If you wince in pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold, you’re not alone: tooth sensitivity afflicts one in three Americans. To understand what’s possibly going on, let’s look first at tooth anatomy.
Teeth are mainly composed of three layers: an outer protective enamel that covers the upper crown, a middle layer called dentin and an inner pulp. The dentin is composed of small tubules that transmit outer temperature and pressure sensations to nerves in the pulp.
The enamel serves as a “muffler,” damping sensations to protect the nerves from overload. In the root area, the gums and a thin material called cementum covering the roots also help muffle sensation.
But sometimes teeth can lose this muffling effect and the nerves encounter the full brunt of the sensations. The most common reason is gum recession, usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease. The gums have shrunk back or “receded,” and after a short while the cementum covering will also be lost, exposing the dentin in the root area.
Another problem is enamel erosion caused by mouth acid. Chronic high acidity, often caused by bacterial growth or acidic foods and beverages, can dissolve the enamel’s mineral content, causing decay and exposure as well of the underlying dentin.
To avoid future tooth sensitivity, it pays to prevent these two dental problems. The most important thing you can do is practice daily brushing and flossing to reduce bacterial plaque and see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and checkups.
But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you’ll first need an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If it’s related to gum disease, immediate treatment could help stop or even reverse any gum recession. To address enamel erosion, your dentist may be able to protect and strengthen your teeth with sealants and topical fluoride.
There are also things you and your dentist can do to reduce your symptoms. One is for you to use hygiene products with fluoride, which can take the edge off of sensitivity, or potassium, which helps reduce nerve activity. Your dentist can further reduce nerve sensitivity by blocking the tubules with sealants and bonding agents.
Tooth sensitivity is an irritating problem in itself; more importantly, though, it’s often a warning of something else seriously wrong that needs attention. If you’re feeling a little sensitive in the teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria—millions of them. But don't be alarmed: Most are benign or even beneficial. There are, however, some bacteria that cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which can damage your oral health.
These disease-causing bacteria feed and multiply within a thin biofilm of leftover food particles on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. To reduce these bacterial populations—and thus your disease risk—you'll need to keep plaque from building up through daily brushing and flossing.
Now, there's brushing and flossing—and then there's effective brushing and flossing. While both tasks are fairly simple to perform, there are some things you can do to maximize plaque removal.
Regarding the first task, you should brush once or twice a day unless your dentist advises otherwise. And "Easy does it" is the rule: Hard, aggressive scrubbing can damage your gums. A gentle, circular motion using a good quality toothbrush will get the job done. Just be sure to brush all tooth surfaces, including the nooks and crannies along the biting surfaces. On average, a complete brushing session should take about two minutes.
You should also floss at least once a day. To begin with, take about 18" of thread and wrap each end around an index or middle finger. Pulling taut and using your thumbs to help maneuver the thread, ease the floss between teeth. You then wrap it around each tooth side to form a "C" shape and gently slide the floss up and down. Continue on around until you've flossed between each tooth on both jaws.
You can get a rough idea how well you did after each hygiene session by rubbing your tongue against your teeth—they should feel slick and smooth. If you feel any grittiness, some plaque still remains. Your dentist can give you a more precise evaluation of your cleaning effectiveness at your regular dental visits. This is also when they'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque and tartar.
While professional dental cleanings are important, what you do every day to remove plaque is the real game changer for optimum oral health. Becoming a brushing and flossing "ninja" is the best way to keep your healthy smile.
If you would like more information on daily oral care, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
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.”
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.
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