Have you noticed a clicking, popping, or grating sound when you open or close your jaw? As many as 36 million U.S. adults experience this phenomenon in one or both of the joints that connect the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull.
While the sounds may be disconcerting, there’s generally no cause for concern in the absence of other symptoms. They’re most likely caused by a harmless shift in the position of the disk inside each temporomandibular (jaw) joint, and it can diminish or disappear entirely over time. But, if you’re also experiencing persistent discomfort, severe pain, or limited function in your jaw (which can include getting it “stuck” in an opened or closed position), then you may be suffering from a temporomandibular joint disorder — part of a complex set of conditions affecting one or both jaw joints, muscles and/or other surrounding tissues. (You may have heard the condition called TMJ, which is actually the abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint itself. Health care professionals prefer TMJD or TMD.)
Depending on the severity, TMD can interfere with your ability to speak, chew and even make facial expressions. The cause is unclear, but genes, gender, environment, stress and behavior are believed to play a role. It can also be symptomatic of a larger medical problem, such as fibromyalgia, which can produce pain all over the body.
Management Options for TMD
TMD traditionally was viewed as a bite problem (malocclusion) requiring mechanical correction — e.g., through orthodontic braces or surgery. But the current therapeutic model approaches TMD as an orthopedic problem (joint inflammation, muscle soreness, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk damage) and favors a sequence of conservative, reversible procedures — hot or cold compresses in the jaw area, soft foods, physical therapy/massage, medication, and/or a bite guard to decrease pressure on jaw joints from tooth clenching and grinding — prior to more aggressive, irreversible treatment alternatives.
If you would like more information about TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Seeking Relief from TMD” and “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is an aggressive bacterial infection caused by built-up plaque on tooth surfaces. Gum disease results in bone loss and causes loss of attachment from the teeth, leading to eventual tooth loss.
The goal of any gum disease treatment is to remove as much plaque and calculus (hardened deposits of plaque) from the gums and teeth as possible. Scaling with special hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment is the basic technique for plaque and calculus removal above and below the gum line. As the infection spreads below the gum line, it can widen the natural gap between teeth and gums to form voids known as periodontal pockets that fill with infection. Accessing and cleaning these pockets, which can occur as deep as the tooth roots, will require more invasive procedures.
Pockets that form at a depth greater than 5 mm below the gum line will most likely require surgical access through the gum tissue. But for pockets not quite that deep there’s an intermediary technique called root planing without surgical intervention. As the name suggests, the roots are physically “planed,” much like shaving a wooden board to remove minute layers of wood.
Using similar instruments as with scaling, root planing removes calculus, bacteria and other infected matter adhering to the root surfaces. It’s best to perform the procedure with local anesthesia to numb the gum tissues, which may be quite sensitive depending on the degree of infection. Working in a pain-free environment also helps us to be as thorough as possible in detecting and removing every bit of plaque and calculus we can find.
In advanced cases, it may be necessary to perform this procedure during multiple visits. As plaque and calculus are removed the inflammation in affected tissues will begin to subside, revealing more deposits of plaque and calculus. It’s also important to begin and maintain a daily habit of effective brushing and flossing to lessen the chances of a recurring infection.
Treating gum disease is an ongoing effort that requires constant monitoring and sustained efforts to remove plaque and calculus, including root planing. Saving your teeth, however, is well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal 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 “Root Planing.”
There are many reasons why teeth may need a whitening treatment to achieve an appealing brightness: what we eat and drink, natural aging, genetics, and the lack of dedication to oral hygiene can all play a role in how we look.
For vital (living) teeth, there are basically three different options for teeth whitening, and we’d be happy to help you decide which is right for you:
- In-office tooth whitening: The fastest way to get your smile radiant. A high concentration of a peroxide gel solution is applied directly to the tooth surface. Gums and other soft tissues are completely protected for your safety. This technique is excellent for whitening deep surface stains as well as general tooth whitening. This professional treatment requires the least amount of time to achieve the desired whiteness.
- The professional take-home option: Custom-made bleaching trays are prepared by our office. This technique is convenient and less expensive, but the desired whiteness will take longer to achieve than the in-office option.
