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.”
It’s common for kids to be less than enthusiastic about visiting the dentist. For some, though, it’s even more of a challenge: A child with extreme anxiety and fear during dental visits could interfere with them receiving the dental care they need. The impact could even extend into adulthood.
Recognizing the need to reduce this high anxiety, dentistry has used a number of pharmacological tools for many years that relax a child during dental care. Sedatives have often been the only choice for reducing anxiety, especially during extensive procedures and treatments. But now there’s a promising new approach in dentistry that doesn’t depend on drugs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic method used for decades to treat depression, phobias and eating disorders, has been investigated recently as a possible approach for relieving children’s dental anxiety. During CBT, trained therapists use specific behavioral techniques to help patients develop mental and emotional strategies for dealing with stress.
During the usual course of CBT therapy, a therapist meets in counseling sessions with patients weekly over several months to help them change their routine thinking or behavior surrounding a stressful issue. Initially, the therapist guides the patient toward understanding the underlying causes for their negative reaction to the issue. They then work with the patient to devise an objective way to test whether those emotions and beliefs about the issue are true.
Using this effective method for changing behavioral and emotional responses for dental anxiety has had encouraging results from initial research. One study found CBT successfully reduced dental anxiety among a majority of a group of European children ages 9 through 16 who participated in the method.
CBT isn’t an overnight cure, often requires a number of months to achieve results. But for children who suffer from extreme fear of professional dental care, this drug-free method may provide long-term benefits that extend well past their childhood years.
Root canal therapy is the unsung "hero" of dentistry. Although often falsely maligned as an unpleasant experience, millions of decayed teeth have been saved thanks to this routine treatment.
But although root canal therapy can save your tooth, we can't guarantee it won't be affected by another infection. There are other factors to consider how long a treated tooth will remain healthy.
Root canal therapy stops and limits the damage from tooth decay that has infected the inner pulp and root canals. A dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist) drills into the tooth to gain access to the pulp. They remove the diseased pulp tissue and then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a specialized filling called gutta percha. The tooth is then sealed and later crowned to protect it against future fracture or infection.
The probability of that occurring may depend on when a dentist performs the root canal in the disease progression—and the earlier the better. If decay has already infected the underlying bone, the tooth's long-term prognosis even with root canal therapy could be dim. That's why you should see a dentist as soon as possible for any tooth pain, even if it goes away.
The type of tooth could impact long-term health. Teeth with single roots are usually easier to treat. But those with multiple roots and an intricate root canal network can be more difficult to treat, and require specialized equipment and techniques.
Age can also impact root canal therapy longevity. The older a root canal-treated tooth is, the more brittle and susceptible to fracture it can become, which can pose complications. That's why we typically place crowns on treated teeth to protect them from both future infection and undue stress created while biting and chewing.
To help mitigate these possible factors, you should see your dentist regularly for checkups and at the first sign of pain or other abnormalities for the earliest treatment possible. And for more complex tooth issues, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist to perform your root canal. With early intervention and attentive care, your root canaled tooth could enjoy many years of life.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Have you started orthodontic treatment recently? Are you having a little trouble getting used to your braces? If so, you are not alone: Everybody goes through an adjustment period during which they momentarily wonder if they’ll really ever get used to this. Don’t worry — you will! And we’ve never heard anyone say, on the day their braces come off and their new smile is revealed, that they aren’t glad they went the distance. Just ask Houston Rockets all-star center Dwight Howard, who discussed his own orthodontic treatment in a recent interview.
“I’m sure I was no different than anyone else who has ever had braces,” he told Mediaplanet. “At first I hated them so much… That changed once I got used to them and I actually grew to love them.” What’s Howard’s advice? “Do exactly what your orthodontist says and know that the outcome is well worth it in the end.” We couldn’t agree more! Here are some tips for wearing braces comfortably:
- Hard & Chewy Foods: If you love fresh fruits and vegetables, that’s great; there’s no reason to give them up, just the really hard ones. You don’t want to bite into an apple or carrot or any other hard foods like bagels and pizza that have any “size” to them. Small pieces may be ok as long as they can’t bend your wires. Chewy, sticky candy should really be avoided completely. Same with soda, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks because they contain acids that promote tooth decay and can cause a lot of damage around the braces.
- Effective Oral Hygiene: Keeping your teeth clean is more important than ever, but also more challenging than ever. It’s easy for food to get stuck under wires and around brackets, but failing to remove it can cause tooth decay, gum irritation and soreness. Therefore, the cleaner your teeth and your braces are, the healthier you will be. Use interdental cleaning brushes and/or a floss-threader to get behind your wires. A mouthrinse can also help strengthen teeth and keep bacteria in check. If you have any questions about how to clean between your teeth, please ask for a demonstration at your next visit.
- Pain Relief: Some soreness at the beginning of orthodontic treatment is normal. To relieve it, you can use an over-the-counter pain reliever and/or a warm washcloth or heating pad placed on the outside of the jaw. If brackets or wires are rubbing against the inside of your cheeks or lips, try applying wax to these areas of your braces. If this does not offer enough relief, we may be able to trim the end of a poking wire. Call us if you need help with this.
Our goal is to make your orthodontic treatment as comfortable as possible on the way to achieving your all-star smile. If you have questions about adjusting to braces, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
With summer vacation season in full swing, you and your family might be planning a trip away from home, maybe even far from home. If you’re vacationing out of the country, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible—including protecting your dental health.
Dental problems are difficult enough in the familiar surroundings of home, but even more so in a foreign locale. However, with a little preparation and planning, you can keep your exotic dream vacation from becoming a dental nightmare.
Here’s what you can do to avoid or minimize an unpleasant situation with your teeth and gums while on vacation abroad.
Take care of any dental problems before you leave. If you know or suspect you already have a problem with your teeth or gums, it’s better to have it corrected if at all possible before your trip. So, make an appointment to see your dentist if you notice things like a toothache or tooth sensitivity, unusual spotting on your teeth, or swollen or bleeding gums.
You should also have sinus problems like pain or congestion checked too, since these may actually involve your teeth and gums. If at all possible, undergo recommended procedures like gum disease treatment or root canals pre-trip—just be sure you allow adequate time for recuperation before your departure date.
Know who to contact in a dental emergency. Even with the best of planning, you should also prepare for the possibility of a dental injury or emergency while you’re on your vacation. So be sure you pack along with your other travel documents the names and contact information of individuals or organizations near your vacation destination that might be of assistance in a dental emergency. These might include hotel concierges, military personnel or other English speakers living in the area, or the nearest embassy or consulate.
In addition, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers and the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention are online resources that can help you with your trip planning and give you medical and dental information specific to your destination.
A vacation trip to a foreign land can be a unique and fulfilling experience. Just be sure a dental problem or emergency doesn’t spoil the moment—be prepared. If you need to take care of any dental issues before you go on vacation, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental & Medical Tourism” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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