Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
- brushing the surgical area (if advised by your surgeon);
- rinsing too aggressively;
- drinking through a straw or consuming hot liquid;
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on 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 “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”
Your smile isn’t the same without healthy gums—neither are your teeth, for that matter. So, maintaining your gums by protecting them from periodontal (gum) disease is a top priority.
Gum disease is caused by bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that collects on teeth and is not removed due to poor oral hygiene practices. Infected gums become chronically inflamed and begin to weaken, ultimately losing their firm attachment to the teeth. This can result in increasing voids called periodontal pockets that fill with infection. The gums can also shrink back (recede), exposing the tooth roots to further infection.
Although gum disease treatment techniques vary, the overall goal is the same: remove the bacterial plaque fueling the infection. This most often involves a procedure called scaling with special hand instruments to manually remove plaque and calculus (tartar). If the infection has spread below the gum line we may need to use a procedure called root planing in which we scrape or “plane” plaque and calculus from the root surfaces.
As we remove plaque, the gums become less inflamed. As the inflammation subsides we often discover more plaque and calculus, requiring more treatment sessions. Hopefully, our efforts bring the disease under control and restorative healing to the gums.
But while gum tissue can regenerate on its own, it may need some assistance if the recession was severe. This assistance can be provided through surgical procedures that graft donor tissues to the recession site. There are a number of microsurgical approaches that are all quite intricate to perform, and will usually require a periodontist (a specialist in gum structures) to achieve the most functional and attractive result.
While we have the advanced techniques and equipment to treat and repair gum disease damage, the best approach is to try to prevent the disease from occurring at all. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing, and continues with regular dental cleanings and checkups.
And if you do notice potential signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, call us promptly for an examination. The sooner we diagnose and begin treatment the less damage this progressive disease can do to your gums—and your smile.
If you would like more information on protecting your gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
You’ve been embarrassed for a while now by your yellowed, dull teeth. You’re ready for a change.
There’s a simple and cost-effective way to make that change: you can temporarily brighten your smile with teeth whitening, possibly at home. But before you try it, you should first have a dental examination to find out if whitening is the right choice for you.
First off, healthy teeth with outer enamel staining are the best candidates for whitening. Teeth and gums with tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease should be treated first before undergoing whitening. A dental exam will uncover any health issues you may have with your mouth.
In the same vein, you’ll want to consider whitening carefully if you have dental work like veneers, crowns or implants. Unlike natural teeth, these non-biological materials won’t be affected by the bleaching agent. We can discuss any potential for color mismatch between your whitened natural teeth and your dental work during your examination.
A dental exam can also uncover one other crucial fact — what kind of tooth staining you have. There are two basic types: extrinsic, staining on the outside enamel as we’ve mentioned earlier; and intrinsic, staining that originates from inside a tooth. The whitening kits you purchase from a store and even some of the whitening techniques we use in the office only diminish extrinsic, not intrinsic staining. To address an intrinsically-stained tooth requires a much more involved, invasive clinical technique only performed by dental professionals.
Finally, a dental examination is a good discussion forum for helping you decide between a home kit and a clinical procedure. While DIY kits are effective for the most part, you won’t be able to precisely control the degree of brightness like we can. This could be important if you want a specific shade of whiteness, from a more subtle and natural shade to dazzling “Hollywood” bright. Shade control could also help minimize color mismatch with dental work.
In the end, we want to help you make the best choice for teeth whitening. Even if you decide to pursue whitening at home, we can offer you valuable advice on what to look for when you buy a kit and how to use it. That alone could help ensure you get the new, bright smile you desire!
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Important Teeth Whitening Questions…Answered!”
If while watching a Seattle Seahawks game you thought you saw wide receiver D. K. Metcalf sucking on a “binky,” your eyes weren’t deceiving you. Well, sort of not—he’s actually been known to wear a mouth and lip guard shaped like a child’s pacifier.
Metcalf isn’t the only pro football player customizing this essential piece of safety equipment. Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has been seen sporting “vampire fangs.” And Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns, has a series of interchangeable guards with various designs and colors.
You may say, “That’s the NFL, so of course players have the money and fame to dress up their mouthguards with a little flair.” But custom mouthguards aren’t out of reach for the average athlete—in fact, it’s actually a sound idea. Not so much for expressing personality, but for the comfort and protective advantages that a custom mouthguard may have over retail varieties.
Usually made of high-resistant plastic, an athletic mouthguard absorbs blows to the face and mouth during hard contacts in sports like football, basketball and hockey. Mandated by many organized sports associations, mouthguards can prevent dental and facial injuries like chipped or knocked out teeth, gum abrasions or jaw fractures. There’s even some evidence they reduce the risk of concussion.
Many amateur players use what is known as a “boil and bite” mouthguard, available in retail sporting goods stores. They’re softened first, usually in hot water, and then placed in the mouth and clenched between the jaws to obtain a somewhat individualized fit.
Although they do provide some level of protection, a boil and bite mouthguard can’t match the accuracy of a custom mouthguard produced by a dentist based on impressions and measurements of an individual player’s mouth. As a result, custom mouthguards can be made thinner than many boil and bite guards, increasing their comfort while being worn. More importantly, their accurate fit enhances their protective capabilities.
As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive than their retail counterparts, and with younger athletes whose mouth structures are still growing, it may be necessary to upgrade a custom guard after a few seasons. Still, the cost of a custom mouthguard may be well worth the superior protection it provides for your own little star athlete. And although it may not necessarily look like a binky or vampire fangs, a custom mouthguard could make their playing experience safer and more comfortable.
If you have tooth pain, we want to know about it. No, really—we want to know all about it. Is the pain sharp or dull? Is it emanating from one tooth or more generally? Is it constant, intermittent or only when you bite down?
Dentists ask questions like these because there are multiple causes for tooth pain with different treatment requirements. The more accurate the diagnosis, the quicker and more successful your treatment will be.
Here are 3 different examples of tooth pain, along with their possible causes and treatments.
Tooth sensitivity. If you feel a quick jolt of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold, it may mean your gums have drawn back (receded) from your teeth to leave more sensitive areas exposed. Gum recession is most often caused by gum disease, which we can treat by removing dental plaque, the main cause for the infection. In mild cases the gums may recover after treatment, but more advanced recession may require grafting surgery.
Dull ache around upper teeth. This type of pain might actually be a sinus problem, not a dental one. The upper back teeth share some of the same nerves as the sinus cavity just above them. See your dentist first to rule out deep decay or a tooth grinding habit putting too much pressure on the teeth. If your dentist rules out an oral cause, you may need to see your family physician to check for a sinus infection.
Constant sharp pain. A throbbing pain seeming to come from one tooth may be a sign the tooth's central pulp layer has become decayed. The resulting infection is attacking the pulp's nerves, which is causing the excruciating pain. Advanced decay of this sort requires a root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. See your dentist even if the pain stops—the infection may have only killed the nerves, but is still present and advancing.
Pain is the body's warning system—so heed the tooth pain alert and see your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner the problem is identified and treated, the better your chances of returning to full dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it means, 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 Pain? Don't Wait!”
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