A scoop of ice cream is one of life's little pleasures. But for one in three Americans, it could be something altogether different—an excruciating pain when cold ice cream meets teeth. This short but painful experience that can happen when dental nerves encounter hot or cold temperatures is called tooth sensitivity.
A look at tooth anatomy will help explain why. Teeth are mainly composed of outer enamel, a layer of nerves and blood vessels within the tooth called the pulp, and dentin, a porous layer in between. The pulp nerves pick up temperature and pressure sensations from outside the teeth through a network of tiny passageways (tubules) in the dentin. Enamel muffles these sensations before traveling the tubules, which prevents overstimulation of the nerves.
This careful balance can be disrupted, however, if the enamel becomes eroded by acid from foods or beverages, or as a byproduct of bacteria. This exposes the underlying dentin to the full brunt of outward sensations, which can then impact the nerves and cause them to overreact.
This hyper-sensitivity can also occur around the tooth roots, but for a different reason. Because the gums primarily protect this area rather than enamel, the roots can become hyper-sensitive if they lose gum coverage, a condition known as gum recession caused mainly by gum disease or over-aggressive hygiene.
Besides using dental products that block nerve sensation, reducing sensitivity largely depends on addressing the underlying cause. If gum disease, the focus is on removing plaque, a bacterial film on dental surfaces that causes and sustains the disease. Stopping an infection allows the gums to heal and hopefully regain their original teeth coverage. More advanced cases, though, may require grafting surgery to foster gum regeneration.
If the cause is enamel erosion or other results of decay or trauma, we can utilize a number of treatments depending on the extent of tooth damage including cavity filling, root canal therapy or crowning. As a last resort, we may need to remove a tooth that's beyond reasonable repair.
If you've begun to experience sensitive teeth, it's important that you see us as soon as possible. The earlier we can diagnose the cause, the less invasive we can be with treatments to ease or even stop this most unpleasant experience.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
Dorit Kemsley isn't shy. Best known to fans as an outspoken and sometimes outrageous cast member of the reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kemsley is never reticent about “mixing it up” with fellow castmates or their significant others. Recently, though, she confessed to something that left her less than confident: her smile.
Kemsley has been self-conscious about her smile because her teeth looked noticeably short, worn down from an unconscious habit of grinding her teeth. Although teeth grinding is more common among children (who normally grow out of it by adolescence), it can persist into adulthood, usually from difficulties managing high stress (a likely component in the fashion designer/reality show star's busy life).
Stress-induced teeth grinding can occur during waking hours or, more likely, during deep sleep. The accumulating, long-term effects from the habit can lead not only to worn teeth but to weakened gum support, a high risk of tooth fracture or jaw pain and dysfunction.
So, how do you know if you grind your teeth, especially if it's only happening at night? Typical signs include sore jaws after awaking from sleep, increased tooth pain or sensitivity or, like Kemsley, a noticeable difference in your tooth length. Your family or sleeping partner may also complain about the “skin-crawling” noise you make during the night.
There are ways to lessen the effects of teeth grinding. The first step is to have us verify the underlying cause for the habit. If it's tension from stress, then you might reduce the habit's occurrences by learning better stress management or relaxation techniques through individual counseling, group support or biofeedback therapy. We can also fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night or through the day that reduces the force generated during teeth grinding.
And if you've already experienced accelerated tooth wear like Kemsley with a resultant “small teeth” smile, you might pursue the same solution as the RHOBH star: dental veneers. These thin, life-like wafers of porcelain are custom-made to mask imperfections like chips, staining, slight tooth gaps and, yes, worn teeth.
Veneers are often less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic techniques, yet they can have a transformative effect, as Kemsley's Instagram followers have seen. In conjunction with other dental treatments needed to repair any underlying damage caused by a grinding habit, veneers are an effective fix for the smile you present to the world.
If you suspect you may have a grinding habit, see us for a complete examination. From there, we'll help you protect your teeth and your smile.
X-rays are so interwoven into dental care that we often don't think twice about them. Even so, we shouldn't take this invisible form of radiation lightly—regular exposure at high levels can affect the human body, especially in children.
The ability of x-rays to pass through tissue greatly improves our ability to diagnose tooth decay and other dental diseases. But x-rays can also potentially harm those same tissues. Because children are more sensitive to x-ray energy, they run a greater risk for cellular damage that could lead to cancer later in life.
In reality, though, these potential risks from x-rays are extremely low—so low, in fact, dental professionals regard their use as altogether safe for children. Here's why.
