Pain can tell you things. Not verbally, of course, as in, “Hey, your appendix is inflamed!” But the quality of your pain—dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, acute or general—can point the way to the actual problem.
That's especially true of tooth pain, which could signal any number of dental problems. Looking at its characteristics, though, can narrow the search. Here are a few examples.
Sharp, momentary pain. This could be an indication of a number of possible dental problems. If it occurs for a few seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold, it might signal a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling or early signs of gum recession. The latter could be a symptom of periodontal (gum) disease, so you should seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Sharp pain when biting. Like tooth sensitivity, this could be a sign of decay or a loose filling, or it could indicate a fractured (cracked) tooth. If it's the latter, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth problems, if you want the best chance for saving the tooth.
Dull ache in upper teeth. This might not be a dental problem at all, but radiating pain from an infection of the sinus just above the upper posterior teeth. The infection could also have begun with one of the molar teeth and advanced into the sinus. You'll need to see your dentist for any teeth or gums involved and possibly a physician to address any potential sinus infection.
Constant throbbing pain. That horrible toothache that won't stop could be the nerves in the tooth's interior under attack from decay. The primary means for saving a tooth with deep decay is a root canal treatment to clean out diseased tissue and replace it with a filling or a crown. You should see a dentist even if the pain suddenly subsides—this may only mean the nerves have died, but the infection is still active.
These are just a few of the problems, including true dental emergencies, that oral pain can signal. For any instance of pain in your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it might indicate, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
There are important reasons not to smoke, like minimizing your risk for deadly diseases like heart disease or lung cancer. But here's another good reason: Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and possible tooth loss. And although not necessarily life-threatening, losing your teeth can have a negative effect on your overall health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, individuals who smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop gum disease, and four times as likely the infection will become advanced. Your risk may also increase if you're regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.
There are a number of reasons for this increased risk. For one, smokers are less likely than non-smokers to recognize they have gum disease, at least initially, because they may not display classic symptoms of an infection like red, swollen or bleeding gums. This happens because the nicotine in tobacco smoke interferes with normal blood circulation. As a result, their gums may appear healthy when they're not.
That same circulation interference can also inhibit the production and supply of antibodies to fight infection. Not only can this intensify the infection, it can also slow healing and complicate treatment. In fact, smokers are more likely to have repeated episodes of infection, a condition called refractory periodontitis.
But there is good news—smoking's effect on your gum health doesn't have to be permanent. As soon as you stop, your body will begin to repair the damage; the longer you abstain from the habit, the more your gum health will improve. For example, one national study found that former smokers who had not smoked for at least eleven years were able to achieve an equal risk of gum disease with someone who had never smoked.
Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it can be done. If abrupt cessation (“cold turkey”) is too much for you, there are medically-supported cessation programs using drugs or other techniques that can help you kick the habit. And while it may be a long road, leaving smoking behind is an important step toward improving and maintaining good dental health.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
The top cause for adult tooth loss isn't decay or trauma—it's periodontal (gum) disease. The disease may begin with the gums, but it can ultimately damage underlying bone enough to weaken its support of teeth, causing them to loosen and fall out.
But that's not the end of the havoc gum disease can wreak. The consequences of an uncontrolled infection can ripple beyond the mouth and worsen other health problems like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis.
The common link between gum disease and these other conditions is the inflammatory response, a natural mechanism to fight infection caused by disease or trauma. This mechanism changes blood vessels to increase blood flow to hasten the travel of protective white blood cells to the injury or disease location.
But if this mechanism that supports healing becomes chronic, it can actually do harm. The chronic inflammation that occurs with gum disease can damage mouth structures, just as inflammation from diabetes or arthritis can damage other parts of the body. And any form of chronic inflammation, even that found in gum disease, can worsen other inflammatory diseases.
You can lessen this link between gum disease and other conditions—as well as improve your oral health—by preventing or seeking prompt treatment for any periodontal infection in the following ways:
- Practice daily brushing and flossing to clear away bacterial dental plaque, the main cause of gum disease;
- See your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups;
- See your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, common signs of a gum infection;
- Stop smoking to lower your risk for both gum disease and tooth decay;
- Adopt a healthy diet, which can help you lose weight (a factor in diabetes and other inflammatory diseases) and strengthen your immune system;
- Manage other inflammatory conditions to lessen their effect on your gum disease risk.
Taking these steps can help you avoid the inflammation caused by gum disease that might also affect the rest your body. Seeking prompt treatment at the first sign of an infection will also minimize the damage to your teeth and gums and the effect it could have on the rest of your health.
If you would like more information on prevention and treatment 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 “Gum Disease & Systemic Health.”
As the old Fifties song goes, “Little things mean a lot.” They can also be the most irritating, like a hangnail, a papercut—or a certain kind of oral sore. Although rarely concerning to health, this particular kind of “bump” in the mouth can be unnerving.
Although known as a traumatic fibroma, it's not as dire as it sounds: It's simply a small wound created when your inside cheek gets in the “line of fire” between your teeth while biting or chewing. It's an experience most of us have had, and though it's a minor occurrence, it can make us wince with pain.
But the pain usually lasts only a few seconds—until the next time, which is a distinct possibility. The body creates a protective callous over the wound made of fibers (hence the name fibroma) of a protein called collagen. This creates a rise in the skin surface that increases the chances the area will again get in the way of the teeth and be bitten. Each bite leads to another layer of collagen, a more prominent rise and even greater probability of another bite.
Rather than let this irritating situation repeat itself, you can undergo a minor surgical procedure to remove the fibroma. Usually performed be an oral surgeon or periodontist, the area is numbed first with a local anesthetic and the fibroma removed with a scalpel; the resulting wound is then closed with a few stitches or a laser, in which case no stitches are necessary. As a result, the cheek surface flattens out and becomes less likely to get in between the teeth.
The dentist may also preserve some of the removed tissue and submit it for a biopsy to check for any cancer cells or other abnormalities. You shouldn't be concerned about this: Examining excised tissue is a routine step performed for a variety of surgical procedures. It's used to verify the tissue in question is benign, which in this case is the vast majority of the time.
After the procedure, you might experience some minor discomfort for a few days, usually manageable with a mild pain reliever like aspirin or ibuprofen. The procedure itself only takes about fifteen minutes, but it can provide you lasting relief from that bedeviling little sore in your mouth.
If you would like more information on treating mouth sores, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
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