There's more to your dental visit than preventing or treating teeth or gum problems. We're also on the lookout for a number of potential soft tissue problems that could occur in or around your mouth.
Here are 4 examples of such problems we can detect and help you manage.
Lumps. Whenever you accidentally bite the inside of your mouth, the wound you create forms a protective layer of hard collagen. Unfortunately, the “callous” can rise higher than the surrounding cheek surface and easily get in the way of your teeth again. With successive bites and more scar tissue you'll soon notice a prominent lump. Although not a health danger, it becomes annoying with each successive bite. We can surgically remove the lump and flatten out the mouth surface.
Canker sores. Known as aphthous ulcers, these round sores with a yellow-gray center and a red “halo” can break out on the inside cheeks, tongue or back of the throat. Unless they don't heal within a couple of weeks or seem to be increasing in frequency, they're nothing to worry about. They can, however, cause a burning or stinging sensation. We can reduce this discomfort and speed healing with over-the-counter ointments or prescription options like topical or injected steroids.
Cracked mouth corners. Also known as perleche (from the French lecher, meaning “to lick”), your mouth corners can become dry and irritated and you may begin licking them to soothe the discomfort. Accumulated saliva can trigger a yeast infection, which can spread to other parts of your mouth. We can usually prevent this by prescribing antifungal ointments, and a steroid ointment to control inflammation.
Mouth rash. Peri-oral dermatitis is a red, scaly rash that appears around the outside of the mouth. Because it's often mistaken for acne or other conditions, it's often treated with topical steroids. This actually suppresses the skin's normal healing effects and can actually make the rash worse. The best way to treat it is to stop using any kind of ointment or cream and use only mild soap to wash the area. We can also prescribe antibiotics to help speed the healing process.
If you would like more information on these and other soft tissue 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 articles “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth,” “Mouth Sores,” and “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
We've all done it — suddenly bit the inside of our mouth while chewing food. All too often our cheek, lip or tongue finds itself in the way of our teeth.
The small wound caused by these types of bites usually heals quickly. But it's also common for the natural swelling of these wounds to cause the skin to become prominent and thus more in the way when we eat. As a result we bite it again — and again. If bit a number of times, the old wound can form a bump made of tougher tissue.
Also known as a traumatic fibroma, this growth is made up of a protein called collagen that forms into strands of fibers, similar to scar tissue or a callous. As you continue to bite it, the fibers form a knot of tissue that becomes larger with each subsequent bite and re-healing.
Unlike malignant lesions that form relatively quickly, these types of lumps and bumps usually take time to form.Â They're not injurious to health, but they can be irritating and painful when you re-bite them. We can alleviate this aggravation, though, by simply removing them.
The procedure, requiring the skills of an oral surgeon, periodontist or a general dentist with surgical training, begins with numbing the area with a local anesthetic. The fibroma is then removed and the area closed with two or three small stitches. With the fibroma gone, the tissue surface once again becomes flat and smooth; it should only take a few days to a week to completely heal with mild pain medication like ibuprofen to control any discomfort.
Once removed, we would have the excised tissue biopsied for any malignant cells. This is nothing to cause concern: while the fibroma is more than likely harmless, it's standard procedure to biopsy any excised tissue.
The big benefit is that the aggravating lump or bump that's been causing all the trouble is no more. You'll be able to carry on normal mouth function without worrying about biting it again.
If you would like more information on minor mouth sores and wounds, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
The month of May has been designated “Better Speech & Hearing Month” by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Why would this be of interest to dental professionals? Because teeth are vital for good speech, and missing teeth can make it very hard to speak properly.
Speech is all about sounds, and forming sounds correctly requires proper positioning of oral structures such as the lips, tongue and teeth. For example, there are some words that are almost impossible to pronounce correctly without touching your tongue to your teeth. In fact, one of the hardest words to say without teeth…is teeth!
Missing teeth can affect speech indirectly as well, by reducing self-confidence. People who are missing front teeth often develop the habit of talking behind their hand or mumbling to avoid revealing the gap in their smile. Not being able to speak clearly and confidently can affect not only your appearance, but also your job prospects and social life. So what can you do about missing teeth?
Dental implants are today’s preferred tooth-replacement method. Implants are small titanium posts that are inserted in the jaw bone beneath your gums. They serve as “roots” to hold realistic-looking prosthetic (artificial) teeth in place. Implants can be used to replace one tooth, a group of teeth, or an entire row of teeth (upper or lower). Sometimes a dental implant can be placed the same day a failing tooth is removed so that you won’t need a second surgical procedure.
The healthy natural teeth on either side of the gap can also be used to support one or more replacement teeth. This method, called bridgework, can be used to replace a single tooth or several teeth in a row. Another option is removable dentures, which do not stay in the mouth all the time.
Each of these options has its benefits and risks. We’d be happy to discuss all of them in detail and help you decide which would be best in your own situation. To learn more about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can also read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “New Teeth in One Day.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
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.”
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