The ALARA principle. Dentists and other healthcare providers perform x-ray diagnostics based on a principle known as ALARA (“As low as reasonably achievable”). This means dentists only utilize x-rays to gain the most diagnostic benefit at the lowest amounts of radiation exposure. As such, ALARA guides both the development of x-ray equipment and the protocols involved in using them.
Equipment advances. Today's x-ray devices are safer and more efficient, restricting x-ray emissions to a single beam without scattering radiation into the environment. A child's radiation exposure is further lowered with the use of digital x-rays, which produce images in less time than conventional film. Because of these and other advances, children are exposed to less radiation during x-rays than what they typically receive in a day from the outside environment.
Safe practices. Following the ALARA principle, dentists are quite conservative in their use of x-rays in children. The most common means of x-ray is the bitewing, which captures images primarily of the back teeth that are more prone to decay. Bitewings, which require a lower x-ray dosage than a full mouth x-ray, are usually spaced at least six months apart or longer depending on a child's risk for dental disease.
The efficiency of modern radiographic equipment coupled with their judicious use has drastically reduced the amount of x-ray radiation to which a child may be exposed, thus lowering their risk of future health issues. The benefit for saving a child's teeth from disease is well worth their use.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Dentists remove millions of teeth each year, often because of tooth decay or gum disease. But disease isn't the only reason—a tooth extraction might make it easier to straighten a crooked smile.
Realigning teeth for therapeutic or cosmetic reasons is a regular undertaking in dentistry, but the process itself often differs from person to person. Each individual patient requires their own treatment plan taking into account factors like the kind of bite problem involved, the size of the jaw and the space available to move teeth.
This plan could indeed involve removing teeth. For example, an abnormally small jaw could cause crowding. Not only can crowding move teeth out of position, it may also leave little to no room for moving teeth. Although dentists can minimize crowding by influencing jaw development in early childhood, removing teeth for more space is usually the only option available to older adolescents and adults.
Similarly, teeth can fail to erupt properly and remain partially or fully submerged beneath the gums (known as impaction). There is an orthodontic method for pulling an impacted tooth fully onto the jaw, but only if the tooth isn't too far out of alignment. Otherwise, it may be better to remove the impacted tooth and then correct any gaps with braces or a dental implant.
There's also a situation on the opposite side of the spectrum that could benefit from teeth removal—when one or more permanent teeth fail to form, known as congenitally missing teeth. This can cause gaps in the smile or a “lopsided” appearance where a tooth on one side of the jaw is present while its counterpart on the opposite side of the jaw is missing.
The missing tooth can be replaced by an implant, bridge or other restoration. But another option may be to remove the existing counterpart tooth, and then close the gaps. This can result in a much more attractive smile that might be simpler and less costly than replacing the missing tooth.
Again, the decision to remove teeth to improve smile appearance depends on the patient and their particular dental condition. But in the right situation, it could make straightening a smile easier and more effective.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, 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 “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
There are great health benefits to eating better, including for your teeth and gums. But to determine your ideal diet, you'll have to come to terms with carbohydrates, the sugars, fiber and starches found in plants or dairy products that convert to glucose after digestion.
Carbohydrates (also known as carbs) are important because the glucose created from them supplies energy and regulates metabolism in the body's cells. But they can also create elevated spikes of glucose in the bloodstream that can cause chronic inflammation. Besides conditions like diabetes or heart disease, chronic inflammation also increases your risk of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from dental plaque.
Many concerned about this effect choose either to severely restrict carbs in their diet or cut them out altogether. But these hardline approaches deprive you of the benefits of carbs in maintaining good health. There's a better way—and it starts with understanding that not all carbs are the same. And, one difference in particular can help you properly manage them in your diet.
Here's the key: Different carbs convert to glucose at different digestive rates of speed measured on a scale known as the glycemic index. Carbs that digest faster (and are more apt to cause glucose spikes in the bloodstream) are known as high glycemic. Those which are slower are known as low glycemic.
Your basic strategy then to avoid blood glucose spikes is to eat more low glycemic foods and less high glycemic. Foods low on the glycemic index contain complex, unrefined carbohydrates like most vegetables, greens, legumes, nuts or whole grains. High glycemic foods tend to be processed or refined with added sugar like pastries, white rice, or mashed potatoes.
Low glycemic foods also tend to have higher amounts of minerals and nutrients necessary for healthy mouths and bodies. And fresh vegetables in particular often contain high amounts of fiber, which slows down the digestion of the accompanying carbohydrates.
Eating mainly low glycemic foods can provide you the right kinds of carbs needed to keep your body healthy while avoiding glucose spikes that lead to inflammation. You're also much less likely to experience gum disease and maintain a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on nutrition and dental health, 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
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