You expect a decayed tooth, a fracture or a gum infection to be the cause for that toothache causing you grief. Sometimes, though, the answer may be “none of the above”—there's nothing wrong going on in your mouth to cause the pain.
You pain is real—but its source is elsewhere in the body, a situation known as referred pain. It's important to find out the pain's true source to determine what kind of treatment you'll need to alleviate it.
Here are some of the likely candidates for a “toothache” that's not a toothache.
Facial nerves. Tooth pain may be associated with trigeminal neuralgia, a misfiring disorder of the trigeminal nerves that course through either side of the face. The nerve is divided into three branches, two of which are located in the upper face and one in the lower jaw. Because they're interconnected, a problem with one of the branches in other parts of the face could be felt in the branch around the jaw.
Jaw joints. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD) can cause pain in the pair of joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull. The joints can become inflamed due to stress or trauma and the associated muscles begin spasming, causing severe pain. Because of their proximity to the teeth, the pain from the joints can radiate into the dental area and mimic a toothache.
Ear or sinus infections. Both the ears and the maxillary sinus are subject to infections that can cause severe pain and pressure. With the close proximity of both the ears and the sinus to the upper jaw, it's quite possible for pain originating in these structures to be felt within the mouth.
These are only a few of the possibilities that also include migraines, shingles, fibromyalgia and even vitamin deficiencies. As such, your dentist or physician may need to do a little detective work to locate the true cause. But the effort to locate where your mouth pain is actually coming from will help ensure you get the right treatment to give you lasting relief.
If you would like more information on referred tooth 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 “Referred Pain: When a Toothache Is Not Really a Toothache.”
Your tooth enamel’s main nemesis is oral acid: normally produced by bacteria, foods or beverages, acid can dissolve enamel’s mineral content and cause erosion and decay. But acid might be a bigger problem for you if you also have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is a digestive condition in which stomach acid backs up into the digestive tract. Normally, a ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus prevents stomach acid from coming up into it. But if it weakens, this powerful acid can splash up into the esophagus and irritate its more delicate lining and result in a burning sensation known as heartburn or acid indigestion.
The problem for teeth, though, is that GERD could cause stomach acid to potentially come up into the mouth. Because of its high acidic pH (2.0 or less), stomach acid can cause major erosion in tooth enamel, leaving them pitted, yellow and sensitive. If not caught and treated early, some of your teeth could be damaged to the point that they have a questionable prognosis.
There are some things you can do to minimize GERD’s effect on your dental health. First and foremost, see a doctor about managing your symptoms, which might include medication. Be sure you also inform your dentist that you have GERD and what medications you’re taking.
One way to lessen the effect of higher acid in the mouth is to stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid. You can do this by drinking plenty of water, taking a saliva booster or chewing xylitol-sweetened gum. You can also rinse with plain water or water mixed with baking soda (1/2 teaspoon to a cup of water), or chew an antacid tablet to help balance your mouth’s pH level.
And don’t forget to look out for your enamel. Be sure you’re practicing daily brushing and flossing and using fluoride hygiene products to strengthen it. Your dentist can also apply topical solutions or prescribe special rinses with higher concentrations of fluoride.
GERD can be an unpleasant experience that escalates into major problems. Don’t let it compromise your dental health.
The amount of sugar your child consumes has a huge bearing on their tooth decay risk: The more they take in, the higher it is for this destructive disease. That's why you should moderate their intake of the usual suspects: sodas, candies and other sugar-laden foods. But you should also put the brakes on something considered wholesome and nutritious: fruit juices. And that includes all natural juice with no sugar added.
Sugar in any form is a prime food source for decay-causing bacteria. As bacteria consume leftover sugar in the mouth, they produce acid as a byproduct. With an ample source of sugar, they also multiply—and this in turn increases their acid production. Acid at these high levels can soften and erode tooth enamel, which leads to tooth decay and cavities.
Limiting or even excluding sugar-added foods and snacks can help minimize your children's risk for tooth decay. For designated snack times, substitute items like carrot sticks or even popcorn with a dash of spice rather than sweet snacks and candies. If you do allow occasional sweet foods, limit those to mealtimes when saliva, which neutralizes acid, is most active in the mouth.
