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.”
Although dental care has made incredible advances over the last century, the underlying approach to treating tooth decay has changed little. Today’s dentists treat a decayed tooth in much the same way as their counterparts from the early 20th Century: remove all decayed structure, prepare the tooth and fill the cavity.
Dentists still use that approach not only because of its effectiveness, but also because no other alternative has emerged to match it. But that may change in the not-too-distant future according to recent research.
A research team at Kings College, London has found that a drug called Tideglusib, used for treating Alzheimer’s disease, appears to also stimulate teeth to regrow some of its structure. The drug seemed to cause stem cells to produce dentin, one of the tooth’s main structural layers.
During experimentation, the researchers drilled holes in mouse teeth. They then placed within the holes tiny sponges soaked with Tideglusib. They found that within a matter of weeks the holes had filled with dentin produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t a new phenomenon, but other occurrences of regrowth have only produced it in tiny amounts. The Kings College research, though, gives rise to the hope that stem cell stimulation could produce dentin on a much larger scale. If that proves out, our teeth may be able to create restorations by “filling themselves” that are much more durable and with possibly fewer complications.
As with any medical breakthrough, the practical application for this new discovery may be several years away. But because the medication responsible for dentin regeneration in these experiments with mouse teeth is already available and in use, the process toward an application with dental patients could be relatively short.
If so, a new biological approach to treating tooth decay may one day replace the time-tested filling method we currently use. One day, you won’t need a filling from a dentist—your teeth may do it for you.
Most dental procedures today only require local anesthesia to numb just the affected area. It's a safer approach than general anesthesia: the unconscious state created by putting someone "to sleep" can lead to some unpleasant complications.
But patient comfort involves more than preventing physical pain during a procedure. There's also the emotional factor—many people experience nervousness, anxiety or fear during dental visits. It's especially problematic for an estimated 15% of the population whose dental visit anxiety is so great they often try to avoid dental care altogether.
One option is to use general anesthesia for patients with acute anxiety rather than local anesthesia. This removes them consciously from their anxiety, but they must then be monitored closely for complications.
But there's a safer way to relax patients with high anxiety called intravenous or IV sedation. The method delivers a sedative medication directly into a patient's bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted into a vein. The sedative places the patient in a relaxed "semi-awake" state, taking the edge off their anxiety while still enabling them to respond to verbal commands.
Coupled with local anesthesia, they won't experience any pain and very little if any discomfort. And many of the sedatives used also have an amnesiac effect so that the patient won't remember the procedures being performed.
IV sedation does require monitoring of vital signs, but the patient won't need help maintaining their breathing or heart function. And although the medication can be adjusted to reduce any lingering after-effects, a patient will still need someone to accompany them to and from their visit.
For lesser anxiety or nervousness, dentists sometimes prescribe an oral sedative to take just before a visit. This can help take the edge off your nerves and help you relax. With either method, though, sedation can help you overcome fear and anxiety and have a more pleasant treatment experience.
If you would like more information on IV sedation, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
The 2019 Grammy Awards was a star-studded night packed with memorable performances. One standout came from the young Canadian singer Shawn Mendes, who sang a powerful duet of his hit song "In My Blood" with pop diva Miley Cyrus. But that duo's stellar smiles weren't always quite as camera-ready as they looked that night.
"I had braces for four and a half years," Mendes told an interviewer not long ago. "There's lots and lots and lots of photo evidence, I'm sure you can pull up a few." (In fact, finding one is as easy as searching "Sean Mendes braces.")
Wearing braces puts Mendes in good company: It's estimated that over 4 million people in the U.S. alone wear braces in a typical year—and about a quarter of them are adults! (And by the way: When she was a teenager, Miley Cyrus had braces, too!)
Today, there are a number of alternatives to traditional metal braces, such as tooth-colored braces, clear plastic aligners, and invisible lingual braces (the kind Cyrus wore). However, regular metal braces remain the most common choice for orthodontic treatment. They are often the most economical option, and can be used to treat a wide variety of bite problems (which dentists call malocclusions).
Having straighter teeth can boost your self-confidence—along with helping you bite, breathe, chew, and even speak more effectively. Plus, teeth that are in good alignment and have adequate space in between are easier to clean; this can help you keep your mouth free of gum disease and tooth decay for years to come.
Many people think getting braces is something that happens in adolescence—but as long as your mouth is otherwise healthy, there's no upper age limit for orthodontic treatment. In fact, many celebrities—like Lauren Hutton, Tom Cruise and Faith Hill—got braces as adults. But if traditional braces aren't a good fit with your self-image, it's possible that one of the less noticeable options, such as lingual braces or clear aligners, could work for you.
What's the first step to getting straighter teeth? Come in to the office for an evaluation! We will give you a complete oral examination to find out if there are any problems (like gum disease or tooth decay) that could interfere with orthodontic treatment. Then we will determine exactly how your teeth should be re-positioned to achieve a better smile, and recommend one or more options to get you there.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
Because it requires jaw movement, eating can be difficult and painful if you have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). During flareups you may switch to foods that are easier to eat but may be less nutritious than those you're giving up.
But there are ways to keep healthier foods in your diet while minimizing TMD discomfort. In many cases, it's a matter of preparing your food differently. Here are a variety of food groups known for their nutritional value and what you can do to prepare them for easier eating with TMD.
Fruits and Vegetables. You should peel any fruits or vegetables with hard or chewy skin like apples, peaches or cucumbers. Try chopping or pureeing fruits and vegetables you can eat raw to reduce their size and make them easier to chew. Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, broccoli or cauliflower can be cooked, then chopped or mashed.
Legumes and nuts. Pod-based vegetables like beans or peas provide a number of nutritional elements, as do nuts with their healthy fats. Your motto with these foods should be "Not too large and not too hard." Be sure then to cook, mash or puree legumes that are larger than a pea. With nuts, try nut butters for a softer serving than eating them out of the shell.
Protein and Dairy. Any meats like poultry or beef should be cut into bite-sized pieces; you can also moisten them with broths, gravies or sauces for easier chewing, or braise or stew them in liquid to tenderize them. You can also consume most milk, yogurt or cheese products you can tolerate. If you can't, try alternatives like meal replacement or whey protein beverages.
Grains. Prepare grains by cooking them until they're softened. Hot cereals like oatmeal offer a lot of nutrition and they're relatively easy to eat. Toast your bread and cut the slice into smaller pieces to minimize jaw movement.
One last tip: take your time while eating. A slower rate not only helps you enjoy your food more, it reduces the amount of work your jaws perform while eating. Less jaw work can help further ease the discomfort of TMD.
If you would like more information on how to relieve TMD pain and dysfunction, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
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