Posts for: October, 2017
Pain has a purpose: it tells us when something's wrong with our bodies. Sometimes it's obvious, like a cut or bruise. Sometimes, though, it takes a bit of sleuthing to find out what's wrong.
That can be the case with a toothache. One possible cause is perhaps the most obvious: something's wrong with the tooth. More specifically, decay has invaded the tooth's inner pulp, which is filled with an intricate network of nerves that react to infection by emitting pain. The pain can feel dull or sharp, constant or intermittent.
But decay isn't the only cause for tooth pain: periodontal (gum) disease can trigger similar reactions. Bacteria living in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces, infect the gums. This weakens the tissues and can cause them to shrink back (recede) from the teeth and expose the roots. As a result, the teeth can become painfully sensitive to hot or cold foods or when biting down.
Finding the true pain source determines how we treat it. If decay has invaded the pulp you'll need a root canal treatment to clean out the infection and fill the resulting void with a special filling; this not only saves the tooth, it ends the pain. If the gums are infected, we'll need to aggressively remove all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) to restore the gums to health.
To further complicate matters, an infection from tooth decay could eventually affect the gums and supporting bone, just as a gum infection could enter the tooth by way of the roots. Once the infection crosses from tooth to gums (or gums to tooth), the tooth's long-term outlook grows dim.
So, if you're noticing any kind of tooth pain, or you have swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, you should call us for an appointment as soon as possible. The sooner we can diagnose the problem and begin appropriate treatment the better your chances of a good outcome — and an end to the pain.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating tooth 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain: Combined Root Canal and Gum Problems.”
People with poor hygiene habits can develop a chronic form of periodontal (gum) disease known as gingivitis. Characterized by inflamed and bleeding gums, gingivitis is caused by an infection triggered by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food remnant built up on tooth surfaces.
This chronic form of gingivitis, though, can quickly escalate into more serious forms of gum disease that may lead to tooth and bone loss. One such condition is Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG), also known as “trench mouth.” ANUG is a painful condition that can appear suddenly and result in extensive tissue damage and ulcerations, particularly in the papillae, the small, triangular bits of tissue between teeth. Persons with ANUG may also develop a foul breath and taste.
Gingivitis often develops into ANUG when certain mouth conditions exist: poor diet, smoking, which can dry the mouth and disrupt healthy bacterial flora, and increased stress or anxiety. If caught early, though, ANUG is highly treatable and reversible.
After determining you have ANUG and not another condition, our first step is to relieve the symptoms with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to manage pain and reduce swelling. We also prescribe a regimen of antibiotics like Amoxicillin (a proven antibiotic against the specific bacteria that cause ANUG). This should decrease the symptoms within 24 to 48 hours.
As the inflammation subsides we want to continue treatment by removing any plaque or calculus (hardened plaque deposits), especially in hard to reach places. This involves a technique known as scaling in which we used specialized hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to manually remove and flush away plaque and calculus.
The final step depends on you. To prevent reoccurrence, it’s important for you to consistently practice effective oral hygiene to remove plaque — brushing twice and flossing once each day, and visiting us at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. Quitting tobacco and improving your diet will also reduce your risk for ANUG.
ANUG and any other form of gum disease can cause a lot of damage. But taking steps to care for your teeth will help keep this acute form of gingivitis from arising in the first place.
If you would like more information on gingivitis and other forms of gum disease, 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”
Even the sweetest children don’t always have sweet-smelling breath. If your child has persistent bad breath, it may be for one of the following reasons:
POOR ORAL HYGIENE HABITS. Bad breath often results from bacteria on the teeth and tongue that is not effectively removed during brushing and flossing.
- Tip: To encourage thorough cleaning as children are developing their oral hygiene habits, try handheld flossers that are colorful and easy to use, sing or play music to make brushing time fun, or try an electric toothbrush with a timer or a tooth-brushing app that keeps kids brushing for a full two minutes.
PLAQUE BUILDUP, TOOTH DECAY AND GUM DISEASE: Plaque, a sticky bacterial biofilm, can build up on tooth surfaces, between the teeth and under the gum line and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. These conditions may result in bad breath.
- Tip: Stay on top of your child’s oral hygiene at home, and keep up with regular dental visits for professional cleanings and checkups.
POST-NASAL DRIP: This common cause of foul-smelling breath in children results when excessive mucus is produced and drips down the back of the throat.
- Tip: Schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to determine and treat the cause.
MOUTH BREATHING. Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can cause a dry mouth. This can lead to increased oral bacteria, which can cause bad breath. If children breathe through the mouth all the time, not just because of a temporary cold or allergies, your child is at greater risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
- Tip: If your child is a chronic mouth breather, schedule a dental visit so we can check for any adverse effects on dental health. Note that over time, habitual mouth breathing may lead to poor alignment of the teeth. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can treat problems with tonsils, adenoids and sinuses — common causes of mouth breathing.
FOREIGN OBJECT IN THE NOSE. It wouldn’t be the first time a child has stuck a pea or other small object up their nose â?? or their sibling’s nose — only to find that it won’t come back out. A foreign body in the nasal passage can cause infection and lead to bad breath.
- Tip: Don’t try to remove the object at home, as part of it may remain in the nasal passage. A medical professional will have the right equipment to dislodge the object more comfortably.
MEDICATION. Children who take antibiotics for a long time may develop a fungal infection (thrush) in the mouth. Other medications can cause bad breath due to the way they break down in the body.
- Tip: Call your pharmacist if you have a question about medications and bad breath.
MEDICAL CONDITION. Infections of the throat, sinus or tonsils can cause bad breath, as can more serious health conditions.
- Tip: If your child’s breath is unpleasant for an extended period of time, get it checked out by a health professional.
If you are concerned about your child’s breath, schedule a visit. We are happy to remind your child of proper brushing techniques and check for other problems that need to be addressed.
For more on young children’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Why See a Pediatric Dentist?”