Every year 150,000 people, mostly women over age 50, find out they have a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia. For many it begins as an occasional twinge along the face that steadily worsens until the simple act of chewing or speaking, or even a light touch, sets off excruciating pain.
The source of the pain is the pair of trigeminal nerves that course along each side of the face. Each nerve has three separate branches that provide sensation to the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
The problem arises when areas of the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating covering on nerves, becomes damaged, often because of an artery or vein pressing against it. As a result, the nerve can become hypersensitive to stimuli and transmit pain at even the slightest trigger. It may also fail to stop transmitting even after the stimulation that caused it is over.
Although the condition may not always be curable, there are various ways to effectively manage it. The most conservative way is with medications that block the nerve from transmitting pain signals to the brain, coupled with drugs that help stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing.
If medication isn't enough to relieve symptoms, there may be some benefit from more invasive treatments. One technique is to insert a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent them from firing. Another microsurgical procedure attempts to relocate the nerve away from a blood vessel that may be compressing it.
The latter procedure has some higher risks such as facial numbness or decreased hearing, and is often better suited for younger patients. Older patients may benefit more from the needle insertion procedure previously mentioned or a directed beam of high-dose radiation to alter the nerve.
To learn the best options for you, you should first undergo a neurological exam to verify you have trigeminal neuralgia and to rule out other causes. From there, you and your doctor can decide the best course of treatment for your age and individual condition.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be an unpleasant experience. But there are tried and true ways to minimize its effect on your life.
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.”
Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence is a highly paid actress, Oscar winner, successful producer and…merry prankster. She's the latter, at least with co-star Liam Hemsworth: It seems Lawrence deliberately ate tuna fish, garlic or other malodorous foods right before their kissing scenes while filming The Hunger Games.
It was all in good fun, of course—and her punked co-star seemed to take it in good humor. In most situations, though, our mouth breath isn't something we take lightly. It can definitely be an unpleasant experience being on the receiving end of halitosis (bad breath). And when we're worried about our own breath, it can cause us to be timid and self-conscious around others.
So, here's what you can do if you're concerned about bad breath (unless you're trying to prank your co-star!).
Brush and floss daily. Bad breath often stems from leftover food particles that form a film on teeth called dental plaque. Add in bacteria, which thrive in plaque, and you have the makings for smelly breath. Thorough brushing and flossing can clear away plaque and the potential breath smell. You should also clean your dentures daily if you wear them to avoid similar breath issues.
Scrape your tongue. Some people can build up a bacterial coating on the back surface of the tongue. This coating may then emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give breath that distinct rotten egg smell. You can remove this coating by brushing the tongue surface with your toothbrush or using a tongue scraper (we can show you how).
See your dentist. Some cases of chronic bad breath could be related to oral problems like tooth decay, gum disease or broken dental work. Treating these could help curb your bad breath, as can removing the third molars (wisdom teeth) that are prone to trapped food debris. It's also possible for bad breath to be a symptom of a systemic condition like diabetes that may require medical treatment.
Quit smoking. Tobacco can leave your breath smelly all on its own. But a smoking habit could also dry your mouth, creating the optimum conditions for bacteria to multiply. Besides increasing your disease risk, this can also contribute to chronic bad breath. Better breath is just one of the many benefits of quitting the habit.
We didn't mention mouthrinses, mints or other popular ways to freshen breath. While these can help out in a pinch, they may cover up the real causes of halitosis. Following the above suggestions, especially dental visits to uncover and treat dental problems, could solve your breath problem for good.
If you would like more information about ways to treat bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
Chronic stress can cause any number of physical problems like back pain, insomnia or stomach ulcers. In the mouth, it can also be the cause of teeth grinding or clenching habits that may lead to pain and tooth damage.
Besides toothaches and jaw pain, stress-related teeth grinding may also be causing your teeth to wear at a faster than normal rate. While the teeth can withstand normal forces generated from biting and chewing, a grinding habit could be subjecting the teeth to forces beyond their normal range. Over time, this could produce excessive tooth wear and contribute to future tooth loss.
Here, then, are some of the treatment options we may use to stop the effects of stress-related dental habits and provide you with relief from pain and dysfunction.
