Nothing grabs your attention like a sharp tooth pain, seemingly hitting you out of nowhere while you’re eating or drinking. But there is a reason for your sudden agony and the sooner you find it out, the better the outcome for your oral health.
To understand tooth sensitivity, we need to first look at the three layers of tooth anatomy. In the center is the pulp filled with blood vessels and nerve bundles: it’s completely covered by the next layer dentin, a soft tissue filled with microscopic tubules that transmit sensations like pressure or temperature to the pulp nerves.
The third layer is enamel, which completely covers the crown, the visible part of a tooth. Enamel protects the two innermost tooth layers from disease and also helps muffle sensations so the tooth’s nerves aren’t overwhelmed. The enamel stops at about the gum line; below it the gums provide similar protection and sensation shielding to the dentin of the tooth roots.
Problems occur, though, when the dentin below the gums becomes exposed, most commonly because of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection caused by dental plaque triggers inflammation, which over time can weaken gum tissues and cause them to detach and shrink back (or recede) from the teeth. This can leave the root area vulnerable to disease and the full brunt of environmental sensations that then travel to the nerves in the pulp.
Tooth decay can also create conditions that cause sensitivity. Decay begins when certain oral bacteria multiply and produce higher than normal levels of acid. The acid in turn dissolves the enamel’s mineral content to create holes (cavities) that expose the dentin. Not treated, the infection can eventually invade the pulp, putting the tooth in danger of being lost unless a root canal treatment is performed to remove the infection and seal the tooth from further infection.
So, if you begin experiencing a jolt of pain while eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, see your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. And protect your teeth from dental disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing, as well as seeing your dentist for regular dental cleanings and checkups. Don’t ignore those sharp pains—your teeth may be trying to tell you something.
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.”
Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
October is national Dental Hygiene month—and it’s a great time to renew your commitment to good oral health. Everyone knows that to enjoy clean teeth and fresh breath, we need to brush and floss every day. But when it comes to the finer points of tooth brushing, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. So here are five tips to help you get the most bang from your brush.
A soft brush is much better for your mouth than a medium or hard one. That’s because stiffer bristles can actually damage soft gum tissue, and over-vigorous brushing can result in gum recession; this may lead to tooth sensitivity and an increased chance of decay. So always choose a soft-bristled tooth brush—and change your brush every three or four months, when its bristles begin to stiffen with use.
It Isn’t (Just) the Brush…
It’s the hand that holds it. Don’t brush too forcefully, or too long. If you consistently brush too hard, try using just three fingers to grip your brush so you apply less force. And if you have questions or need a refresher, just ask us to demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques next time you’re here.
Think Fluoride First
With many different flavors, whiteners and other ingredients in toothpastes, which one should you choose? It’s up to you, as long as your toothpaste contains one vital ingredient—fluoride. This natural mineral has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel and fight cavities. Look for the seal of the American Dental Association (ADA) on the toothpaste tube: this certifies that it’s been tested for safety and effectiveness.
2x2 = Terrific Teeth
According to the ADA, brushing gently for two full minutes, two times a day, is the best way to get rid of plaque and prevent cavities. That’s why it should be an essential part of your oral hygiene routine. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to use dental floss (or another method) to clean the spaces in between your teeth. If you don’t remove plaque from these areas, your cleaning isn’t complete.
Preserve Your Enamel
There are some times when you should avoid brushing—like after you’ve consumed soda, or been sick to your stomach. That’s because the acids in soda and stomach juices actually soften tooth enamel, and brushing can quickly wear it away. In these situations, rinse your mouth out with water and wait at least an hour before you brush.
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best thing you can do for your teeth at home. But don’t forget to come in to the office for regular checkups and professional cleanings! Because no matter how thorough you are, you can’t clean hardened deposits (calculus, or tartar) from your teeth at home: It takes special tools and the skilled hand of your hygienist or dentist to do that.
If you would like more information about tooth brushing and oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sizing Up Toothbrushes” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
October is National Dental Hygiene Month. It comes as no surprise that good dental hygiene habits are best acquired early in life—and with good reason, as tooth decay is the most common disease among children. In fact, a full 43 percent of U.S. children have cavities, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. So how do you start young children on the path to a lifetime of good oral health? Here are five tips for instilling good dental hygiene habits in your kids:
Set a good example. Good—and bad—habits often start at home. Research shows that when young children notice other family members brushing their teeth, they want to brush, too. So let your child see you brushing and flossing your teeth, and while you’re at it model good nutritional choices for optimal oral health and use positive language when talking about your own dental visits. The example you set is a powerful force in your child’s attitude toward oral care!
Start early. You can start teaching children brushing techniques around age two or three, using a toothbrush just their size with only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. If they want to brush by themselves, make sure you brush their teeth again after they have finished. Around age six, children should have the dexterity to brush on their own, but continue to keep an eye on their brushing skill.
Go shopping together. Kids who handpick their own oral hygiene supplies may be more likely to embrace the toothbrushing task. So shop together, and let them choose a toothbrush they can get excited about—one in their favorite color or with their favorite character. Characters also appear on toothpaste tubes, and toothpaste comes in many kid-friendly flavors.
Make dental self-care rewarding. Why should little ones care about good dental hygiene? Young children may not be super motivated by the thought of a long-term payoff like being able to chew steak in their old age. A more tangible reward like a sticker or a star on a chart each time they brush may be more in line with what makes them tick.
Establish a dental home early on. Your child should start getting regular checkups around age one. Early positive experiences will reinforce the idea that the dental office is a friendly, non-threatening place. Children who get in the habit of taking care of their oral health from an early age have a much better chance of having healthy teeth into adulthood.
If you have questions about your child’s dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
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