Daily fatigue or complaints of your snoring from family have led you to see your doctor about the problem. After an exam and a test session in a sleep lab, your problem now has a name — obstructive sleep apnea.
This common sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat over-relax during sleep. The relaxed tissues obstruct air flow to the trachea (windpipe) and cause “apnea,” where you cease to breathe. The lack of oxygen causes you to wake, even for a micro-second, to begin breathing again. This may occur multiple times throughout the night, diminishing the quality of your sleep and leading not only to drowsiness and daily fatigue but also contribute to cardiovascular disease or other systemic conditions.
The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine while you sleep. The machine delivers pressurized air to a face mask you wear while you sleep; the additional pressure keeps the airway open. However, a CPAP machine does have a few disadvantages, including discomfort while attached to the machine, nasal congestion and dryness, or claustrophobia. These effects can be so pronounced for some patients, they’re unable to adjust themselves to the machine.
If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, there may be an alternative — a custom-fitted oral appliance we manufacture for you to wear in your mouth while you sleep. The appliance pulls the lower jaw forward resulting in a wider opening of the airway. In addition to being less cumbersome than a CPAP mask, an oral appliance is easier to wear, compact in size for easy travel and doesn’t require electricity.
While an oral appliance is an effective alternative to a CPAP machine for many patients, it does have a few disadvantages including problems with saliva flow (too much or too little), muscle or teeth soreness and minor tooth or jaw movement. Still, an oral appliance might be the right solution to relieve your sleep apnea over the long-term.
If you would like more information on treatments for sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Sleep Apnea FAQs.”
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
After ruling out other possibilities for your constant jaw joint pain, your doctor has diagnosed you with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Now that you know what you have, what can you do about it?
Unfortunately, it's not always an easy answer. Ideas about treatment are almost as numerous as theories on the causes of TMD. By and large, though, we can classify treatment into two broad categories: conservative and aggressive.
The conservative approach is the result of many years of experimentation and application; it's also much less invasive than aggressive treatments. For most patients, though, these treatments can offer significant relief from pain and dysfunction.
Conservative treatments are based primarily on the philosophy that the temporomandibular joint is like any other joint, and should be treated that way. Treatments include thermal therapies like ice or heat packs applied to the jaw, physical therapy (gentle stretching, jaw exercise, and massage) and pain and muscle relaxant medication. In cases where teeth grinding may be a contributing factor, we might recommend a bite guard worn in the mouth to reduce biting pressure.
On the other end of the spectrum are treatments like altering the bite or the position of the jaw. The purpose of bite alteration is to change the dynamic when the jaws are in contact during chewing or clenching, and reduce pressure on the joints. This is often done by reshaping the teeth's biting surfaces, moving the teeth with orthodontics or performing crown and bridgework. Another possibility, actually modifying the lower jaw location, requires surgery. All of these aggressive treatments are done in order of less to more invasiveness.
These more aggressive treatments, especially jaw surgery, are irreversible. Furthermore, studies on results have not been encouraging — there's no guarantee you'll receive relief from your symptoms. You should consider the aggressive approach only as a last resort, after you've tried more conservative measures. Even then, you should get a second opinion before undergoing more invasive procedures.
Hopefully, you'll see relief from therapies that have made a significant difference for most TMD sufferers. And that's our goal: to reduce your pain and dysfunction and help you regain your quality of life.
If you would like more information on TMD causes and treatments, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
If you’ve suffered from problems with your jaw joints, known collectively as temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), then you know how uncomfortable and painful they can be. You may also have heard about the use of Botox injections to ease TMD discomfort.
Before you seek out Botox treatment for TMD, though, you should consider the current research on the matter. Far from a “miracle” treatment, the dental profession is still undecided on the effects of Botox to relieve TMD pain symptoms — and there are other risks to weigh as well.
Botox is an injectable drug with a poisonous substance called botulinum toxin type A derived from clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that causes muscle paralysis. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved small dose use for some medical and cosmetic procedures, like wrinkle augmentation. The idea behind its use for TMD is to relax the muscles connected to the joint by paralyzing them and thus relieve pain.
The FDA hasn’t yet approved Botox for TMD treatment, although there’s been some use for this purpose. There remain concerns about its effectiveness and possible complications. In the first place, Botox only relieves symptoms — it doesn’t address the underlying cause of the discomfort. Even in this regard, a number of research studies seem to indicate Botox has no appreciable effect on pain relief.
As to side effects or other complications, Botox injections have been known to cause pain in some cases rather than relieve it, as with some patients developing chronic headaches after treatment. A few may build up resistance to the toxin, so that increasingly higher dosages are needed to achieve the same effect from lower dosages. And, yes, Botox is a temporary measure that must be repeated to continue its effect, which could lead to permanent paralyzing effects on the facial muscles and cause muscle atrophy (wasting away) and even deformity.
It may be more prudent to stick with conventional approaches that have well-documented benefits: a diet of easier to chew foods; cold and heat applications; physical therapy and exercises; pain-relief medications and muscle relaxers; and appliances to help control grinding habits. Although these can take time to produce significant relief, the relief may be longer lasting without undesirable side effects.
Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ), located where your lower jaw meets the skull, play an essential role in nearly every mouth function. It’s nearly impossible to eat or speak without them.
Likewise, jaw joint disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD) can make your life miserable. Not only can you experience extreme discomfort or pain, your ability to eat certain foods or speak clearly could be impaired.
But don’t assume you have TMD if you have these and other symptoms — there are other conditions with similar symptoms. You’ll need a definitive diagnosis of TMD from a qualified physician or dentist, particularly one who’s completed post-graduate programs in Oral Medicine or Orofacial Pain, before considering treatment.
If you are diagnosed with TMD, you may then face treatment choices that emanate from one of two models: one is an older dental model based on theories that the joint and muscle dysfunction is mainly caused by poor bites or other dental problems. This model encourages treatments like orthodontically moving teeth, crowning problem teeth or adjusting bites by grinding down tooth surfaces.
A newer treatment model, though, has supplanted this older one and is now practiced by the majority of dentists. This is a medical model that views TMJs like any other joint in the body, and thus subject to the same sort of orthopedic problems found elsewhere: sore muscles, inflamed joints, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems. Treatments tend to be less invasive or irreversible than those from the dental model.
The newer model encourages treatments like physical therapy, medication, occlusive guards or stress management. The American Association of Dental Research (AADR) in fact recommends that TMD patients begin their treatment from the medical model rather than the dental one, unless there are indications to the contrary. Many studies have concluded that a majority of patients gain significant relief with these types of therapies.
If a physician or dentist recommends more invasive treatment, particularly surgery, consider seeking a second opinion. Unlike the therapies mentioned above, surgical treatments have a spotty record when it comes to effectiveness — some patients even report their conditions worsening afterward. Try the less-invasive approach first — you may find improvement in your symptoms and quality of life.
If you would like more information on treating TMD, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
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