Have you noticed a clicking, popping, or grating sound when you open or close your jaw? As many as 36 million U.S. adults experience this phenomenon in one or both of the joints that connect the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull.
While the sounds may be disconcerting, there’s generally no cause for concern in the absence of other symptoms. They’re most likely caused by a harmless shift in the position of the disk inside each temporomandibular (jaw) joint, and it can diminish or disappear entirely over time. But, if you’re also experiencing persistent discomfort, severe pain, or limited function in your jaw (which can include getting it “stuck” in an opened or closed position), then you may be suffering from a temporomandibular joint disorder — part of a complex set of conditions affecting one or both jaw joints, muscles and/or other surrounding tissues. (You may have heard the condition called TMJ, which is actually the abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint itself. Health care professionals prefer TMJD or TMD.)
Depending on the severity, TMD can interfere with your ability to speak, chew and even make facial expressions. The cause is unclear, but genes, gender, environment, stress and behavior are believed to play a role. It can also be symptomatic of a larger medical problem, such as fibromyalgia, which can produce pain all over the body.
Management Options for TMD
TMD traditionally was viewed as a bite problem (malocclusion) requiring mechanical correction — e.g., through orthodontic braces or surgery. But the current therapeutic model approaches TMD as an orthopedic problem (joint inflammation, muscle soreness, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk damage) and favors a sequence of conservative, reversible procedures — hot or cold compresses in the jaw area, soft foods, physical therapy/massage, medication, and/or a bite guard to decrease pressure on jaw joints from tooth clenching and grinding — prior to more aggressive, irreversible treatment alternatives.
If you would like more information about TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Seeking Relief from TMD” and “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Good nutrition is vital for maintaining health and preventing disease, especially for your mouth. A diet rich in whole foods — fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy products — and low in sugar will not only promote strong teeth and gums, but lessen your chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Diet is also a prominent factor in reducing the risk for another serious mouth disease — oral cancer. While oral cancer makes up only 3% of total cancer cases reported annually, the five-year survival rate is a sobering 50%, much lower than for other types of common cancers. While genetics plays a role in your susceptibility to oral cancer, lifestyle choices and practices present the greater risk factors for the disease.
Of these lifestyle factors, refraining from tobacco products, moderating your alcohol consumption and avoiding risky sexual behavior are of primary importance in reducing your cancer risk. With that said, you should also take into account the foods that are part of your daily diet — both what you should and shouldn’t eat. As an example of the latter, some foods contain a class of chemicals known as nitrosamines that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). One such chemical, nitrite, is used as a preservative in meats like bacon or ham, and may also be found in beer, and seafood products.
On the positive side, your diet should be rich in foods that supply antioxidants, substances that protect the body’s cells from damaging, unstable molecules known as free radicals. The best sources for antioxidants (more so than dietary supplements) are plant foods rich in fiber and vitamins C and E. Eating more of these may also reduce your intake of nitrates, animal fat and saturated fat.
Adopting a moderate, nutritious diet, along with exercise, can have a huge positive impact on your general health and quality of life. Along with other lifestyle changes, better dietary choices can also help ensure a healthy mouth and reduce your risk of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on the role of nutrition in reducing your risk of oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
There are several reasons why dental implants are so popular. Perhaps the most important, though, is their longevity: if maintained properly implants can last for decades. However, they’re not indestructible—certain mouth conditions could put them at risk for early failure. But if you address emerging problems early, you may be able to prevent that unfortunate outcome.
Your implants may be in danger, for example, if you have a teeth grinding or clenching habit. This occurs when a person involuntarily and repeatedly bites down on their teeth when not chewing or speaking. Usually triggered in adults by high stress, teeth grinding can subject both natural teeth and implants to damaging levels of force. Over time this can cause bone loss around an implant and weaken their support. It could also cause a direct break in an implant.
But there are ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of teeth grinding. One effective way is a custom-made bite guard you wear while you sleep. Made of hard plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other, reducing the amount of force generated.
A more prominent problem is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by built-up dental plaque on tooth surfaces. This can trigger inflammation, a normal defensive response that when it persists for an extended period of time can damage tissues and supporting bone. It can also cause a specific form of gum disease related to implants called peri-implantitis, in which the tissues that support an implant become infected and weaken, leading eventually to possible implant failure.
If you have implants, then, you should brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease, as well as see your dentist at least every six months for cleanings and checkups. And if you notice anything like reddened, swollen or bleeding gums, see your dentist immediately. The sooner you undergo treatment, the better the outcome for your implants as well as your overall health.
Dental implants can give you years of great service and can prove to be well worth the cost. But you’ll have to stay on your guard against gum disease and other mouth conditions that could endanger them down the road.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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: A Tooth-Replacement Method that Rarely Fails.”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
We often don't realize how important something is until it's gone. Like saliva: you're usually not aware that it's cleaning the mouth, neutralizing mouth acid or helping with digestion. But that could change if your saliva flow drops below normal: your health may soon suffer with your mouth taking the brunt.
In particular, reduced saliva flow increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Both diseases are linked to oral bacteria. While many of the myriad strains in the mouth are beneficial, a few bacteria can infect and inflame gum tissues. Bacteria also produce acid, which can soften and erode enamel and make the teeth more susceptible to decay.
Saliva inhibits bacteria in a number of ways. It first clears the mouth of leftover food so not as much stays behind to form bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. You still need to brush and floss daily to remove plaque, but it's less effective without saliva's cleansing action. Saliva also contains antibodies that destroy disease-causing bacteria and other organisms, which keeps their populations in the mouth low.
One of saliva's most important functions, though, is buffering acid. The mouth's ideal pH level is neutral, but many foods we eat can cause it to become more acidic.Â Even a slight acidic rise after eating can soften the minerals in enamel. But saliva goes to work immediately and usually restores normal pH within a half hour to an hour. It also aids in re-mineralizing the enamel.
For these reasons, it's important for you to find out the cause of chronic dry mouth and treat it. If it's a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor about an alternative, or drink more water before and after you take your dose. Certain products can also stimulate saliva flow, like chewing gum with xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener that has dental health-protecting properties too.
Although you often don't notice this unsung bodily fluid swishing in your mouth, it's important that you take care of it. Keeping your saliva flowing will help ensure better oral health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.