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.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
If your dental health isn't in the best of shape, a survey conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) says the cause is likely one of three common oral health problems. The survey asked around 15,000 people across the country what kinds of problems they had experienced with their teeth and gums, and three in particular topped the list.
Here then are the top three oral health problems according to the ADA, how they could impact your health, and what you should do about them.
Tooth pain. Nearly one-third of respondents, particularly from lower-income households and the 18-34 age range, reported having tooth pain at one time or another. Tooth pain can be an indicator of several health issues including tooth decay, fractured teeth or recessed gums. It's also a sign that you should see a dentist—left untreated, the condition causing the pain could lead to worse problems.
Biting difficulties. Problems biting or chewing came in second on the ADA survey. Difficulties chewing can be caused by a number of things like decayed, fractured or loose teeth, or if your dentures or other dental appliances aren't fitting properly. Chewing dysfunction can make it difficult to eat foods with greater nutritional value than processed foods leading to problems with your health in general.
Dry mouth. This is a chronic condition called xerostomia caused by an ongoing decrease in saliva flow. It's also the most prevalent oral health problem according to the ADA survey, and one that could spell trouble for your teeth and gums in the future. Because saliva fights bacterial infections like gum disease and helps neutralize acid, which can lead to tooth decay, chronic dry mouth increases your risk of dental disease.
If you're currently dealing with one or more of these problems, they don't have to ruin your health. If you haven't already, see your dentist for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible: Doing so could help alleviate the problem, and prevent even more serious health issues down the road.
If you would like more information on achieving optimum 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 “Top 3 Oral Health Problems.”
May 9-15 is National Women's Health Week, which begins each year on Mother's Day. It's an important opportunity to focus on the unique health challenges women face, and ways to better meet those challenges. Among the many health aspects that deserve attention, one of the most important is the health of a woman's teeth and gums over the course of her life.
Although preventing and treating dental disease remains a primary focus throughout life, women do face a number of different situations during various life stages that often require additional attention. Here are 3 such life moments for a woman that may give rise to oral and dental problems.
Adolescence. The changes that occur in their physical bodies as girls enter puberty may make their gums more sensitive to bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that forms on teeth. This can cause painful swelling, a condition that may become even more acute if they wear braces. To counteract this, it's important for girls in their teens to not neglect daily brushing and flossing to remove excess plaque, and to make regular dental visits at least every six months.
Pregnancy. Each of the estimated 40 million U.S. women who have given birth share a common experience—they've all undergone the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Such changes can adversely affect dental health: The hormonal shifts, and the sugar cravings that often accompany them, increase the risk for dental disease, especially gum infections. As with adolescence, daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits (as well as a healthy diet) are important for staying a step ahead of possible tooth decay or gum disease.
Menopause. Women in menopause or who have passed through it can encounter new oral problems. Persistent dry mouth caused by a lack of adequate saliva flow, for example, can cause irritation and significantly increase the risk of dental disease. Osteoporosis and some medications for its treatment could also interfere with dental care. Besides daily oral hygiene, older women can ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters or drinking more water. They should also work with their physicians to minimize any oral effects from their medications.
Many aspects of dental care remain constant regardless of a woman's season of life. Daily oral hygiene should be a lifetime habit, as well as seeing a dentist at least twice a year. But there are times when a unique stage of life requires something more—and it's always better to be proactive rather than reactive in meeting new challenges to oral health.
Teenagers can have the same smile-disrupting tooth flaws as adults. But not all cosmetic treatments available to adults are appropriate for teenagers—at least not until they get a little older. Dental veneers fall into that category.
A veneer is a thin porcelain shell custom-made by a dental lab, and bonded by a dentist to the face of a tooth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other imperfections. Because they're less invasive than other measures, veneers are highly popular as a cosmetic dental solution. They do, however, usually require some enamel removal so that they'll appear more natural.
This enamel removal typically won't impact an adult tooth other than it permanently requires it to have veneers or other restorations after alteration. But there is a risk of damage to a teenager's tooth, which hasn't fully developed.
Adolescent teeth usually have a larger pulp chamber (filled with an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels) than adult teeth. And because the enamel and dentin layers may not yet be fully developed, the pulp is much nearer to the tooth's surface.
We must be very careful then in removing enamel and dentin for veneers or we may penetrate the pulp and risk damaging it. Alternatively, there is the possibility of no-prep veneers which are very conservative but often are unable to be done because of the need to often remove tooth structure to make the veneers look natural.
Another cosmetic problem can occur if we place veneers on a patient's teeth whose jaws and mouth structures are still growing. Eventually, the gums could recede and an unsightly gap form between the veneer and the adjacent natural tooth.
Fortunately, there are other techniques we can use to improve a tooth's appearance. Mild chipping can be repaired by bonding composite resin material to the tooth. Some forms of staining may be overcome with teeth whitening. These and other methods can address a teenager's smile appearance until their teeth are mature enough for veneers.
Whether or not a tooth is ready for veneers will depend on its level of development, something that can often be ascertained with x-rays or other diagnostic methods. And if a tooth has already undergone a root canal treatment, there isn't as much concern. In the meantime, though, it may be better for your teen to wait on veneers and try other techniques to enhance their smile.
If you would like more information on dental restoration for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
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