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Posts for category: Oral Health

By Rick K. Harrison, DMD, PA
September 15, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tmj disorders   jaw pain  
TwoMouthandFacePainDisordersandWhatYouCanDoAboutThem

Chronic pain affects the quality of life for an estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. alone. The American Chronic Pain Association designates September as “Pain Awareness Month” to highlight the many conditions that cause chronic pain and strategies to manage them. Among these are conditions that can involve your oral or facial health. Here are two painful mouth and face disorders and what you can do about them.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). TMD is a common condition often seen in the dental office. The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull and facilitate activities like eating or speaking that require jaw movement. If they and their associated muscles become inflamed, this can trigger debilitating chronic pain. If you suffer from TMD symptoms, make sure we know about it so we can make your dental visits as comfortable as possible.

When possible, avoid irreversible and invasive treatments for TMD that may permanently change your bite, such as surgery or having teeth ground down. Instead, most healthcare professionals recommend a more conservative approach. Try the following tips to alleviate TMD pain:

  • Eat soft foods so you do not aggravate the jaw joint.
  • Avoid extreme jaw movements like suddenly opening your mouth very wide.
  • Use ice packs and moist heat to relieve discomfort.
  • Ask us about jaw exercises to stretch and relax the jaw.
  • Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi or taking short walks to clear your mind.

Burning Mouth Syndrome. The sensation that the mouth has been burned or scalded without an obvious cause is most common among women during menopause. While researchers can’t yet pinpoint clear causes for it, the list of suspects includes hormonal changes, neurological or rare autoimmune disorders or medication-induced dry mouth.

The first step to treatment is an oral exam along with a complete medical history to identify any possible contributing factors. Depending on the results, we can offer recommendations to manage your symptoms. The following tips often help:

  • Keep your mouth moist. We can recommend an artificial saliva product or medication to increase saliva flow if needed.
  • Change your toothpaste if it contains irritating ingredients.
  • Identify and avoid foods and beverages that seem to precede an episode. These may include spicy foods, coffee and alcoholic beverages.
  • Quit smoking, as this is often linked to burning mouth episodes.

The pain and discomfort caused by these and other oral conditions can put a dent in your life. A visit to your dentist, though, could be the first step to finding relief.

If you would like more information about oral conditions that produce chronic pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Seeking Relief From TMD” and “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”

By Rick K. Harrison, DMD, PA
August 16, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: facial pain  
YoucanGetRelieffromFacialPain

Each year doctors treat about 150,000 new cases of severe facial pain. If you're one of those people, you don't have to suffer—there are ways to gain relief from these painful episodes.

Those recurring episodes are known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). As the name implies, the source of the pain are the trigeminal nerves, which originate in the brain stem and extend on either side of the face. Each is divided into three branches (hence the "tri" in trigeminal) that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.

TN can involve one or more of these branches, resulting in mild to severe pain that can last for several seconds. Jaw movements like chewing or speaking can trigger an episode, as well as a light touch to the face.

There are various proposed causes for TN, including links with inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis, which damages the insulating sheathing around nerve cells. The most common cause, though, appears to be a blood vessel pressing against the nerve. The compression causes hypersensitivity in that area of the nerve so that it transmits pain at the slightest sensation.

Other conditions like jaw joint pain disorders (TMD) or a dental abscess can cause similar pain symptoms, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis. If your doctor does identify your condition as TN, you may then need a comprehensive approach to treatment involving a team of care providers, including your dentist.

For the most part, TN can be managed, beginning with the most conservative approach to gain relief, often with medications to block the nerve's pain signals to the brain or decrease abnormal nerve firings. If that proves insufficient, though, more intensive treatments are available.

One possible treatment for an impinging blood vessel is a microsurgical procedure to expose the affected nerve and relocate the vessel. While this can be effective, the surgery does carry some risk of facial numbness or decreased hearing. If the risks are too high for conventional surgery, an alternative procedure uses a precise beam of high-dose radiation to relieve the pressure from the vessel.