As you manage sugary items your children may eat or drink, the American Academy of Pediatrics also advises you to moderate their consumption of fruit juices, including all-natural brands with no added sugar. Their recommended limits on daily juice drinking depend on a child's age and overall health:
- Infants (less than one year) or any children with abnormal weight gain: no juice at all;
- Toddlers (ages 1-3): 4 ounces or less per day;
- Younger children (4-6): 6 ounces or less per day; and
- Older children (7-18): 8 ounces (1 cup) or less per day.
As for the rest of your children's daily hydration needs, the most dental-friendly liquid for any of us is plain water. For older school-age children, low- or non-fat milk is also a sound choice.
Preventing tooth decay in your children is a continuous task that requires all of us, parents and dental providers, to do our part. Besides daily hygiene (brushing and flossing) and regular dental visits, keeping sugar at bay—including with juices—is an important part of that effort.
COVID-19 containment restrictions could put a kink in many of our vacation plans this summer. With leisure air travel discouraged and popular attractions like Disney closed, this may be the year for a “staycation.” But however your summer plans turn out, be sure you keep up with the essentials—like taking care of your teeth and gums.
Vacations, whether a road trip or a camping getaway in your own backyard, are times to recharge the “mental batteries” by temporarily leaving everyday life behind. But not everything—you still need to take care of life's necessities, including daily dental care. Not to sound like a schoolmarm, but there is no vacation from brushing and flossing.
Actually, it's not that onerous: Just five short minutes a day is all you need to effectively perform these two essential hygiene tasks before you head out for your vacation activities (or non-activities, as the case may be). During those five minutes, though, you'll be removing built-up dental plaque, a bacterial film that's the top cause for tooth decay and gum disease.
You should also keep an eye on your vacation diet. For many people, seasonal getaways often come with an increase in sweet treats like pastries, ice cream or, the perennial campfire favorite, s'mores. But increased sugar may also raise your risk for dental disease. So, limit those sweet treats, consider alternative snacks without sugar, and brush after eating to keep tooth decay or gum disease from getting a foothold.
An equally important measure for maintaining healthy teeth and gums is a regular dental visit at least twice a year. During these visits we'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque or tartar (hardened plaque) and check for any signs of dental disease. Our goal is to keep you in the best oral health for the long haul.
Everyone needs a break from the routine now and then, even if it's a creative alternative to the traditional summer trip. Just be sure you have your dental care covered before your vacation.
If you would like more information about daily and regular dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
If you've been dealing with a tooth that needs to be removed—or it's already missing—you may be looking to replace it with a dental implant. And it's a great choice: No other restoration can provide the appearance and function of a real tooth like an implant.
You and your smile are ready for it. The question is, though, are your gums and underlying bone ready? These dental structures play a critical role in an implant's stability and eventual appearance. A problem with them may make placing an implant difficult if not impossible.
An implant requires around 2.0 millimeters of bone thickness surrounding the implant surface for adequate support and to minimize the chances of gum recession. But tooth loss often leads to bone loss that can drop its thickness below this threshold. This can make placing an implant problematic.
Fortunately, though, we may be able to address the lack of sufficient bone through bone grafting. By placing grafting material within the empty socket, we create a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Over time this subsequent growth may be enough to maintain an adequate thickness of bone for an implant to be placed.
The gums may also pose a problem if they've shrunk back or receded from their normal positions, as often happens because of gum disease (which may also have precipitated the tooth loss). Again, grafting procedures can help ensure there's adequate gum coverage for the implant. And healthier gums may also help protect the underlying bone from loss.
There are several techniques for placing gum tissue grafts, depending on how much recession has taken place. One procedure in particular is often used in conjunction with implant placement. A small layer of synthetic collagen material or gum tissue referred to as pa dermal apron is included with the implant when its placed. Settling into the bone socket, this apron helps thicken the gum tissues, as well as preserve the underlying bone.
During your preliminary exams, we'll assess your bone and gum health to determine if we should take any steps like these to improve them. It may add some time to the implant process, but the end result will be well worth it.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Immediate Dental Implants.”
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