A toothache means a tooth has a problem, right? Most of the time, yes: the pain comes from a decayed or fractured tooth, or possibly a gum infection causing tooth sensitivity.
Sometimes, though, the pain doesn't originate with your teeth and gums. They're fine and healthy—it's something outside of your tooth causing the pain. We call this referred pain—one part of your body is sending or referring pain to another part, in this instance around your mouth.
There are various conditions that can create referred pain in the mouth, and various ways to treat them. That's why you should first find out the cause, which will indicate what treatment course to take.
Here are a few common non-dental causes for tooth pain.
Trigeminal Neuralgia. The trigeminal nerves situated on either side of the face have three large branches that extend throughout the face; the branch to the jaw allows you to feel sensation as you chew. When one of the nerve branches becomes inflamed, usually from a blood vessel or muscle spasm pressing on it, it can refer the pain to the jaw and seem like a toothache.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). These two joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull can sometimes become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons. This can set up a cycle of spasms and pain that can radiate throughout the jaw and its associated muscles. The pain can mimic a toothache, when it actually originates in the jaw joints.
Teeth Grinding. This is an unconscious habit, often occurring at night, in which people clench or grind their teeth together. Although quite common in children who tend to grow out of it, teeth grinding can continue into adulthood. The abnormally high biting forces from this habit can cause chipped, broken or loosened teeth. But it can also cause jaw pain, headaches and tenderness in the mouth that might feel like a toothache.
These and other conditions unrelated to dental disease can seem like a tooth problem, when they're actually something else. By understanding exactly why you're feeling pain, we can then focus on the true problem to bring relief to your life.
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
If your child has a toothache, there’s good news — and not so good news. The good news is the pain rarely indicates an emergency. On the downside, though, it may definitely be something that needs our attention.
Here, then, are 4 things you should do as a parent when your child tells you their tooth hurts.
Try to find out exactly where the pain is and how long it has hurt. Ask your child which tooth or part of the mouth hurts. You should also find out, as best you can, when the pain started and if it’s constant or intermittent. Anything you learn will be useful information if you bring them to the office for an examination. And, any tooth pain that keeps your child up at night or lasts more than a day should be examined.
Look for signs of recent injury. Your child may have suffered a blow to the mouth that has damaged the teeth and gums. Besides asking if they remember getting hurt in the mouth, be sure to look for chipped teeth, cracks or other signs of trauma. Even if there aren’t any outward signs of injury, the tooth’s interior pulp may have been damaged and should be checked out.
Look for signs of dental disease. Take a close look at the tooth your child’s complaining about: do you see brown spots or obvious cavities? You should also look for swollen gums or sores on the inside of the mouth. If there’s been no apparent injury, these could be signs of infection related to tooth decay.
Try to relieve pain symptoms. If you don’t see anything unusual, there may be a piece of candy or other hard food debris between the teeth causing the pain — gently floss around the tooth to dislodge it. If the pain persists give appropriate doses of ibuprofen or acetaminophen (not aspirin). If there’s swelling, you can also apply an icepack on the outside of the jaw. In any case, you should definitely schedule a visit with us for an examination.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “A Child’s Toothache.”
Accidents happen, especially to teenagers involved with sports or similar activities. In an instant they can lose one or more teeth and permanently alter their smile.
Fortunately we can restore a teenager’s lost teeth, but often not immediately as a permanent restoration with a dental implant requires maturity of their jaw structure. Our focus then turns to the age of the patient and the condition of the underlying bone. A future dental implant, your best choice for tooth replacement, depends on bone for support, but also the age of the patient as it relates to jaw development.
There are a couple of ways an accidental tooth loss can harm supporting bone: first and foremost, the impact of the accident itself can damage the bony socket. To find out for sure we may need to perform a cone beam scan, a type of x-ray that allows us to view the area three-dimensionally. If we do find damage, we can attempt to repair the socket through bone grafting.
Bone can also suffer from the long-term absence of a tooth. Bone has a growth cycle in which older cells dissolve and new ones form to take their place. The force generated by teeth when we eat or chew helps stimulate this growth. Without stimulation, as with a missing tooth, the bone may not grow at a healthy rate. In time, it could lose some of its volume and density and not be able to support an implant.
Installing an implant right after tooth loss could help avoid this situation. Bone has a natural affinity with the titanium post imbedded in the jaw and will naturally grow and adhere to it. But we can’t place an implant with a teenager. This is because the jaw is still developing so an implant would gradually become misaligned as the jaw grows. It’s best to install an implant later after full jaw development in early adulthood.
Today, we can place a bone graft in the empty socket right after tooth loss. The graft serves as a scaffold for bone cells to grow on and will help keep the bone volume at a healthy level until we can install an implant.
Timing is everything in restoring a teenager’s accidental tooth loss. But with coordination and care for the supporting bone, a teenager can eventually enter their adult years with their smile intact.
If you would like more information on restoring your teenager’s smile after tooth 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 “Dental Implants for Teenagers.”
With a 95%-plus success rate, dental implants are an effective and durable replacement for lost teeth. But we can't place them and forget them: if you don't clean and maintain them they could fail as a result of disease.
The inorganic materials that make up the implant aren't in danger of infection. But the living gums and bone that surround and support the implant are at risk. In fact, there's a particular periodontal (gum) disease involving implants called peri-implantitis (“peri” – around; implant “itis” – inflammation).
Peri-implantitis begins when the gum tissues around the implant become infected and inflamed. This happens most commonly because plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, builds up on implant surfaces. Another less frequent cause is a buildup of excess cement used to bond the crown to the implant. We need to remove the built-up plaque or the excess cement during your dental visit.
If the infection isn't treated or you don't keep up effective, daily hygiene practices, the infection can grow and extend deeper into the tissues and finally the bone. This can destroy the all-important integration of bone and metal titanium post that has created the implant's strong hold. When that support becomes compromised the implant can lose its attachment and, if untreated, eventually fail.
It's important to keep an eye out for any indications you may have a gum infection around an implant. Look for redness, swelling, bleeding or pus formation. If the implant feels loose, this may mean that extensive bone loss has already occurred. If you encounter any of these signs, see us immediately for an examination.
The best approach, though, is to prevent peri-implantitis in the first place. So, brush and floss daily around your implant as you do your natural teeth. And be sure you keep up regular dental cleanings and checkups.
With proper care and maintenance you can avoid problems with disease that could affect your implant. Healthy gums and bone will ensure your implant will last for many decades to come.
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