Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is an umbrella term for a number of chronic jaw problems. These conditions cause recurring pain for 10 to 30 million Americans, especially women of childbearing age.
But even after decades of treatment and research, a full understanding of TMD's underlying causes eludes us. That doesn't mean, however, that we haven't made progress—we have indeed amassed a good deal of knowledge and experience with TMD and how best to treat it.
A recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients helps highlight the current state of affairs about what we know regarding these disorders, and where the future may lie in treatment advances. Here are a few important findings gleaned from that survey.
Possible causes. When asked what they thought triggered their TMD episodes, the top answers from respondents were trauma, stress and teeth clenching habits. This fits in with the consensus among experts, who also include genetic disposition and environmental factors. Most believe that although we haven't pinpointed exact causes, we are over the target.
Links to other disorders. Two-thirds of survey respondents also reported suffering from three or more other pain-related conditions, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic headaches. These responses seem to point to possible links between TMD and other pain-related disorders. If this is so, it could spur developments in better diagnostic methods and treatment.
The case against surgery. Surgical procedures have been used in recent years to treat TMD. But in the survey, of those who have undergone surgery only one-third reported any significant relief. In fact, 46% considered themselves worse off. Most providers still recommend a physical joint therapy approach first for TMD: moist heat or ice, massage and exercises and medications to control muscle spasms and pain.
These findings underscore one other important factor—there is no “one size fits all” approach to TMD management. As an individual patient, a custom-developed action plan of therapy, medication, and lifestyle and diet practices is the best way currently to reduce the effects of TMD on your life.
If you would like more information on TMD management and treatment, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Are your stained teeth bumming you out? There's good news—you can transform that dull and dingy smile yourself with a tooth whitening product.
There are dozens of over-the-counter whitening kits that allow you to brighten your own smile. Although not as controlled and long-lasting as a dentist's professional whitening, these DIY kits can still give you effective results.
But since these products involve chemical solutions that bleach tooth enamel, there's a common concern about their safety. Could you be harming your teeth by using a home whitening kit?
The answer is no—as long as you follow the manufacturer's directions for using the product. These kits have been formulated with a lower percentage of bleaching agent (usually 10% carbamide peroxide) than whitening solutions used by dentists. They've also been subjected to several clinical studies gauging both their effectiveness and safety.
That said, though, exceeding a product's recommended directions and frequency of use could cause you problems. If not used properly, a bleaching solution can erode tooth enamel—and this protective tooth layer doesn't grow back! As long as you whiten "within the lines," so to speak, you shouldn't encounter this kind of situation.
With that said, though, there are good reasons to consult your dentist before using a whitening product, or have them perform the whitening for you.
For one thing, an over-the-counter whitening product won't work if the staining originates from inside a tooth. It's wise, then, to have a dental examination first before using a whitening product to uncover this or any other underlying dental problems that should be addressed first.
You may also find a professional whitening will give you a more desirable result. A stronger professional bleaching solution under a dentist's expert control can produce a brighter, longer lasting smile than a home use product. A dentist may also be able to control the level of brightness better to help you achieve the smile effect you desire, from subtle white to ultra-bright.
Whichever way you go, your dentist can advise you on your options and make sure your teeth are in good shape for whitening. The end result can be a brighter smile—and a brighter mood.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 Whitening Safety Tips.”
During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Besides straight and translucent teeth, an attractive smile has another important component: balance. In a great smile, the visible areas of the teeth and gums are in balanced proportion to one another.
But what is the ideal proportion between teeth and gums? Although aesthetic appeal is largely “in the eye of the beholder,” dental professionals typically consider a properly sized tooth to be around 10 mm in visible length. As for the upper gums, no more than 4 mm of tissue should show when smiling. Teeth appearing shorter than 10 mm or the gums displaying more than 4 mm can create an effect called a “gummy smile.”
Fortunately, there are different approaches for correcting a gummy smile, depending on what's causing the appearance of gumminess. Not only are there different causes, but they can be diverse in nature.
Obviously, an actual excess of gum tissue can cause a smile to look gummy—but so can shortened teeth. One possible solution called crown lengthening could help correct either possibility. During the procedure, we remove any excess gum tissue or reposition the gums after reshaping the underlying bone to reveal more of the tooth crown. Worn or shortened teeth can also be made to look longer with porcelain veneers.
A gummy smile could also be caused by a hypermobile lip, in which the lip rises higher than normal while smiling. We may be able to prevent this temporarily by injecting Botox into the lip muscles, which paralyzes them and inhibits their ability to move upward. A more permanent approach is to surgically restrict the upward movement of the lip muscles.
The gums may also seem too prominent if the upper jaw is longer in proportion to the face. One way to correct this is orthognathic surgery, a procedure that moves the upper jaw to a higher position on the skull. This can reduce the jaw profile with the face and subsequently affect how much of the gums show while smiling.
These solutions range from relatively minor to significantly invasive. The first step, though, is to find out what's really behind your gummy smile before taking the next step to make it more attractive.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
Half of adults over age 30, and an astounding 70% over 65, have had some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Unchecked, a bacterial gum infection can spread into the supporting bone and destroy attachments between the teeth and gums. Because of its rapidity and aggressiveness, gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults.
But there may be even more harm caused by gum disease beyond losing teeth: There's growing evidence gum disease may worsen other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with gum disease are also more likely to suffer from one or more of these systemic conditions.
The link between gum disease and these other diseases appears to be inflammation. When tissue becomes injured or diseased, swelling (inflammation) occurs to isolate these tissues from the rest of the body. Under normal circumstances, this is a critical defense mechanism to protect the body overall.
But this response is a temporary measure—if it becomes chronic, it can actually damage the tissues it's trying to protect. This often happens with gum disease as inflammation can't overcome the gum infection, and both sides settle into a kind of trench warfare. The same story plays out with other diseases with an inflammatory response. And if the body is waging war with a gum infection, it can worsen these other conditions.
It's important then to take care of your gums and the rest of the body to minimize chronic inflammation. You can help prevent a gum infection by brushing and flossing every day and getting your teeth cleaned professionally at least every six months. You should also see your dentist if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, often the first signs of gum disease.
It can also benefit your gums if you're addressing other inflammatory issues in your body. Besides regular medical care, you can reduce your risk for other systemic diseases by eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight at an optimum level and avoiding smoking.
The individual parts of your body aren't isolated islands: Diseases that affect one can eventually affect all. By preventing or treating gum disease as early as possible, you'll also help reduce the effects of other systemic diseases.
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