A toothache means a tooth has a problem, right? Most of the time, yes: the pain comes from a decayed or fractured tooth, or possibly a gum infection causing tooth sensitivity.
Sometimes, though, the pain doesn't originate with your teeth and gums. They're fine and healthy—it's something outside of your tooth causing the pain. We call this referred pain—one part of your body is sending or referring pain to another part, in this instance around your mouth.
There are various conditions that can create referred pain in the mouth, and various ways to treat them. That's why you should first find out the cause, which will indicate what treatment course to take.
Here are a few common non-dental causes for tooth pain.
Trigeminal Neuralgia. The trigeminal nerves situated on either side of the face have three large branches that extend throughout the face; the branch to the jaw allows you to feel sensation as you chew. When one of the nerve branches becomes inflamed, usually from a blood vessel or muscle spasm pressing on it, it can refer the pain to the jaw and seem like a toothache.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). These two joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull can sometimes become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons. This can set up a cycle of spasms and pain that can radiate throughout the jaw and its associated muscles. The pain can mimic a toothache, when it actually originates in the jaw joints.
Teeth Grinding. This is an unconscious habit, often occurring at night, in which people clench or grind their teeth together. Although quite common in children who tend to grow out of it, teeth grinding can continue into adulthood. The abnormally high biting forces from this habit can cause chipped, broken or loosened teeth. But it can also cause jaw pain, headaches and tenderness in the mouth that might feel like a toothache.
These and other conditions unrelated to dental disease can seem like a tooth problem, when they're actually something else. By understanding exactly why you're feeling pain, we can then focus on the true problem to bring relief to your life.
April is National Stress Awareness Month. But what does stress have to do with dentistry? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, if you have a Type A personality or are under a lot of stress, you are more likely to suffer from a condition called bruxism, which means you habitually grind or gnash your teeth. One in ten adults grind their teeth, and the rate is much higher in stressful professions. In fact, the bruxism rate is seven times higher among police officers!
Many people grind their teeth in their sleep without realizing it, so how would you know if you are a "sleep bruxer"? If your spouse frequently elbows you in the ribs because of the grinding sounds you make, that could be your first clue. Unfortunately, dental damage is another common sign. Some people find out they are nighttime teeth grinders only when they are examined by a dentist since bruxing often leads to wear patterns on the teeth that only happen because of this behavior. Other complications can also develop: The condition can interfere with sleep, result in headaches and cause soreness in the face, neck or jaw. Chronic or severe nighttime teeth grinding can damage dental work, such as veneers, bridgework, crowns and fillings, and can result in teeth that are worn down, chipped, fractured or loose.
The most common treatment is a custom-made night guard made of high-impact plastic that allows you to sleep while preventing your upper and lower teeth from coming into contact. Although a night guard will protect your teeth and dental work, it won't stop the grinding behavior. Therefore, finding and treating the cause should be a priority.
The Bruxism Association estimates that 70 percent of teeth grinding behavior is related to stress. If you are a bruxer, you can try muscle relaxation exercises, stretching and breathing exercises, stress reduction techniques and, where feasible, any lifestyle changes that can allow you to reduce the number of stressors in your life. Prescription muscle relaxants may also help. In addition, teeth grinding may be related to sleep apnea. This possibility should be investigated since sleep apnea can have some serious health consequences—we offer effective treatments for this condition as well.
We can spot signs of bruxism, so it's important to come in for regular dental checkups. We look for early indications of dental damage and can help you protect your smile. If you have questions about teeth grinding or would like to discuss possible symptoms, please contact our office or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
It’s hard to avoid stress in the 21st Century. We’re all bombarded with stressors, from work to family — even our smart phones!
The problem really isn’t the stressors themselves but how we respond to them and try to relieve stress. This can often have a negative effect on our health. One example: bruxism, also known as teeth grinding or clenching.
These habits involve the rhythmic or spasmodic clenching, biting or grinding of the teeth, often involuntarily, beyond normal chewing function. It often occurs while we sleep — jaw soreness the next morning is a telltale sign. While there are other causes, stress is one of the most common for adults, bolstered by diet and lifestyle habits like tobacco or drug use, or excessive caffeine and alcohol.
Teeth grinding’s most serious consequence is the potential for dental problems. While teeth normally wear as we age, grinding or clenching habits can accelerate it. Wearing can become so extensive the enamel erodes, possibly leading to fractures or cracks in the tooth.
When dealing with this type of bruxism, we must address the root cause: your relationship to stress. For example, if you use tobacco, consider quitting the habit — not only for your overall health, but to remove it as a stress stimulant. The same goes for cutting back on your consumption of caffeinated or alcoholic drinks.
Adopt an “unwinding” pattern at night before you sleep to better relax: for example, take a warm bath or keep work items or digital media out of the bedroom.Â Many people also report relaxation or stress-relief techniques like meditation, mindfulness or biofeedback helpful.
There’s another useful tool for easing the effects of nighttime teeth grinding: an occlusal guard. This custom-fitted appliance worn while you sleep prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other when you clench them. This can greatly reduce the adverse effects on your teeth while you’re working on other stress coping techniques.
Teeth grinding or clenching can prove harmful over time. The sooner you address this issue with your dentist or physician, the less likely you’ll experience these unwanted consequences.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
The month of March brings the first day of spring, when nature seems to wake up after a restful winter slumber. It also brings Sleep Awareness Week, which leads us to ask: How's your sleep? For around one of every three people, the answer seems to be: Not so good! In fact, it's estimated that some 50-70 million people in the U.S. alone have sleep problems, including sleep-related breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
People who suffer from this condition seem to sleep fitfully and snore loudly—and they may actually wake up dozens of times every night without even knowing it. These "micro-arousals" make it impossible to get restful sleep, which can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, and behavioral issues. Children with sleep disorders like OSA are sometimes diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders because the symptoms are very similar.
If you suspect that you (or someone you care about) may have a serious sleep disorder, it's a good idea to get an examination from a medical professional who specializes in this area. If the diagnosis is OSA, there are a number of treatments that can be effective—one of which is an oral appliance that's available from the dental office.
Dentists are quite familiar with the anatomical structure of the mouth, which is sometimes the root cause of OSA. In many individuals, the soft tissue structures in the back of the oral cavity (including the tonsils, tongue and soft palate) can shift position when muscles relax during sleep and block the flow of air through the windpipe. The lack of sufficient air may cause a person to awaken briefly, gasp for breath, and then relax their muscles—over and over again, all night long.
After a complete exam, we can have an appliance custom-made for you that has proven successful in managing mild to moderate cases of OSA. Shaped a little like a retainer, it is worn in your mouth at night and taken out in the daytime. The appliance helps maintain an open airway by re-positioning the jaw and/or keeping the tongue out of the way.
Oral appliance therapy is one of the most conservative options available for treating OSA: It requires no major equipment or irreversible medical procedures. However, there are a number of other options, including machines that supply pressurized air through a face mask and even oral surgery. It's important to consult with a specialist in sleep disorders when you're facing this issue. If the diagnosis is OSA or a similar sleep problem, remember that help may be available here at the dental office.
If you have questions about sleep-related breathing disorders, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Appliances For Sleep Apnea” and “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.