Each year doctors treat about 150,000 new cases of severe facial pain. If you're one of those people, you don't have to suffer—there are ways to gain relief from these painful episodes.
Those recurring episodes are known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). As the name implies, the source of the pain are the trigeminal nerves, which originate in the brain stem and extend on either side of the face. Each is divided into three branches (hence the "tri" in trigeminal) that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
TN can involve one or more of these branches, resulting in mild to severe pain that can last for several seconds. Jaw movements like chewing or speaking can trigger an episode, as well as a light touch to the face.
There are various proposed causes for TN, including links with inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis, which damages the insulating sheathing around nerve cells. The most common cause, though, appears to be a blood vessel pressing against the nerve. The compression causes hypersensitivity in that area of the nerve so that it transmits pain at the slightest sensation.
Other conditions like jaw joint pain disorders (TMD) or a dental abscess can cause similar pain symptoms, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis. If your doctor does identify your condition as TN, you may then need a comprehensive approach to treatment involving a team of care providers, including your dentist.
For the most part, TN can be managed, beginning with the most conservative approach to gain relief, often with medications to block the nerve's pain signals to the brain or decrease abnormal nerve firings. If that proves insufficient, though, more intensive treatments are available.
One possible treatment for an impinging blood vessel is a microsurgical procedure to expose the affected nerve and relocate the vessel. While this can be effective, the surgery does carry some risk of facial numbness or decreased hearing. If the risks are too high for conventional surgery, an alternative procedure uses a precise beam of high-dose radiation to relieve the pressure from the vessel.
The most important thing to know about TN, though, is that it is possible to control it and relieve future pain episodes. If you're experiencing these symptoms, see your dentist or doctor for an exam and accurate diagnosis.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”
Chicken pox is a common viral infection that usually occurs during childhood. Although the disease symptoms only last a short time, the virus that caused it may remain, lying dormant for years within the body's nervous system. Decades later it may reappear with a vengeance in a form known as herpes zoster, what most people know as shingles.
A shingles outbreak can be quite painful and uncomfortable—and it's also not a condition to take lightly. Occurring mainly in people over fifty, it often begins with an itching or burning sensation in the skin. This is often followed by a red rash breaking out in a belt-like pattern over various parts of the body, which may later develop into crusty sores. Symptoms may vary from person to person, but people commonly experience severe pain, fever and fatigue.
Besides the general discomfort it creates, shingles can also pose major health problems for certain people. Individuals with other health issues like pregnancy, cancer or a compromised immune system may experience serious complications related to a shingles outbreak.
In its early stages, shingles is contagious, spreading through direct contact with shingles sores or lesions or through breathing in the secretions from an infected person. This characteristic of shingles could affect your dental care: because the virus could potentially pass to staff and other patients, dentists usually postpone cleanings or other dental treatments for patients with shingles, particularly if they have a facial rash.
If you're diagnosed with shingles, most physicians recommend you begin antiviral treatment as soon as possible. You should also let your dentist know if you have shingles, which may put off any scheduled treatments until your doctor determines you're no longer contagious.
There's one other thing you can do, especially if you're over 60: obtain a shingles vaccine, available from most physicians or clinics. The vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease, and could help you avoid this most unpleasant health experience.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other healthcare organizations recommend breastfeeding as the best means for infant feeding. While bottle feeding can supply the nutrition necessary for a baby's healthy development, breastfeeding also provides emotional benefits for both baby and mother.
But there might be an obstacle in a baby's mouth that prevents them from getting a good seal on the mother's breast nipple—a small band of tissue called a frenum. This term describes any tissue that connects a soft part of the mouth like the upper lip or tongue to a more rigid structure like the gums or the floor of the mouth, respectively.
Although a normal part of anatomy, frenums that are too short, thick or inelastic can restrict a baby's lip or tongue movement and prevent an adequate seal while nursing. The baby may adjust by chewing rather than sucking on the nipple. Besides a painful experience for the mother, the baby may still not receive an adequate flow of breast milk.
Bottle-feeding is an option since it may be easier for a baby with abnormal frenums to negotiate during nursing. But the problem might also be alleviated with a minor surgical procedure to snip the frenum tissue and allow more freedom of movement.
