When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
You may have been surprised by a new addition to your regular dental appointment routine—we took your blood pressure at the start. While you might expect this at a medical clinic, it seems unusual at the dentist’s office.
But not anymore: blood pressure checks at dental offices are quickly becoming routine, including during regular cleanings and checkups. Here are 3 reasons why checking your blood pressure is now part of your dental visit experience.
Your blood pressure could be an issue during dental work. While we do everything possible to make you comfortable, undergoing dental work can create stressful feelings. Blood pressure normally increases when stress occurs, including before dental procedures. If you already have issues with hypertension (high blood pressure), any circumstance that might increase it could lead to health problems or even an emergency like a stroke. If your blood pressure is high, we may forgo any planned procedures and refer you to a physician for further examination.
Local anesthesia can affect blood pressure. Local anesthesia is an important part of dental work—without it we couldn’t provide maximum comfort during procedures. But many anesthetics include epinephrine, which helps prolong the numbing effect. Epinephrine also constricts blood vessels, which in turn can elevate blood pressure. We may need to adjust the anesthesia drugs and dosages we use in your case if you have high blood pressure.
It could save your health—and your life. The symptoms for hypertension can be subtle and often go unnoticed. A blood pressure screening check is often the first indication of a problem. That’s why blood pressure screenings in a variety of healthcare settings are so important. A routine blood pressure check at your dentist (who hopefully sees you at least every six months) is one more opportunity to find out. Discovering you may have high blood pressure is the first step to controlling it and hopefully avoiding more serious conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
If you would like more information on monitoring vital signs during dental visits, 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure.”
Shingles is a painful viral infection that could potentially recur in sufferers for years. It causes painful skin rashes, general nerve pain, fever and fatigue. In extreme cases, it can cause blindness if the eyes become infected. And because it’s highly contagious, it could affect your dental treatment.
Formally known as herpes zoster, shingles is a recurrent form of chicken pox. If you contracted chicken pox in childhood, the shingles virus could lay dormant for several years. In fact, most people who contract shingles are over 50.
Because it acutely affects the nerves around the skin, the disease’s most common symptom is a belted or striped rash pattern that often appears on one side of the body and frequently on the head, neck or face. While the severity of symptoms may vary among patients, shingles can be a significant health threat to certain people, especially pregnant women, cancer patients or individuals with compromised immune systems.
In its early stages, the shingles virus can easily pass from person to person, either by direct contact with the rash or by airborne secretions that others can inhale. Because it’s highly contagious, even a routine teeth cleaning could potentially spread the virus to dental staff or other patients. Because of the significant health threat it potentially poses to some people, your dental provider may decline to treat you if you’re showing symptoms of the disease.
To stay ahead of this, let your dentist know you’re experiencing a shingles episode if you have an upcoming dental appointment, in which case you may need to reschedule. In the meantime, you should seek medical attention from your physician who may prescribe antiviral medication. Starting it within 3 days of a shingles outbreak can significantly reduce your pain and discomfort as well as its contagiousness.
And if you’re over sixty or at risk for shingles, consider getting the shingles vaccine. This readily available vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease and could help you avoid the pain and disruption this viral infection can bring to your life.
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Controlling discomfort during dental work is one of our top priorities. Advances in anesthesia over the last century have made that objective easier to attain, especially for routine procedures.
The term anesthesia means “without feeling or pain.” It refers to the use of substances to prevent a patient’s nervous system from sensing pain. There are two basic types: general, through intravenous injection (IV) or gas inhalation that places a patient in an unconscious state; and local, which only affects the part of the body involved in the procedure while the patient remains conscious.
The latter type has become very important in dentistry, especially for mild to moderate procedures. Because teeth and gum tissues are rich in nerves, patients can have a heightened level of sensitivity that can increase anxiety and discomfort during dental work. Local anesthesia reduces that discomfort and relaxes both patient and dental provider.
We typically administer local anesthesia in two ways: by applying the anesthetic to the outside tissue surface (with a cotton swab, patch or spray) or by injection. The first type, topical anesthesia, is most often used to eliminate the pricking discomfort of the needle used to inject the main anesthetic. Using both applications eliminates any painful sensation at all — the only thing you might feel is a slight pressure during the procedure.
As mentioned before, local anesthesia benefits us as well as you. Knowing you’re at ease and comfortable allows us to better focus on the procedure — we’re not rushed to finish to spare you further discomfort. A relaxed, unhurried atmosphere is essential to a successful outcome for any dental procedure.
We’ve also found solutions for another issue with local anesthesia that concerns patients: the length of time the numbing effect lingers after a procedure. In response, the dental profession has developed different types of anesthesia that reduce this after effect considerably. We’re also more selective about what procedures actually require anesthesia — some, like routine teeth cleaning or work on the outer enamel (which doesn’t contain nerves), can usually be performed without it.
All in all, local anesthesia reduces your level of discomfort and increases our ability to be thorough in performing your dental work. You’ll not only find the experience more pleasant, but it will also enhance the quality of your care.
If you would like more information on alleviating pain and discomfort during dental work, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
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