Posts for: April, 2020
Our nerves serve a vital purpose, alerting us to bodily discomfort, injury or disease — we couldn’t remain in good health for long without them. But when they malfunction due to genetics or disease, they can themselves become a source of pain and discomfort.
One such nerve disorder that affects the face is known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN) or tic douloureaux (from the French for “painful”). The nerves in question are the trigeminal, a pair that travel up from the brain stem through the skull into each side of the face where they each branch into the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw. The pain can radiate from one or more of these branches.
TN is characterized by recurring episodes of brief but severe pain with accompanying muscle spasms. It may begin as a short twinge recurring over weeks, months or years before becoming increasingly painful. The slightest actions can trigger a painful episode: chewing, speaking, shaving or even the wind blowing on your face.
While it may be hard to determine its exact cause, it often seems to result from an artery or vein pressing on the nerve, causing it to signal pain at the slightest stimulation and then failing to stop transmitting when the stimulation is removed. It’s also associated with other inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis where the protective insulation around a nerve is damaged.
Before receiving treatment you should undergo a complete examination to rule out any other facial pain causes like temporomandibular (jaw joint) disorders or a dental abscess. You may also need to undergo a neurological examination and possible MRI imaging to pinpoint the exact cause, like a tumor or blood vessel pressing on the nerve.
Although the condition may not be curable, there are several effective management treatments. The more conservative approaches usually involve medications to block the nerve’s pain signals or decrease its abnormal firing. If this isn’t sufficient to diminish symptoms, there are surgical options: passing a thin needle through the nerve to selectively prevent fibers from firing, or moving aside a blood vessel pressing on it. High-dose targeted radiation may also be effective, especially with older patients.
The best treatment approach will depend on the exact cause, your age and overall health. Whatever the approach, you can gain significant relief from the pain of TN.
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Root canal treatments are the go-to procedures dentists use to treat a tooth with advanced internal decay that has resulted in the pulp (nerve) dying. And for good reason: root canals are responsible for saving millions of teeth that would otherwise be lost.
In the basic root canal procedure, dentists make access into a tooth's interior with a small hole drilled into the crown. They then remove all diseased tissue within the pulp chamber and root canals. These now empty spaces are then filled, and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent further infection.
This is usually a straightforward affair, although it can be complicated by an intricate root canal network. In those cases, the skills and microscopic equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canals, may be needed to successfully perform the procedure.
But there are also occasional cases where it may be inadvisable to use a conventional root canal procedure to treat an endodontic infection. For example, it may be difficult to retreat a root canal on a restored tooth with a crown and supporting post in place. To do conventional root canal therapy, it would be necessary to take the restoration apart for clear access, which could further weaken or damage the remaining tooth's structure.
In this and similar situations, a dentist might use a different type of procedure called an apicoectomy. Rather than access the source of infection through the tooth's crown, an endodontist approaches the infection through the gums. This is a minor surgical procedure that can be performed with local anesthesia.
Making an incision through the gums at the level of the affected root, the endodontist can then remove any infected tissue around the root, along with a small portion of the root tip. They then place a small filling and, if necessary, grafting material to encourage bone growth around the area. The gums are then sutured in place and the area allowed to heal.
An apicoectomy is another way to attempt saving a tooth that's well on its way to demise. Without it or an attempt at a conventional root canal treatment, you might lose your tooth.
If you would like more information on treating advanced tooth decay, 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”