Often performed in the office, we would first numb the frenum and surrounding area with a topical anesthetic, sometimes accompanied by injection into the frenum if it's abnormally thick. After the numbing takes effect, we gently expose the tissue and cut it with either surgical scissors or a laser, the latter of which may involve less bleeding and discomfort. The baby should be able to nurse right away.
If you wait later to undergo the procedure, the baby may already have developed compensation habits while nursing. It may then be necessary for a lactation consultant to help you and your baby "re-learn" normal nursing behavior. It's much easier, therefore, to attempt this procedure earlier rather than later to avoid extensive re-training.
While there's little risk, frenum procedures are still minor surgery. You should, therefore, discuss your options completely with your dental provider. Treating an abnormal frenum, though, could be the best way to realize the full benefits of breastfeeding.
There are a few mouth conditions so rare most of us have never heard of them. Geographic tongue would fall into this category, affecting only one to three percent of the population. Even so, these irregular reddish patches resembling land masses on a map (hence the name) might be alarming at first glance—but they pose no danger and usually cause very little discomfort.
Geographic tongue is also known as benign migratory glossitis. As its clinical name implies, the unusual red patchy areas (often surrounded by a grayish white border) aren't cancerous nor contagious. The patches also appear to change shape and move around ("migrate") the tongue.
The reddish appearance comes from the temporary disappearance of tiny bumps on the tongue surface called papillae, which can leave the tongue smooth to the touch in affected areas. The lost papillae may reappear again a few hours or days later, and may occasionally disappear again. While it's not painful, you can experience a stinging or burning sensation emitting from these patchy areas.
We're not sure how and why geographic tongue erupts, but it's believed high emotional or psychological stress, hormonal imbalance or certain vitamin deficiencies might be factors in its cause. There may also be a link between it and psoriasis, a condition that can cause dry, itchy patches on the skin.
If you're one of the rare individuals who has episodes of geographic tongue, the good news is it's harmless, only mildly uncomfortable and usually temporary. The bad news, though, is that there's no known cure for the condition—but it can be managed to ease discomfort during outbreaks.
It's been found that highly acidic and spicy foods, as well as astringents like alcohol or some mouthrinses, can increase the level of discomfort. By avoiding these or similar foods or substances, you can reduce the irritation. Your dentist may also be able to help by prescribing anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments.
For the most part, you'll simply have to wait it out. Other than the mild, physical discomfort, the worst part is often simply the appearance of the tongue. But by watching your diet and other habits, and with a little help from us, you can cope with these irritations when it occurs.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue and similar oral issues, 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 “Geographic Tongue: No Cause for Alarm.”
Ask any kid and they'll tell you just how valuable "baby" teeth really are—out of the mouth, of course, and under their pillow awaiting a transaction with the Tooth Fairy. But there's more to them than their value on the Fairy Exchange Market—they play a critical role in future dental health.
Primary teeth provide the same kind of dental function as their future replacements. Children weaned from nursing can now eat solid food. They provide contact points for the tongue as a child learns to speak. And they play a role socially, as children with a "toothsome" smile begin to look more like what they will become when they're fully mature.
But primary teeth also serve as guides for the permanent teeth that will follow. As a future tooth develops below the gum line, the primary tooth preserves the space in which it will erupt. Otherwise, the space can be taken over by other teeth. This crowds out the intended tooth, which may erupt out of position or remain impacted below the gum line.
In either case, the situation could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that can be quite costly to correct. But if we can preserve a primary tooth on the verge of premature loss, we may be able to reduce the impact of a developing malocclusion or even prevent it.
We can help primary teeth last for their intended lifespan by preventing tooth decay with daily oral hygiene or clinically-applied sealants and topical fluoride. If they do become infected, it may be worth the effort to preserve them using procedures similar to a root canal treatment.
If a tooth can't be preserved, then we can try to reserve the empty space for the future tooth. One way is a space maintainer, which is a stiff wire loop attached to metal band bonded around an adjacent tooth. This keeps other teeth from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, at which time we can remove the appliance.
Your child may be anxious to get another tooth to put under their pillow. But helping that primary tooth go the distance will be more than worth it for their future dental health.
If you would like more information on the care and treatment of baby teeth, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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