Our nerves serve a vital purpose, alerting us to bodily discomfort, injury or disease — we couldn’t remain in good health for long without them. But when they malfunction due to genetics or disease, they can themselves become a source of pain and discomfort.
One such nerve disorder that affects the face is known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN) or tic douloureaux (from the French for “painful”). The nerves in question are the trigeminal, a pair that travel up from the brain stem through the skull into each side of the face where they each branch into the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw. The pain can radiate from one or more of these branches.
TN is characterized by recurring episodes of brief but severe pain with accompanying muscle spasms. It may begin as a short twinge recurring over weeks, months or years before becoming increasingly painful. The slightest actions can trigger a painful episode: chewing, speaking, shaving or even the wind blowing on your face.
While it may be hard to determine its exact cause, it often seems to result from an artery or vein pressing on the nerve, causing it to signal pain at the slightest stimulation and then failing to stop transmitting when the stimulation is removed. It’s also associated with other inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis where the protective insulation around a nerve is damaged.
Before receiving treatment you should undergo a complete examination to rule out any other facial pain causes like temporomandibular (jaw joint) disorders or a dental abscess. You may also need to undergo a neurological examination and possible MRI imaging to pinpoint the exact cause, like a tumor or blood vessel pressing on the nerve.
Although the condition may not be curable, there are several effective management treatments. The more conservative approaches usually involve medications to block the nerve’s pain signals or decrease its abnormal firing. If this isn’t sufficient to diminish symptoms, there are surgical options: passing a thin needle through the nerve to selectively prevent fibers from firing, or moving aside a blood vessel pressing on it. High-dose targeted radiation may also be effective, especially with older patients.
The best treatment approach will depend on the exact cause, your age and overall health. Whatever the approach, you can gain significant relief from the pain of TN.
If you press your tongue against your teeth, unless something is badly wrong they won't budge. In fact, your teeth are subjected to a fair amount of pressure each day as you chew and eat, and yet they remain firmly in place.
But there's a deeper reality—your teeth do move! No, it's not a paradox—the gum and bone tissues that hold your teeth in place allow for slight, imperceptible changes in the teeth's position. Their natural ability to move is also the basis for orthodontics. Here are 3 more facts you may not know about your teeth's natural ability to move.
Teeth are always on the move. Teeth are held firmly within the jawbone by an elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament and a thin layer of bony-like material called cementum. In response to pressure changes, though, the bone dissolves on the side of the teeth in the direction of pressure and then rebuilds behind it, solidifying the teeth's new position, a process that happens quite slowly and incrementally. And it will happen for most of us—some studies indicate more than 70% of people will see significant changes in their bite as they age.
Orthodontics works with the process. Orthodontic appliances like braces or clear aligners apply targeted pressure in the direction the orthodontist intends the teeth to move—the natural movement process does the rest. In the case of braces, a thin metal wire is laced through brackets bonded to the front of the teeth and then anchored, typically to the back teeth. The orthodontist incrementally tightens the wire against its anchors over time, encouraging tooth movement in response to the pressure. Clear aligners are a series of removable trays worn in succession that gradually accomplish the same outcome.
Watch out for the rebound. That nice, straight smile you've gained through orthodontics might not stay that way. That's because the same mechanism for tooth movement could cause the teeth to move back to their former positions, especially right after treatment. To avoid this outcome, patients need to wear a retainer, an appliance that holds or "retains" the teeth in their new positions. Depending on their individual situations and age, patients may have to wear a retainer for a few months, years or from then on.
If you would like more information on 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Fluoride is an important weapon in the fight against tooth decay. Fluoride consumption and other applications are especially beneficial during children's dental development for building strong teeth long-term.
But the truism "too much of a good thing" could aptly apply to fluoride. If a child consumes too much fluoride over an extended period of time, it could cause a condition called enamel fluorosis in which the enamel surface develops mottled or streaked staining. It's not harmful to the tooth's health, but it can greatly diminish a person's smile appearance.
To avoid fluorosis, it's important with the help of your dentist to know and regulate as much as possible the amount of fluoride your child receives. Here are 3 fluoride sources you should manage.
Toothpaste. Many manufacturers add fluoride to their toothpaste formula, usually an important way to receive this tooth-strengthening chemical. But younger children tend to swallow more toothpaste than older children or adults. Because the chemical builds up in the body over time, swallowing toothpaste every day could potentially elevate your child's fluoride levels. To avoid this, just use a "smear" of toothpaste on the brush for children under age 2, and a pea-sized amount for older children.
Your water system. About three-quarters of all public water utilities add fluoride to their water as an added measure for tooth decay prevention. The amount can vary from system to system, although the maximum amount recommended by the U.S. Government is 0.70 parts per million (PPM). You can ask your local water system how much fluoride, if any, is present or they add to your drinking water.
Bottled water. Any type of bottled beverage (water, juices, sodas, etc.) could contain various levels of fluoride. Unfortunately there are no labeling requirements regarding its presence, so the most prudent course is to carefully manage the beverages your child drinks, or stay with bottled water marked "de-ionized," "purified," "demineralized" or "distilled," which typically have lower fluoride levels. For babies feeding on milk, you can use the aforementioned bottled waters to mix powder, use ready-to-feed formula (also low in fluoride) or breast-feed.
If you would like more information on fluoride and your baby, 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
February marks National Children's Dental Health Month. It’s important for children to form daily oral hygiene habits early, but how do you get little ones to take care of their teeth? Try these tips:
Describe your actions. When children are too young to brush on their own, gently brush their teeth for them, narrating as you go so they learn what toothbrushing entails. For example, “Brush, brush, brush, but not too hard,” or “Smile big. Let’s get the front teeth. Now let’s get the teeth in the very back.”
Make learning fun. Around age 3, children can start learning to brush their own teeth. To model proper technique, play follow the leader as you and your child brush teeth side by side, making sure to get all tooth surfaces. Then you both can swish and spit. After brushing together, brush your child’s teeth again to make sure hard-to-reach surfaces are clean. Note that children generally need help brushing until at least age 6.
Encourage ownership and pride. Children feel more invested in their oral health when they get to pick out their own supplies, such as a toothbrush with their favorite character and toothpaste in a kid-friendly flavor. To boost pride in a job well done, reward your child with a sticker or star after they brush their teeth.
Keep your child brushing for two minutes. According to the American Dental Association, toothbrushing should be a two-minute task. To pass the time, play a favorite song or download a tooth-brushing app designed to keep kids brushing the recommended two minutes. For increased motivation, electric toothbrushes for children often have a built-in two-minute timer as well as appealing characters, lights and sounds.
And don’t forget one more key to a lifetime of good oral health—regular dental visits. If you have questions about your child’s dental hygiene or if it’s time to schedule a dental visit, please contact our office. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
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