Posts for: October, 2018
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
It’s estimated that between 10 and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic jaw pain and disability. Healthcare providers refer to it as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), a group of conditions characterized by pain and limited function with the jaw joints, as well as related muscles and tissues.
People with TMJD often experience popping, clicking or grating sounds when they move their lower jaw. The more serious symptoms, however, are severe pain and limited movement of the jaw. The causes of TMJD haven’t been fully substantiated, but it’s believed to be influenced by a person’s genetic background, their gender (most patients are women of childbearing age), their environment and behavioral habits. This uncertainty about the underlying causes has made it difficult to improve treatment strategies for the disorder.
One promising area of research, though, is suspected connections between TMJD and other health problems. In one survey of over 1,500 TMJD patients, nearly two-thirds indicated they had three or more other chronic conditions. Among the most frequently named were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disturbances.
We’re not quite sure how or why TMJD might be linked to these other conditions, but further study is underway. Researchers hope any knowledge uncovered could lead to advances in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent TMJD.
Until then, the more traditional treatment approach remains the best course of action: medication to relax muscles and relieve pain; thermal therapies using hot and cold compresses during flare-ups; and physical therapy. Switching to softer foods temporarily may also give jaw muscles a rest from over-activity. Although jaw surgery is an option, we should consider it a last resort after other therapies have proven altogether ineffective in relieving pain and restoring function.
If you suspect you have TMJD, please visit a medical doctor first. Other conditions could mimic the symptoms of the disorder and would need to be ruled out first. If the diagnosis is TMJD, you’re not alone. You can receive information, support and updates on the latest research by visiting the TMJ Association at www.tmj.org.
If you would like more information on chronic jaw 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Although dental disease prevention has made great strides over the last century, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease continue to pose a major health threat. People who’ve lost all of their teeth (edentulism) or most of them suffer the most with adverse effects on their overall health, function and appearance.
Removable dentures have been the traditional and most affordable means to treat edentulism. But even with material and construction advances in recent years, dentures can still lose their fit over time as the bone in the jaw shrinks. This happens because the bone no longer has the stimulus of natural teeth and older cells can’t be replenished at a healthy rate; the continuing compression of traditional dentures on the jaw’s bony ridges compounds the problem.
As the bone shrinks the dentures become loose and uncomfortable to wear. Among other results, this poor fit can drastically affect how you eat: studies of denture wearers have found a decrease in their diet’s nutritional value because they’re eating fewer vegetables or fibrous, “chewy” foods and more foods with refined carbohydrates and fats that are easier to eat but less nutritious.
There is an alternative, though, that might slow bone loss and provide a better long-term fit: an overdenture supported by dental implants. With this appliance, a few implants are strategically installed in the upper or lower jaw. Matched attachments securely fasten the denture to the implants. In this case, the implants not the jaw ridge and gums support the denture thereby preserving the bone.
If you’re healthy enough to undergo a tooth extraction, you should be able to handle implant surgery, a minor procedure usually performed with local anesthesia and with little to no discomfort afterward. It may even be possible to retrofit your current denture to work with the implants, but that will need to be determined during the planning stages.
Although more expensive than a traditional denture, overdentures are much more affordable than fixed restorations stabilized with implants. The difference, though, is the increase in your quality of life — for better nutrition, physical health and social confidence.
If you would like more information on treatment for teeth loss, 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 “Implant Overdentures for the Lower Jaw.”