Drug Therapy. Chronic teeth grinding can cause pain and muscle spasms. We can reduce pain with a mild anti-inflammatory pain reliever (like ibuprofen), and spasms with a prescribed muscle relaxant drug. If you have sleep issues, you might also benefit from occasional sleep aid medication.
A Night or Occlusal Guard. Also known as a bite guard, this appliance made of wear-resistant acrylic plastic is custom-fitted to the contours of your bite. The guard is worn over your upper teeth while you sleep or when the habit manifests; the lower teeth then glide over the hard, smooth surface of the guard without biting down. This helps rest the jaw muscles and reduce pain.
Orthodontic Treatment. Your clenching habit may be triggered or intensified because of a problem with your bite, known as a malocclusion. We can correct or limit this problem by either moving the teeth into a more proper position or, if the malocclusion is mild, even out the bite by reshaping the teeth in a procedure known as occlusal (bite) equilibration.
Psychological Treatment. While the preceding treatments can help alleviate or correct dental or oral structural problems, they may not address the underlying cause for a grinding habit — your psychological response to stress. If you’re not coping with stress in a healthy way, you may benefit from treatments in behavioral medicine, which include biofeedback or psychological counseling.
If you would like more information on dental issues related to stress, 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 “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
Let's say you have a diseased tooth you think might be on its last leg. It might be possible to save it, perhaps with a significant investment of time and money. On the other hand, you could have it replaced with a life-like dental implant.
That seems like a no-brainer, especially since implants are as close as we have to natural teeth. But you might want to take a second look at salvaging your tooth—as wonderful as implants are, they can't beat the real thing.
Our teeth, gums and jaws form an intricate oral system: Each part supports the others for optimum function and health. Rescuing a troubled tooth could be the best way to preserve that function, and replacing it, even with a dental implant, a less satisfying option.
How we save it will depend on what's threatening it, like advanced tooth decay. Caused by bacterial acid that creates a cavity in enamel and underlying dentin, decay can quickly spread into the tooth's pulp and root canals, and eventually threaten the supporting bone.
We may be able to stop decay and save the tooth with a root canal treatment. During this procedure, we remove diseased tissue from the pulp and root canals through a drilled access hole, and then fill the empty spaces. We then seal the access and later crown the tooth to protect it against future infection.
A second common threat is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria in dental plaque infect the outer gums and, like tooth decay, the infection quickly spreads deeper into the root and bone. The disease weakens gum attachments to affected teeth, hastening their demise.
To treat gum disease, we manually remove built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). This deprives the infecting bacteria of their primary food source and “starves” the infection. Depending on the disease's advancement, this might take several cleaning sessions and possible gum surgery to access deep pockets of infection around the root.
Because both of these treatment modalities can be quite in-depth, we'll need to assess the survivability of the tooth. The tooth could be too far gone and not worth the effort and expense to save it. If there is a reasonable chance, though, a rescue attempt for your troubled tooth might be the right option.
If you would like more information on whether to save or replace a tooth, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
If you know anything about dental disease, then you know bacteria ranks high on the Usual Suspects list. Tooth decay gets its start from acid produced by bacteria; periodontal (gum) disease is often triggered by bacteria that infect the gums.
But the particular strains of bacteria that can cause dental disease are a small percentage of the 10,000-plus species inhabiting your mouth. The rest, numbering in the millions, are fairly benign—and some, as recent research is now showing, play a sizeable role in protecting your teeth and gums against other malicious bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been investigating these protective bacteria for many years. His research began with a scientific conundrum: although the mouth has one of the highest densities of bacterial populations, wounds in the mouth tend to heal quickly.
The answer, he believes, originates with human beta defensins (hBDs), substances produced by cells in the lining of the mouth that are natural antibiotics against disease. He has found that certain bacteria actually help stimulate their production.
This isn't just an interesting fact about the body's defenses and immune system. During his research, Dr. Weinberg was able to identify the agent within the bacteria that triggered hBD production. This has opened up a new line of research: The possibility that harnessing this agent might help assist in our treatment of infection by boosting the body's defensive capabilities.
For example, researchers have proposed including a form of the agent in toothpaste. Over time, this might stimulate hBD production and guard the mouth against the development of dental diseases like gum disease.
These possibilities all come from our increasing knowledge and understanding of the microscopic world around us, especially in our mouths. Bacteria are much more complex than we may have realized—not all are our enemies, and some are definitely our friends. Learning more may open up new ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy.
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