Posts for: September, 2016
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Chronic jaw pain can make eating, speaking or even smiling difficult. What's more, finding the right treatment approach can be just as difficult.
This is because TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder: named for the joints on either side of the lower jaw) actually describes a wide range of possible problems with the joints and connecting muscles. Any of them can result in impaired jaw function, radiating pain or even headaches.
We'll need to conduct a full dental and facial exam to accurately diagnose your jaw pain's cause. Even then, the way may still not be clear: there's considerable debate among dentists about the best treatment approach. Two basic schools of thought prevail, one conservative and non-invasive and the other more aggressive and interventional.
The conservative approach seeks to alleviate symptoms in a variety of ways, including recommending softer foods to give muscles and joints time to relax, applying cold and heat to ease soreness, massage of the jaw joint muscles, gentle stretching and jaw exercises. We may also prescribe medications like ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and swelling relief, and sometimes muscle relaxers to reduce spasms. If your pain stems from clenching or grinding habits, we could fit you with a custom bite guard you wear while you sleep to reduce the forces on your teeth.
The more aggressive approach is much more invasive. These methods include altering the bite or teeth position with orthodontics or dental work or surgically altering the joints themselves or the shape of the jaw. If you're recommended one of these more aggressive treatments, you should know they're not commonly used to treat TMD and they're irreversible. There's also no guarantee you'll gain relief from your symptoms, so by all means get a second opinion before undergoing any procedures.
For most people the best course of treatment is to start with the least invasive techniques, which are usually very successful. If they don't relieve your pain and limited function, we may then consider escalating treatment to more irreversible procedures to help you find relief from this unwelcome condition.
If you would like more information on jaw joint pain and how to treat it, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”