stained his other natural teeth, but not the two prosthetic (“false”) crowns in the middle of his smile. The two crowns, bright as ever, stuck out prominently from the rest of his teeth, giving him a distinctive look: “I looked like Bugs Bunny,” Mandel told Dear Doctor—Dentistry & Oral Health magazine.
His dentist, though, had a solution: dental veneers. These thin wafers of porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask slight imperfections like chipping, gaps or discoloration. Veneers are popular way to get an updated and more attractive smile. Each veneer is custom-shaped and color-matched to the individual tooth so that it blends seamlessly with the rest of the teeth.
One caveat, though: most veneers can look bulky if placed directly on the teeth. To accommodate this, traditional veneers require that some of the enamel be removed from your tooth so that the veneer does not add bulk when it is placed over the front-facing side of your tooth. This permanently alters the tooth and requires it have a restoration from then on.
In many instances, however, a “minimal prep” or “no-prep” veneer may be possible, where, as the names suggest, very little or even none of the tooth's surface needs to be reduced before the veneer is placed. The type of veneer that is recommended for you will depend on the condition of your enamel and the particular flaw you wish to correct.
Many dental patients opt for veneers because they can be used in a variety of cosmetic situations, including upgrades to previous dental work as Howie Mandel experienced. So if slight imperfections are putting a damper on your smile, veneers could be the answer.
If you would like more information about veneers and other cosmetic dental enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
Each year, over a million Americans venture abroad for healthcare, with roughly half for dental treatment. Cost is the main reason — “medical tourists” believe they can save substantially on treatment, even with travel.
But before undertaking such a venture for dental work, there are some things you should take into consideration. For one, although quality care exists all over the world, you’ll also find different standards of care. In the United States, for example, not only must dental providers graduate from accredited schools, they must also pass state examinations before they can practice (specialists even more). In some parts of the world, educational standards aren’t as difficult to attain. You may also find differing standards for infection control, drug applications or appliances: for example, you may find a lower quality in implant or crown materials or craftsmanship than you might expect in the U.S.
Communication can also be an obstacle. Language barriers make it more difficult to understand what to expect before, during and after a procedure, or to have your questions answered. It may also hinder your provider from fully accessing your medical and dental history, which could have an impact on your treatment and outcome. Limited communication also increases misunderstanding about services offered, charges and treatment expectations.
Finally, many dental procedures have multiple phases to them, some of which normally span several months and visits. Many who go abroad for more complex procedures may try to have them performed in a much shorter time frame. Doing so, however, could prove disappointing both in the quality of the final outcome and your own well-being under such an arduous schedule. Even if your dental work is performed in an exotic locale, recovering from extensive procedures where you must rest and refrain from strenuous activity is best performed in the comfort of your own home.
It’s important to get the facts before traveling to a foreign country for any medical or dental treatment, especially about a region’s accreditation and care standards, as well as what you can expect in terms of amenities and culture during your stay. One good source is the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s web page for medical tourism (//goo.gl/75iWBk).
Going abroad for dental care is a big decision — be sure you’re prepared.
If you would like more information on dental treatment abroad, 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 “Dental & Medical Tourism: It’s No Vacation.”
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