Chronic jaw pain can be an unnerving experience that drains the joy out of life. And because of the difficulty in controlling it patients desperate for relief may tread into less-tested treatment waters.
Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are a group of conditions affecting the joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull and their associated muscles and tendons. The exact causes are difficult to pinpoint, but stress, hormones or teeth grinding habits all seem to be critical factors for TMD.
The most common way to treat TMD is with therapies used for other joint-related problems, like exercise, thermal (hot and cold) applications, physical therapy or medication. Patients can also make diet changes to ease jaw function or, if appropriate, wear a night guard to reduce teeth grinding.
These conservative, non-invasive therapies seem to provide the widest relief for the most people. But this approach may have limited success with some patients, causing them to consider a more radical treatment path like jaw surgery. Unfortunately, surgical results haven't been as impressive as the traditional approach.
In recent years, another treatment candidate has emerged outside of traditional physical therapy, but also not as invasive as surgery: Botox injections. Botox is a drug containing botulinum toxin type A, which can cause muscle paralysis. Mostly used in tiny doses to cosmetically soften wrinkles, Botox injections have been proposed to paralyze certain jaw muscles to ease TMD symptoms.
Although this sounds like a plausible approach, Botox injections have some issues that should give prospective patients pause. First, Botox can only relieve symptoms temporarily, requiring repeated injections with increasingly stronger doses. Injection sites can become painful, bruised or swollen, and patients can suffer headaches. At worst, muscles that are repeatedly paralyzed may atrophy, causing among other things facial deformity.
The most troubling issue, though, is a lack of strong evidence (outside of a few anecdotal accounts) that Botox injections can effectively relieve TMD symptoms. As such, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve its use for TMD treatment.
The treatment route most promising for managing TMD remains traditional physical and drug therapies, coupled with diet and lifestyle changes. It can be a long process of trial and error, but your chances for true jaw pain relief are most likely down this well-attested road.
If you would like more information on treating jaw disorders, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”
Cardiovascular disease and periodontal (gum) disease are two different conditions with their own set of symptoms and outcomes. But they do share one common element: inflammation. In fact, this otherwise normal defensive response of the body might actually create a link between them.
When tissues become damaged from disease or injury, the body triggers inflammation to isolate them from the rest of the body. This allows these tissues to heal without affecting other tissues. If inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can damage rather than protect the body.
This happens with both cardiovascular disease and gum disease. In the former, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) in animal fat leave behind remnants that can build up within arteries. This stimulates inflammation of the vessel’s inner linings, which accelerates hardening and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
With gum disease, bacteria living in a thin, built-up film of food particles on the teeth called plaque infect the gum tissues, which in turn trigger inflammation. A struggle ensures between the infection and inflammation, causing the gum tissues to weaken and detach from the teeth. Coupled with erosion of the supporting bone, the risk of tooth loss dramatically increases.
Recent research now seems to indicate the inflammatory responses from these two diseases may not occur in isolation. There is evidence that gum inflammation could aggravate inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and vice-versa. The research, though, points to some possible good news: treating inflammation in either disease could have a positive effect on the other.
Making heart-friendly lifestyle changes like losing extra weight (especially around the waist), improving nutrition, and exercising regularly can help reduce LDL and lower the risk of arterial inflammation. Likewise for your gums, daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist at least twice a year reduces the risk for gum disease. And at the first sign of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—seeking immediate treatment will stop it and reduce any occurring inflammation.
Taking steps to prevent or reduce inflammation brought on by both of these diseases could improve your health and save your life.
If you would like more information on how your oral health affects your whole body, 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 “The Link between Heart & Gum Disease.”
Ask people about the “Great American Smoke-Out,” and many could tell you about this annual promotion encouraging tobacco smokers to quit. Ask them about “The Great American Spit-Out,” though, and they may look puzzled. That’s because most of society’s attention is on quitting smoking; but the truth is smoking isn’t the only tobacco habit that needs to be kicked.
Whether chewing tobacco or the more finely ground snuff, smokeless tobacco is a popular habit especially among young athletes. It doesn’t receive the attention of smoking tobacco because it’s perceived as less dangerous. The truth is, though, it’s just as hazardous — especially to your oral health.