- Over-the-counter products: These offer the least expensive option but use weaker whitening agents. For example, whitening strips, like the ones advertised on television, are popular and easy to use but will generally take the most time to achieve the desired success. Also, even agents that are not the strongest available may cause damage to teeth if used inappropriately and without professional supervision.
While there are normally no serious side effects after professional whitening treatments, there is a potential risk of tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. If either one or both of these occur, it should disappear within a few days.
It should come as no surprise that bleaching is not permanent. The whiteness will fade eventually depending on your diet, habits, hygiene, etc., but it usually will last at least six months — more often up to two years. Obviously, if you avoid drinking coffee, tea, or red wine, don’t smoke, and have a diligent oral hygiene routine your results may last longer.
Advertisements for teeth-whitening products are everywhere. If you have any questions about what you see, or simply want to do a reality check on their claims, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening: Brighter, Lighter, Whiter...,” and “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered.”
Achieving a more attractive smile is often a big investment. And, like other big investments, it’s always advantageous to have the opportunity to “try it out” beforehand — especially something as visible and public as your smile.
We’ve come a long way in giving people ways to preview their smiles before the permanent restoration is in place. Computer imaging is one of the more effective ways of doing this. But what if you could actually see for yourself in a mirror rather than on a computer monitor or printed page what your new smile will look like? Now you can with a “trial smile.”
To create a trial smile, we temporarily apply composite resin, a tooth-colored dental material, directly to your teeth. We can shape and sculpt the resin to mimic the effects of veneers, crowns or other dental work proposed to create your new smile. Not only will you be able to see your smile as it will appear, you’ll also be able to get a sense of the texture and depth of the new dental work, something you can’t quite capture with two-dimensional computer imaging. And while you won’t be able to wear the trial smile home, we can certainly take photos for you to show friends and family for their opinion.
Trial smiles are also beneficial in helping us plan your smile makeover. By viewing how you interact with your new look — facial expressions, speech and, of course, smiling — we can fine tune the amount of tooth preparation necessary, as well as the color, shape and texture of the permanent restorations.
Incorporating a trial smile into your treatment will involve an additional expense, but only as a relatively small part of your overall treatment cost. But the benefit it can bring in helping us achieve a smile that’s both attractive and satisfying to you is well worth the cost. “Trying out” your smile ahead of time can give you added peace of mind that your new look is just what you expected.
If you would like more information on trial smiles and other restoration previews, 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 “Testing Your Smile Makeover.”
For decades, traditional braces were the only orthodontic choice for moving misaligned teeth. Although they’re quite effective, they can cause discomfort and, for teens especially, embarrassment due to their noticeable metallic appearance.
In recent years, though, technology has produced an alternative to braces that’s proven effective for many types of patients. Besides being less cumbersome and disruptive to everyday life than braces, clear aligners have another advantage that appeals to teens — they’re much less visible.
Introduced in the late 1990s, clear aligners are a system of individual trays made of nearly invisible polyurethane plastic worn over the upper teeth. The trays are computer-generated based on the patient’s individual mouth structure captured in photographs and x-rays. Each tray in the sequence is incrementally smaller in size; the patient begins wearing the first aligner in the series for about two weeks, 20 to 22 hours a day. They then switch to the next tray in the series for about the same amount of time, and continue in this fashion until they’ve worn each aligner in the series.
Besides their improvement in appearance, aligners also have another advantage: unlike traditional braces, aligners can be removed from the mouth for eating or on a limited basis for rare important social occasions. Brushing and flossing are also much easier with aligners, which don’t pose the same access problems as traditional braces.
Clear aligners were once only effective with select types of orthodontic patients, which didn’t always include teens. Over the last decade, however, significant changes to design and additional implements have widened their application to more patients, especially teens. For example, we can now add tiny “power ridges” to the aligner design that give greater precision over desired tooth movement to create a more controlled and efficient force on the teeth. More recent aligners are also being produced with a thinner, more comfortable material.
A thorough orthodontic exam will tell whether your teen is a good candidate for clear aligners. If so, they’ll benefit from a more comfortable and less embarrassing experience while gaining a new smile for life.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
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