Posts for: September, 2016
Chronic jaw pain can make eating, speaking or even smiling difficult. What's more, finding the right treatment approach can be just as difficult.
This is because TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder: named for the joints on either side of the lower jaw) actually describes a wide range of possible problems with the joints and connecting muscles. Any of them can result in impaired jaw function, radiating pain or even headaches.
We'll need to conduct a full dental and facial exam to accurately diagnose your jaw pain's cause. Even then, the way may still not be clear: there's considerable debate among dentists about the best treatment approach. Two basic schools of thought prevail, one conservative and non-invasive and the other more aggressive and interventional.
The conservative approach seeks to alleviate symptoms in a variety of ways, including recommending softer foods to give muscles and joints time to relax, applying cold and heat to ease soreness, massage of the jaw joint muscles, gentle stretching and jaw exercises. We may also prescribe medications like ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and swelling relief, and sometimes muscle relaxers to reduce spasms. If your pain stems from clenching or grinding habits, we could fit you with a custom bite guard you wear while you sleep to reduce the forces on your teeth.
The more aggressive approach is much more invasive. These methods include altering the bite or teeth position with orthodontics or dental work or surgically altering the joints themselves or the shape of the jaw. If you're recommended one of these more aggressive treatments, you should know they're not commonly used to treat TMD and they're irreversible. There's also no guarantee you'll gain relief from your symptoms, so by all means get a second opinion before undergoing any procedures.
For most people the best course of treatment is to start with the least invasive techniques, which are usually very successful. If they don't relieve your pain and limited function, we may then consider escalating treatment to more irreversible procedures to help you find relief from this unwelcome condition.
If you would like more information on jaw joint pain and how to treat it, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”