Life would be harrowing if we had no ability to feel pain. Although experiencing it is unpleasant, pain's purpose is to alert us to something wrong in our body. Without pain diseases and other problems could worsen to the point of life-threatening.
But pain without a purpose — the nerves simply misfiring — can make life miserable. This can happen with the trigeminal nerves that exit the brain stem and end on each side of the face. Each nerve has three branches that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
When they don't work properly, trigeminal nerves can give rise to a disorder known as trigeminal neuralgia. Beginning often as an occasional twinge, they may escalate to several seconds of mild to excruciating pain occurring over weeks, months or even years. An episode may erupt from chewing, speaking or even lightly touching of the face.
We see this condition most often in people over fifty, particularly women. We don't know the exact cause, but there's strong suspicion that the nerve's protective sheath has been damaged, similar to what occurs with multiple sclerosis or other inflammatory conditions. Another possibility is a blood vessel putting pressure on the nerve and disrupting its normal operation. Such an impinged nerve might transmit pain signals at the slightest stimulation and then fail to “switch off” when the stimulation stops.
Although we can't cure trigeminal neuralgia, we can help you manage it and reduce discomfort during episodes. We'll first try conservative, less-invasive techniques, like signal-blocking medications or drugs that reduce abnormal firing.
If these aren't effective, we may then recommend a surgical solution. One such procedure is known as percutaneous treatment in which we insert a thin needle to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent their firing. If we've determined an artery or vein has compressed the nerve, we might surgically relocate the vessel. These techniques can be quite effective but they do have possible side effects like numbness or hearing loss.
If you've experienced facial pain, don't continue to suffer. Visit us for a complete examination and learn about your options for pain relief. More than likely, there's a way to reduce your pain and improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on facial pain, 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.”
When the multi-platinum recording artist, songwriter and TV personality Jason Derulo was recently asked about his ideal woman, his answer covered a remarkably broad spectrum. "There’s no specific thing," he said, "so I think it’s unfair to say what my ‘type’ is." But it turns out that there is one thing the So You Think You Can Dance judge considers essential: A beautiful smile.
"I’m not into messy teeth," Derulo said. "If the grill has spaces and different colors, it’s not my vibe."
As it turns out, he may be on to something: A number of surveys have indicated that a bright, healthy smile is often the first thing people notice when meeting someone new. Yet many are reluctant to open up that big grin because they aren’t satisfied with the way their teeth look. If you’re one of them, consider this: Modern cosmetic dentistry offers a variety of ways to improve your smile — and it may be easier and more affordable than you think.
For example, if your smile isn’t as bright as you would like it to be, teeth whitening is an effective and economical way to lighten it up. If you opt for in-office treatments, you can expect a lightening effect of up to 10 shades in a single one-hour treatment! Or, you can achieve the same effect in a week or two with a take-home kit we can custom-make for you. Either way, you’ll be safe and comfortable being treated under the supervision of a dental professional — and the results can be expected to last for up to two years, or perhaps more.
If your teeth have minor spacing irregularities, small chips or cracks, it may be possible to repair them in a single office visit via cosmetic bonding. In this process, a liquid composite resin is applied to the teeth and cured (hardened) with a special light. This high-tech material, which comes in colors to match your teeth, can be built up in layers and shaped with dental instruments to create a pleasing, natural effect.
If your smile needs more than just a touch-up, dental veneers may be the answer. These wafer-thin coverings, placed right on top of your natural teeth, can be made in a variety of shapes and colors — from a natural pearly luster to a brilliant "Hollywood white." Custom-made veneers typically involve the removal of a few millimeters of tooth enamel, making them a permanent — and irreversible — treatment. However, by making teeth look more even, closing up spaces and providing dazzling whiteness, veneers just might give you the smile you’ve always wanted.
If you would like more information about cosmetic dental treatments, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cosmetic Dentistry — A Time for Change.”
After a dental examination revealed you had periodontal (gum) disease, you began undergoing treatment. Now after several cleaning sessions, the infection has subsided and your gums have returned to a healthy shade of pink.
But your gum care isn’t over — depending on the infection’s severity you may need to visit us more often than the normal six months between regular checkups.
Gum disease arises from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food remnants built up on tooth surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. The bacteria cause an infection in the gums, which initiates a response from the body’s immune system that triggers inflammation.
Without proper treatment, periodontitis can come back in which the infection spreads deeper below the gum line. Pockets of infection can reoccur as gum tissues weaken and lose their attachment to teeth. This continuing damage can ultimately lead to both tooth and bone loss.
