After ruling out other causes for your jaw pain, your doctor or dentist has made a diagnosis: a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). With TMD, your pain symptoms and other dysfunctions are due to a problem associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your upper skull (cranium).
There are a number of treatment options, but most can be classified as either aggressive or conservative. Aggressive treatments are more interventional and target problems with the teeth such as bite problems or jaw relationships as they relate to the bite, which are thought to be underlying causes for TMD. Such treatments include orthodontics to realign teeth, crown or bridgework, or surgical treatment to the jaw or joint itself. These treatments are controversial and irreversible — with no guarantee of symptom relief.
It’s thought by many to be appropriate, then, to start with more conservative treatments. Many of these are based on treating the TMJ — which is a joint, a moveable bony structure connected by muscles and tendons — with an orthopedic approach, using treatments similar to those used for other joint problems.
Here, then, are some of those conservative therapies that may relieve your TMD pain and other symptoms.
Physical Therapy. Commonly used to treat pain and dysfunction in other joints, physical therapies like manual manipulation, massage, alternating hot and cold packs or exercises can be used to relax, stretch or retrain the muscles that operate the TMJ while reducing pain and inflammation.
Medications. Medications may be incorporated into the treatment plan to relieve pain, reduce inflammation or relax tense muscles. Besides prescription drugs, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen) are also commonly used.
Bite Appliances. If night-time teeth grinding or clenching habits are a primary cause for the TMD, you may benefit from wearing an occlusal bite guard while you sleep, designed to specifically fit your upper teeth. Because the lower teeth can’t grip the guard’s smooth plastic surface when biting down, they’ll more likely produce less force. This gives the jaw muscles a chance to relax during sleep.
Diet changes. Changing to softer foods, which don’t require strenuous chewing, and eliminating the chewing gum habit will further help reduce stress on the TMJs and also give your muscles a chance to relax and heal.
If you would like more information on TMD and treatment options, 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.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Most children's permanent teeth erupt on a fairly predictable schedule. Sometimes, though, one or more teeth might not develop as they should — or at all.
These absent teeth pose functional problems for chewing and hygiene, which can affect long-term dental health. But they can also have a disruptive effect on an otherwise attractive smile if the missing teeth are the upper lateral incisors in the most visible part of the smile.
You normally find this pair of teeth on either side of the upper central incisors (the two front-most teeth). On the other side of the lateral incisors are the canine or eye teeth, known for their pointed appearance. Without the lateral incisors, the canines tend to drift into the space next to the central incisors. This can produce an odd appearance even a layperson will notice: only four teeth where there should be six!
It's possible to correct this abnormality, but it will take time and expense. The first step is usually to move the teeth in the upper jaw with braces to their correct position. This puts teeth where they should be and also opens space between the canines and central incisors so we can eventually replace the missing teeth with dental implants.
But the key to all this is timing. It's usually appropriate to undertake tooth movement with braces during late childhood or adolescence. But implants shouldn't be installed until the person's jaw fully matures, usually in early adulthood. An implant placed before then could eventually become misaligned.
To accommodate the time between bite correction and implant placement, the patient can wear a retainer appliance that will keep the newly created space open. We can also attach artificial teeth to the retainer to camouflage the empty space.
It usually takes a team of a family dentist, an orthodontist and a surgeon to see this kind of “smile makeover” project through, possibly over several years. But the gains in better aesthetics and health are well worth the time and expense.
If you would like more information on replacing non-developing 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow.”
Eating disorders cause more than psychological harm. The binge-purge cycle of bulimia or the self-starvation patterns of anorexia can also injure the physical body, especially the mouth.
For example, nine in ten people with bulimia will experience tooth enamel erosion from stomach acid entering the mouth from induced vomiting. Although purging is less frequent with anorexic patients, one in five will also develop erosion.
An eating disorder isn't the only reason for enamel erosion: you can have high acid levels from over-consuming sodas, energy drinks or certain foods, or not properly brushing and flossing every day. But erosion related to an eating disorder does produce a distinct pattern in the teeth. When a person vomits, the tongue moves forward and presses against the bottom teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid contact. This can create less erosion in the lower front teeth than in others.
Eating disorders can cause other oral effects. Stomach acid contact can eventually burn and damage the mouth's soft tissues. The salivary glands may become enlarged and cause puffiness along the sides of the face. The use of fingers or other objects to induce gagging can injure and redden the back of the throat, the tongue and other soft tissues.
It's important to stop or at least slow the damage as soon as possible. To do so requires both a short– and long-term strategy. In the short-term, we want to neutralize mouth acid as soon as possible after it enters the mouth, especially after purging. Rather than brushing, it's better to rinse out the mouth with water or with a little added baking soda to neutralize the acid. This will at least help reduce the potential damage to enamel.
In the long-term, though, we need to address the disorder itself for the sake of both the person's overall well-being and their oral health. You can speak with us or your family physician about options for counseling and therapy to overcome an eating disorder. You may also find it helpful to visit the website for the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org) for information and a referral network.
If you would like more information on how eating disorders can affect health, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
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