When you floss (you do floss, right?), you probably notice a sticky, yellowish substance called plaque stuck to the thread. This thin film of tiny food particles and bacteria is the reason you floss and brush in the first place: Because it's the main trigger for tooth decay and gum disease, removing it decreases your risk for disease.
But this isn't the only form of plaque you should be concerned about. That same sticky substance can also interact with your saliva and harden into what's commonly known as tartar. Dentists, however, have a different term: They refer to these calcified deposits as calculus. And it's just as much a source of disease as its softer counterpart.
You might have noticed that this form of plaque has the same name as an advanced type of mathematics. Although dental calculus has little in common with algebra's cousin, both terms trace their origins back to the same linguistic source. The word “calculus” in Latin means “small stone;” it became associated with math because stone pebbles were once used by merchants long ago to calculate sales and trades.
The term became associated with the substance on your teeth because the hardened plaque deposits resemble tiny stones or minerals—and they can be “as hard as a rock” to remove. In fact, because they adhere so firmly it's virtually impossible to remove calculus deposits with brushing or flossing alone. To effectively eliminate calculus from tooth surfaces (including under the gum line) requires the skills and special dental tools of dentists or dental hygienists.
That's why we recommend a minimum of two dental cleanings a year to remove any calculus buildup, as well as any pre-calcified plaque you might have missed with daily hygiene. Reducing both plaque and calculus on your teeth fully minimizes your risk of dental disease. What's more, removing the yellowish substance may also brighten your smile.
That's not to say daily brushing and flossing aren't important. By removing the bulk of plaque buildup, you reduce the amount that eventually becomes calculus. In other words, it takes both a daily oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits to keep your teeth healthy and beautiful.
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.”
Even in the 21st Century, losing most or all of your teeth is still an unfortunate possibility. Many in this circumstance turn to dentures, as their great-grandparents did, to restore their teeth. But today's dentures are much different from those of past generations—and dental implants are a big reason why.
The basic denture is made of a gum-colored, acrylic base with artificial teeth attached. The base is precisely made to fit snugly and comfortably on the patient's individual gum and jaw structure, as the bony ridges of the gums provide the overall support for the denture.
Implants improve on this through two possible approaches. A removable denture can be fitted with a metal frame that firmly connects with implants embedded in the jaw. Alternatively, a denture can be permanently attached to implants with screws. Each way has its pros and cons, but both have two decided advantages over traditional dentures.
First, because implants rather than the gums provide their main support, implant-denture hybrids are often more secure and comfortable than traditional dentures. As a result, patients may enjoy greater confidence while eating or speaking wearing an implant-based denture.
They may also improve bone health rather than diminish it like standard dentures. This is because the forces generated when chewing and eating travel from the teeth to the jawbone and stimulate new bone cell growth to replace older cells. We lose this stimulation when we lose teeth, leading to slower bone cell replacement and eventually less overall bone volume.
Traditional dentures not only don't restore this stimulation, they can also accelerate bone loss as they rub against the bony ridges of the gums. Implants, on the other hand, can help slow or stop bone loss. The titanium in the imbedded post attracts bone cells, which then grow and adhere to the implant surface. Over time, this can increase the amount of bone attachment and help stymie any further loss.
An implant-supported denture is more expensive than a standard denture, but far less than replacing each individual tooth with an implant. If you want the affordability of dentures with the added benefits of implants, this option may be worth your consideration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence is a highly paid actress, Oscar winner, successful producer and…merry prankster. She's the latter, at least with co-star Liam Hemsworth: It seems Lawrence deliberately ate tuna fish, garlic or other malodorous foods right before their kissing scenes while filming The Hunger Games.
It was all in good fun, of course—and her punked co-star seemed to take it in good humor. In most situations, though, our mouth breath isn't something we take lightly. It can definitely be an unpleasant experience being on the receiving end of halitosis (bad breath). And when we're worried about our own breath, it can cause us to be timid and self-conscious around others.
So, here's what you can do if you're concerned about bad breath (unless you're trying to prank your co-star!).
Brush and floss daily. Bad breath often stems from leftover food particles that form a film on teeth called dental plaque. Add in bacteria, which thrive in plaque, and you have the makings for smelly breath. Thorough brushing and flossing can clear away plaque and the potential breath smell. You should also clean your dentures daily if you wear them to avoid similar breath issues.
Scrape your tongue. Some people can build up a bacterial coating on the back surface of the tongue. This coating may then emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give breath that distinct rotten egg smell. You can remove this coating by brushing the tongue surface with your toothbrush or using a tongue scraper (we can show you how).
See your dentist. Some cases of chronic bad breath could be related to oral problems like tooth decay, gum disease or broken dental work. Treating these could help curb your bad breath, as can removing the third molars (wisdom teeth) that are prone to trapped food debris. It's also possible for bad breath to be a symptom of a systemic condition like diabetes that may require medical treatment.
Quit smoking. Tobacco can leave your breath smelly all on its own. But a smoking habit could also dry your mouth, creating the optimum conditions for bacteria to multiply. Besides increasing your disease risk, this can also contribute to chronic bad breath. Better breath is just one of the many benefits of quitting the habit.
We didn't mention mouthrinses, mints or other popular ways to freshen breath. While these can help out in a pinch, they may cover up the real causes of halitosis. Following the above suggestions, especially dental visits to uncover and treat dental problems, could solve your breath problem for good.
If you would like more information about ways to treat bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
Looking in the mirror, you probably focus on your teeth and gums—i.e., your smile. Your dentist, though, will take the time to look deeper into your mouth, searching for anything out of the ordinary. That could be a type of mouth sore known as lichen planus.
Lichen planus are lesions that can appear on skin or mucus membranes, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their resemblance to lichens, a fungus found on trees or rocks (although the sore itself isn't fungi). As such, they often have a lacy pattern of lines emanating from purplish bumps.
Again, the first indication you have such a condition may come from your dentist. Sometimes, though, you may notice greater sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods and, if the gums are affected, irritation when you eat or brush.
If you find out you have lichen planus, don't be alarmed—it usually doesn't pose harm to your health and it's not contagious. Its appearance, though, could be mimicked by more harmful medical conditions, so your dentist will want to confirm the lesion observed is truly lichen planus.
It's routine, then, for your dentist to excise a small sample of the sore's tissue and send it to a pathology lab for biopsy. Although results will more than likely confirm lichen planus or some other benign lesion, it's better to err on the side of caution and ensure you're not dealing with something more serious.
If you are diagnosed with lichen planus, you may need to take steps to manage symptoms. In most people, the sore will go away on its own, although there's no guarantee it won't reappear sometime later. In the event it lingers, your dentist may prescribe a topical steroid to help ease any discomfort.
You can also minimize a future outbreak by practicing effective daily oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial populations that may contribute to the condition. And when you're symptomatic, try avoiding spicy or acidic foods like citrus, peppers or caffeinated beverages.
Lichen planus is more bothersome than harmful. Taking the above steps can help you avoid it or deal with it more effectively when it occurs.
If you would like more information on lichen planus, 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 “Lichen Planus: Mouth Lesions That are Usually benign.”
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