To stop the disease it’s necessary to remove all the infection-causing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from tooth surfaces, including around the roots. This is performed manually and could require surgery once again to access areas below the gum line.
To guard against this it’s necessary for you to undergo regular periodontal maintenance (PM). Besides cleaning, PM gives us an opportunity to check for signs of returning gum disease and, if found, plan for another round of treatment.
Although not written in stone, the interval between PM appointments that seems the most effective for preventing recurrence is every three months. In cases of advanced, aggressive gum disease, appointments may need to occur at even shorter intervals, for example every two months.
PM for susceptible patients with decreased resistance to disease require extra time and effort for the hygienist, along with a renewed daily hygiene habit of effective brushing and flossing by you to keep the disease at bay. But preventing another occurrence of gum disease and its consequences is well worth this extra attention for the health of your teeth and gums.
Children's permanent teeth normally erupt over several years after first forming below the gum line. All their permanent teeth should come in by the time they reach early adolescence.
Unfortunately, this process doesn't always happen as it should. If the erupting teeth become crowded due to a poor bite (malocclusion), teeth still to come in may not have enough room to fully erupt. They become impacted, a condition in which the visible crown remains partially or completely submerged below the gum line.
Impacted teeth create consequences for other teeth and dental health overall. They more readily cause abscesses (a localized infection within the gum tissue) and can damage the roots of nearby teeth. Impacted front canine (eye) teeth can interfere with bite function and their visual absence mars an otherwise attractive smile.
If your child's canine teeth have failed to erupt properly, there is a way to help them fully come in if you act before their mouth structure fully matures. The first step is an orthodontic evaluation of their entire bite. This will determine if there's enough space to move other teeth to make room for the impacted canines.
If so, we would then find the exact position of the impacted teeth using x-rays and possibly cone beam CT scanning for a detailed three-dimensional image. The teeth could be in a variety of positions, such as angled toward the roof of the mouth or cheek or buried high in the jawbone. If the teeth are too far out of position the best course of action may be to remove them and replace them later with a dental implant.
If the impacted teeth, though, are in a feasible position for retrieval, we first expose each tooth through the gums with a minor surgical procedure and bond a small bracket to it. We then attach a small gold chain to the bracket that loops over an orthodontic appliance attached to other teeth. The appliance will exert pressure over several months to pull the tooth into proper position.
If successful, your child will gain the use of these important teeth and a more attractive appearance. But don't delay — this desired outcome will become much harder if not impossible to attain as their teeth and jaws continue to develop.
If you would like more information on treating impacted 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
Although it’s a natural part of dental development, teething is no picnic for your baby. This process in which each of their twenty primary teeth gradually erupt through the gums usually begins around their sixth to ninth month and may not end until around age three.
These periodic tooth eruptions can cause your baby to bite, gnaw, drool or rub their ears. Teething can also disrupt sleeping patterns, decrease appetite and cause gum swelling and pain that can turn your otherwise happy baby into an unhappy one.
Managing these teething episodes is one of the most common topics parents bring up with their dentists. Since teething is supposed to happen, there’s no need for medical intervention unless the child is also experiencing diarrhea, rashes, fever or prolonged irritability associated with teething episodes. In most cases, the best you can do is to make your child more comfortable. Here are a few things to help you do just that.
Provide cold items for gnawing. Rubber teething rings, wet wash cloths or pacifiers that have been chilled can give your child something to gnaw on and ease the pressure of sore gums while the chilled temperatures help numb pain. Be sure, though, that the items aren’t frozen because extremely cold temperatures can burn the skin.
Gum massage. You can massage your child’s gums with one of your fingers during a teething episode to counteract the throbbing pressure coming from the erupting tooth. Just be sure your finger is clean and don’t use any numbing agents unless advised by your dentist or pediatrician.
OTC medication. You can ease mild to moderate teething pain with over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen in dosages appropriate for your child’s age. But don’t apply rubbing alcohol to the gums or massage in any pain reliever—both practices can burn the skin. And, as mentioned before, only apply numbing agents like Benzocaine with the advice and supervision of a healthcare professional.
Besides these practices, be sure to keep up regular dental checkups to monitor the teething process and ensure all is going normally. And remember: though it may seem harrowing at times, the teething process won’t last forever.
If you would like more information on easing the effects of teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep Your Baby Comfortable.”
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