Nothing grabs your attention like a sharp tooth pain, seemingly hitting you out of nowhere while you’re eating or drinking. But there is a reason for your sudden agony and the sooner you find it out, the better the outcome for your oral health.
To understand tooth sensitivity, we need to first look at the three layers of tooth anatomy. In the center is the pulp filled with blood vessels and nerve bundles: it’s completely covered by the next layer dentin, a soft tissue filled with microscopic tubules that transmit sensations like pressure or temperature to the pulp nerves.
The third layer is enamel, which completely covers the crown, the visible part of a tooth. Enamel protects the two innermost tooth layers from disease and also helps muffle sensations so the tooth’s nerves aren’t overwhelmed. The enamel stops at about the gum line; below it the gums provide similar protection and sensation shielding to the dentin of the tooth roots.
Problems occur, though, when the dentin below the gums becomes exposed, most commonly because of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection caused by dental plaque triggers inflammation, which over time can weaken gum tissues and cause them to detach and shrink back (or recede) from the teeth. This can leave the root area vulnerable to disease and the full brunt of environmental sensations that then travel to the nerves in the pulp.
Tooth decay can also create conditions that cause sensitivity. Decay begins when certain oral bacteria multiply and produce higher than normal levels of acid. The acid in turn dissolves the enamel’s mineral content to create holes (cavities) that expose the dentin. Not treated, the infection can eventually invade the pulp, putting the tooth in danger of being lost unless a root canal treatment is performed to remove the infection and seal the tooth from further infection.
So, if you begin experiencing a jolt of pain while eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, see your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. And protect your teeth from dental disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing, as well as seeing your dentist for regular dental cleanings and checkups. Don’t ignore those sharp pains—your teeth may be trying to tell you something.
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.”
Although energy and sports drinks have different purposes, they have one thing in common: they often contain added citric and other acids to improve taste and prolong shelf life. Their high acid content can harm tooth enamel.
Although enamel is the strongest substance in the body, acid can dissolve its mineral content. And although saliva neutralizes acid after eating or drinking and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel, it may not be able to keep up if the mouth remains acidic for a prolonged period of time.
That could happen with both beverage types. While energy drinks have higher acid levels than sports drinks, both are high compared with other beverages.
A recent laboratory experiment studied the two beverages’ effect on tooth enamel. The researchers submerged samples of enamel in six different beverage brands (three from each category) for fifteen minutes, and then in artificial saliva for two hours to simulate mouth conditions. They repeated this cycle four times a day for five days.
At the end of the experiment the enamel in the energy drinks lost on average 3.1 % of their structure, while the sports drink samples lost 1.5%. Although energy drinks appeared more destructive, the acid in both beverages caused enamel damage. Although there are other factors to consider in real life, the experiment results do raise concerns about both beverages’ effect on dental health.
You can, however, minimize the potential harm to your enamel from energy or sports drinks. First, try other beverage choices lower in acid; water, for example, is a natural hydrator and neutral in pH. Try to only drink energy or sports beverages at mealtimes when your saliva is most active. And after drinking, rinse your mouth out with water to dilute any remaining acid.
And although it sounds counterintuitive, wait about an hour to brush your teeth after drinking one of these beverages. Your enamel can be in a softened state before saliva can re-mineralize it, so brushing earlier could remove tiny amounts of enamel minerals.
Taking these steps with energy or sports beverages could help you reduce the chances for enamel erosion. Doing so may help you avoid unnecessary damage to your teeth and overall dental health.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on 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 “Think Before You Drink.”
When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?
For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.
Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:
- It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
- A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
- Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!
Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!
Do you ever get sores in your mouth that seem to appear for no reason and then disappear just as mysteriously? Chances are they’re aphthous ulcers — better known as canker sores.
These are irritating breaks in the protective lining of the mouth (oral mucosa) — akin to a blister without its dome — that are yellowish/grayish in the center surrounded by an aggravated red border. They typically develop in movable, thinner oral membranes such as the cheeks and lips, under the tongue, or the soft palate at the back of the mouth. Because they expose underlying tissues, canker sores can be quite painful, especially when eating or drinking.
Recurrent aphthous ulcers (RAS) affect up to 25% of the population, making them one the most common oral conditions. They are considered “minor” when they are smaller and “major” when they exceed 1 centimeter in diameter. Larger ones take more time to heal and may cause scarring. A less common type is herpetiform aphthae, so named because the small clusters of ulcers that characterize it are similar in appearance to those caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV1). However, unlike herpes-related cold sores and fever blisters, canker sores in any form are not contagious. Another difference is that ulcers from the herpes virus occur more frequently on the gums and hard palate.
No Clear Cause
There is no clear cause for canker sores. They often appear during stressful periods and times when resistance is down, suggesting an immune system malfunction. They may also be an allergic reaction to ingredients in food or oral products like toothpaste or mouthwash or related to an underlying medical conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases or nutritional deficiencies.
Canker sores usually resolve on their own within seven to ten days. Various over-the-counter and prescription treatments can help facilitate healing and help minimize pain along the way. If they do not resolve within two weeks; or they increase in severity, frequency or duration; or you’re never without a mouth sore it’s important to seek dental or medical attention as they could signify a more serious condition.
If you would like more information about canker sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Mouth Sores.”
Although your smile wouldn't be the same without them, there's more to your gums than their looks. Besides helping to hold your teeth in place, they're also an important protective barrier for their roots.
Unfortunately, gums aren't immune to disease, especially periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection, triggered by built-up dental plaque on teeth due to insufficient oral hygiene, can cause the gum tissues to detach from teeth and shrink back (recede). This can make your teeth more sensitive to hot or cold foods and beverages, as well as put them at even greater risk for tooth decay.
To treat gum recession, our first priority is to stop any ongoing gum disease through aggressive plaque removal. Depending on severity, this could require clinical procedures like scaling or root planing to remove plaque and tartar (hardened plaque deposits) at or below the gum line. This is especially crucial for improving gum tissue healing and stimulating potential reattachment.
Revitalizing gum tissues this way naturally has a better chance of occurring if we're able to prevent recession before it reaches the roots. If that does happen and we have sufficient gum tissue attachment remaining, we may need to give the gum tissue a helping hand through gum grafting surgery. There are a number of techniques depending on the circumstances, but they all use either tissue from another location in the patient's mouth or prepared tissue from another human donor. This type of surgery requires great skill and expertise, not to mention an aesthetic sense, to achieve a result that's both functional and attractive.
Other than daily brushing and flossing, the most important thing you can do for gum health is to see us as soon as you notice any signs of gum problems like swelling, bleeding or tooth sensitivity. The sooner we can diagnose and begin treating the problem, the less likely any gum recession will have a long-term impact on your health.
If you would like more information on gum 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 “Gum Recession.”
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