Long ago dental work could be painful and stressful—often for both patient and practitioner. Thankfully, that time is long past: today, most procedures are painless in large part due to local anesthesia.
Local anesthetics are numbing substances applied to specific areas of the body like the teeth and gums to temporarily block pain during a procedure. And because they only affect a localized area of the body, you remain conscious and alert throughout the procedure.
To achieve the level of numbing necessary for dental work, we often need to deaden the gums using a needle to deliver the anesthetic. But then this poses a secondary pain concern—the needle stick itself.
Again, topical anesthesia comes to the rescue in the form of a swab, patch or spray applying an anesthetic directly to the top layer of the gums at the injection site. This numbs the area and prevents you from feeling the needle stick. It's highly probable, therefore, that from start to finish you won't feel any discomfort during your dental work except perhaps for a little pressure.
Local anesthesia truly is a game changer for dental care—and not just for the patient. A dentist who's concerned about their patient's comfort level may work hurriedly to complete a procedure. But if their patient is relaxed, the dentist can work calmly and methodically. The result is better, more focused care.
For all its improvements in the patient experience, though, there has been one consistent complaint—the numbness that often lingers for a while after the procedure is over. But there have been advances in recent years that have helped reduce this irritation: new anesthetic agents (even some that can reverse the anesthetic effect) and fine-tuned dosages can help keep residual numbing to a minimum.
Not all procedures like routine teeth cleanings or enamel shaping require anesthesia. But when it's appropriate, local anesthesia can make your next dental visit much more pleasant.
If you would like more information on how anesthesia benefits your dental 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
A toothache might mean you have tooth decay—or maybe not. It could also be a sign of other problems that will take a dental exam to uncover. But we can get some initial clues about the underlying cause from how much it hurts, when and for how long it hurts and where you feel the pain most.
Let's say, for instance, you have a sharp pain while consuming something cold or hot, but only for a second or two. This could indicate isolated tooth decay or a loose filling. But it could also mean your gums have receded and exposed some of the tooth's hypersensitive root surface.
While over-aggressive brushing can be the culprit, gum recession is most often caused by periodontal (gum) disease. Untreated, this bacterial infection triggered by accumulated dental plaque could eventually cause tooth and bone loss, so the sooner it's attended to the better.
On the other hand, if the pain seems to linger after encountering hot or cold foods and liquids, or you have a continuous throbbing pain, you could have advanced tooth decay that's entered the inner pulp where infected tooth nerves are reacting painfully. If so, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp and root canals to prevent further infection.
If you have this kind of pain, see a dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain stops. Cessation of pain may only mean the nerves have died and can no longer transmit pain; the infection, on the other hand, is still active and will continue to advance to the roots and bone.
Tooth pain could also indicate other situations: a cracked tooth, an abscess or even a sinus problem where you're feeling the pain radiating through the teeth. So whatever kind of pain you're feeling, it's your body's alarm signal that something's wrong. Promptly seeing your dentist is the best course of action for preserving your health.
If you would like more information on treating tooth pain, 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!”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
For chipped, stained, or slightly crooked teeth, dental veneers might be the ideal solution. These thin layers of porcelain bonded directly over the teeth with the perfect blend of color, sizes and shapes, can transform a person’s smile for a relatively modest cost.
But if the teeth belong to a teenager, veneers might not be appropriate. This is because in most cases, we’ll need to remove some of the tooth enamel so that the applied veneers won’t look unnaturally bulky. This alteration is permanent, so the teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
While not usually a major issue with fully matured adult teeth, it could be with the developing teeth of pre-teens and teens. During childhood and adolescence the tooth’s inner pulp plays an important role in dentin production, and so the pulp chamber is relatively large compared to an adult tooth. This larger size places the pulp closer to the enamel surface than with an adult tooth.
Because of its proximity to the enamel, there’s a greater chance veneer alterations could damage a teenager’s tooth pulp and its nerve bundles. If that happens, we may need to perform a root canal treatment to save the tooth—also not an optimal situation for a developing tooth.
That’s why we need to take into consideration a patient’s age and stage of dental development first, including x-raying the affected teeth to measure the depth of the tooth pulp. If we deem it too risky at the moment, there are other ways to improve dental appearance at least temporarily. This includes whitening externally stained teeth with a bleaching agent, or applying tooth-colored composite resin material to chipped areas. We can also apply a composite material veneer that, although not as durable as traditional porcelain, doesn’t require much if any tooth alteration.
To know your options, have your teenager undergo a thorough dental examination. Your dentist will then be able to discuss with you whether veneers can be safely attempted. And be sure the dentist who may perform the work has experience performing cosmetic procedures on teenagers.
If you would like more information on restoration choices for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
Implant-supported fixed bridges are growing in popularity because they offer superior support to traditional bridges or dentures. They can also improve bone health thanks to the affinity between bone cells and the implants' titanium posts.
Even so, you'll still need to stay alert to the threat of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection usually triggered by dental plaque could ultimately infect the underlying bone and cause it to deteriorate. As a result the implants could loosen and cause you to lose your bridgework.
To avoid this you'll need to be as diligent with removing plaque from around your implants as you would with natural teeth. The best means for doing this is to floss around each implant post between the bridgework and the natural gums.
This type of flossing is quite different than with natural teeth where you work the floss in between each tooth. With your bridgework you'll need to thread the floss between it and the gums with the help of a floss threader, a small handheld device with a loop on one end and a stiff flat edge on the other.
To use it you'll first pull off about 18" of dental floss and thread it through the loop. You'll then gently work the sharper end between the gums and bridge from the cheek side toward the tongue. Once through to the tongue side, you'll hold one end of the floss and pull the floss threader away with the other until the floss is now underneath the bridge.
You'll then loop each end of the floss around your fingers on each hand and work the floss up and down the sides of the nearest tooth or implant. You'll then release one hand from the floss and pull the floss out from beneath the bridge. Rethread it in the threader and move to the next section of the bridge and clean those implants.
You can also use other methods like specialized floss with stiffened ends for threading, an oral irrigator (or "water flosser") that emits a pressurized spray of water to loosen plaque, or an interproximal brush that can reach into narrow spaces. If you choose an interproximal brush, however, be sure it's not made with metal wire, which can scratch the implant and create microscopic crevices for plaque.
Use the method you and your dentist think best to keep your implants plaque-free. Doing so will help reduce your risk of a gum infection that could endanger your implant-supported bridgework.
If you would like more information on implant-supported bridges, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
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