While any form of tobacco is considered a carcinogen, smokeless tobacco in particular has been linked to oral cancer. This is especially dangerous not only because oral cancer can lead to physical disfigurement and other negative outcomes, but it also has a dismal 58% survival rate five years from diagnosis.
And because it too contains highly addictive nicotine, smokeless tobacco can be just as difficult to quit as smoking. Fortunately, the same techniques for smoking cessation can work with chewing habits. Nicotine replacements like nicotine gum, lozenges and patches, as well as Zyban, a cessation medication, have all been shown helpful with quitting smokeless tobacco.
Often, however, it takes a change in perception — taking chewing tobacco down from its pedestal of “coolness” and seeing it for what it is: a dangerous habit that increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and even decreased sexual arousal and function. And although not life-threatening, it can also give you bad breath, dry mouth and an assortment of dental problems that incur financial and social costs. Teeth and gums in that environment aren’t so cool.
The first step is to consider the consequences of continuing the chewing or dipping habit and making the decision to quit. You may also benefit from the help of others: counselors experienced with tobacco cessation programs or a support group of others trying to quit. Following through aggressively will help ensure smokeless tobacco won’t lead to the loss of your teeth, health or life.
If you would like more information on quitting smokeless tobacco, 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 “Quitting Chewing Tobacco.”
Poor bites, also known as “malocclusions,” can have a dramatic impact on mouth function and appearance. Moving teeth to better positions will solve most of these bite problems — but not all.
A case in point is a malformed maxilla, the skeletal structure formed by the union of the upper jaw and the roof of the mouth (the palate). If the rear portion of the maxilla develops too narrowly, the back teeth will bite abnormally inside the lower teeth while the front teeth bite normally, creating what’s known as a crossbite. People with this kind of malocclusion often shift their lower jaw to one side to bite down completely.
This can be corrected without too much intervention if the problem is diagnosed while the person is young. This is because the maxilla is actually formed from two bones that don’t completely fuse together in the center of the palate until just after puberty. An orthodontic appliance known as a palatal expander takes advantage of this slight gap. The metal appliance is placed along the narrowed portion of the palate in the rear of the mouth: four metal “arms,” two on each side, attach to the inside of the back teeth with a tension device between them that extends the arms outward to put pressure against the teeth.
Every day the patient or a parent uses a special key to turn the tension device and cause it to expand slightly, placing additional outward pressure on the jaw. This will widen the gap in the center of the palate and new bone will grow to fill in the increased space. Over time this will cause the rear portion of maxilla to widen.
While effective, a palatal expander may not work in every case, and it must be done before the two bones fuse permanently. When it can be used, though, it’s a proven treatment that can restore proper bite function, as well as improve your child’s smile.
If you would like more information on palatal expanders to correct certain bite problems, 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 “Palatal Expanders.”
You’ve invested a lot of time and money in orthodontic treatment to improve your smile. If you’re not careful, though, your teeth could actually move back to their old positions. The reason why is related to the same natural tooth-moving mechanism we use to straighten teeth in the first place.
Teeth are held in place by an elastic, fibrous tissue called the periodontal ligament lying between the teeth and the jawbone and attaching to both with tiny collagen fibers. The periodontal ligament allows for incremental tooth movement in response to pressure generated around the teeth, as when we chew (or while wearing braces).
Unfortunately, this process can work in reverse. Out of a kind of “muscle memory,” the teeth can revert to the older positions once there’s no more pressure from the removed braces. You could eventually be right back where you started.
To avoid this, we have to employ measures to hold or “retain” the teeth in their new positions for some time after the braces come off. That’s why we have you wear a dental appliance called a retainer, which maintains tooth position to prevent a relapse. Depending on what’s best for your situation, this could be a removable retainer or one that’s fixed to the teeth.
Patients typically wear a retainer around the clock in the immediate period after braces, and then eventually taper off to just nighttime wear. Younger patients must wear one for several months until the new teeth positions become more secure and the chances of a rebound diminish. For older patients who’ve matured past the jaw development stage, though, wearing a retainer may be a permanent necessity to protect their smile.
Retainer wear can be an annoyance, but it’s an absolute necessity. Think of it as insurance on your investment in a new, more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on improving your smile through orthodontics, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
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