The most important thing to know about TN, though, is that it is possible to control it and relieve future pain episodes. If you're experiencing these symptoms, see your dentist or doctor for an exam and accurate diagnosis.

If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”

PrimaryTeethareCriticaltoFutureDentalHealthandWorthPreserving

Ask any kid and they'll tell you just how valuable "baby" teeth really are—out of the mouth, of course, and under their pillow awaiting a transaction with the Tooth Fairy. But there's more to them than their value on the Fairy Exchange Market—they play a critical role in future dental health.

Primary teeth provide the same kind of dental function as their future replacements. Children weaned from nursing can now eat solid food. They provide contact points for the tongue as a child learns to speak. And they play a role socially, as children with a "toothsome" smile begin to look more like what they will become when they're fully mature.

But primary teeth also serve as guides for the permanent teeth that will follow. As a future tooth develops below the gum line, the primary tooth preserves the space in which it will erupt. Otherwise, the space can be taken over by other teeth. This crowds out the intended tooth, which may erupt out of position or remain impacted below the gum line.

In either case, the situation could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that can be quite costly to correct. But if we can preserve a primary tooth on the verge of premature loss, we may be able to reduce the impact of a developing malocclusion or even prevent it.

We can help primary teeth last for their intended lifespan by preventing tooth decay with daily oral hygiene or clinically-applied sealants and topical fluoride. If they do become infected, it may be worth the effort to preserve them using procedures similar to a root canal treatment.

If a tooth can't be preserved, then we can try to reserve the empty space for the future tooth. One way is a space maintainer, which is a stiff wire loop attached to metal band bonded around an adjacent tooth. This keeps other teeth from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, at which time we can remove the appliance.

Your child may be anxious to get another tooth to put under their pillow. But helping that primary tooth go the distance will be more than worth it for their future dental health.

If you would like more information on the care and treatment of baby teeth, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”

By Rick K. Harrison, DMD, PA
July 07, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: dental visit  
YouMayNeedtoPostponeanUpcomingDentalVisitifYouHaveShingles

Chicken pox is a common viral infection that usually occurs during childhood. Although the disease symptoms only last a short time, the virus that caused it may remain, lying dormant for years within the body's nervous system. Decades later it may reappear with a vengeance in a form known as herpes zoster, what most people know as shingles.

A shingles outbreak can be quite painful and uncomfortable—and it's also not a condition to take lightly. Occurring mainly in people over fifty, it often begins with an itching or burning sensation in the skin. This is often followed by a red rash breaking out in a belt-like pattern over various parts of the body, which may later develop into crusty sores. Symptoms may vary from person to person, but people commonly experience severe pain, fever and fatigue.

Besides the general discomfort it creates, shingles can also pose major health problems for certain people. Individuals with other health issues like pregnancy, cancer or a compromised immune system may experience serious complications related to a shingles outbreak.

In its early stages, shingles is contagious, spreading through direct contact with shingles sores or lesions or through breathing in the secretions from an infected person. This characteristic of shingles could affect your dental care: because the virus could potentially pass to staff and other patients, dentists usually postpone cleanings or other dental treatments for patients with shingles, particularly if they have a facial rash.

If you're diagnosed with shingles, most physicians recommend you begin antiviral treatment as soon as possible. You should also let your dentist know if you have shingles, which may put off any scheduled treatments until your doctor determines you're no longer contagious.

There's one other thing you can do, especially if you're over 60: obtain a shingles vaccine, available from most physicians or clinics. The vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease, and could help you avoid this most unpleasant health experience.

If you would like more information on shingles and its effect on dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Rick K. Harrison, DMD, PA
June 07, 2019
Category: Oral Health
PopStarDemiLovatoPopsOutJayGlazersTooth

Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.

Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.

Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:

  • If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
  • If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
  • If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
  • If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.

What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!

To learn more, read the Dear Doctor articles “Trauma & Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Saving New Permanent Teeth After Injury.”