If you suffer from a temporomandibular (“jaw joint”) pain disorder (TMD), you know any activity involving jaw movement can be uncomfortable. That includes eating.
But avoiding eating isn’t an option—which means you may be attempting to minimize discomfort during flare-ups by choosing soft, processed foods that don’t require a lot of jaw force. While this may certainly ease your TMD symptoms, you might also be cheating your health by eating foods not optimally nutritious.
It doesn’t have to be a trade-off: with a few simple techniques you can still eat whole, natural foods while minimizing jaw joint pain. Here are 3 tips for making mealtime less stressful during TMD flare-ups.
Cut food into manageable bite sizes. Preparing your food beforehand will make a big difference in how much effort your jaws exert as you eat. Make sure all your food portions of vegetables, fruits or meats are cut or prepared into small, manageable bite sizes. It also helps to remove the tough outer skin of some fruits and vegetables or to mash other foods like potatoes or beans.
Use cooking liquids to soften food. For foods that aren’t naturally moist, you can add liquids to soften them and make them easier to chew. Incorporate gravies, sauces or marinating liquids into your meal preparation to help soften tougher foods like poultry, meats or some vegetables.
Go easy with your chewing and biting motion. The strategy here is to minimize jaw movement and force as much as possible. While preparing your food as mentioned before will help a lot, how you bite and chew will also make a big difference. Limit your jaw opening to a comfortable degree, take small bites and chew slowly.
Managing a jaw joint disorder is an ongoing process. When practiced together with other treatments like therapy or medication, eating deliberately can help make life with TMD easier.
If you would like more information on coping with jaw joint disorder, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
A loose permanent tooth is not a good thing—and not something you should put off having examined. That’s because a loose tooth could soon become a lost tooth.
How we treat it depends on its underlying cause, which could be one of two types. One is primary occlusal trauma, meaning the affected tooth has experienced accidental trauma or higher biting forces than it normally encounters. This usually happens because of teeth grinding habits.
It could also be secondary occlusal trauma. Unlike primary trauma where the supporting gums and bone may be reasonably healthy, secondary trauma occurs because these structures have been severely damaged by periodontal (gum) disease. As the gums begin to detach from a tooth and its underlying bone deteriorates, even normal biting forces can loosen it.
If gum disease is present, our first priority is to bring it under control. We do this primarily by removing all dental plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles that triggers the infection and sustains it) and calculus or tartar (calcified plaque). This can take several sessions and, in the case of deep infection, may require a surgical procedure.
On the other hand, if teeth grinding is the primary cause, we’ll focus on minimizing the habit and its effects. One way is to create a custom-fitted guard worn to prevent upper and lower teeth from making solid contact. You may also need to improve your management of stress—another factor in teeth grinding—through medication, therapy or biofeedback.
In either case, improved periodontal health will help the gums naturally regain their strong attachment with help, if necessary, from gum tissue or bone grafting surgery. But this healing process can take time, so we may need to secure a loose tooth in the interim by splinting it to neighboring stable teeth. This usually requires bonding rigid material or metal across the back of all involved teeth or in a channel cut along the teeth’s biting surfaces. In this way the more stable teeth support the loose one.
Splinting may be temporary as the mouth heals from disease or trauma and the teeth regain their stability. In some cases, though, it may be permanent. Either way, dealing promptly with a loose tooth can help ensure it’ll survive—so see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on treating loose 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
What do a teenager with a poor bite, a senior citizen with multiple missing teeth or a middle-aged person with a teeth grinding habit all have in common? They may all depend on a dental appliance for better function or appearance.
There’s a wide variety of removable dental appliances like clear aligners or retainers for orthodontic treatment, dentures for tooth loss or night guards to minimize teeth grinding, just to name a few. But while different, they all share a common need: regular cleaning and maintenance to prevent them from triggering dental disease and to keep them functioning properly.
The first thing to remember about appliance cleaning is that it’s not the same as regular oral hygiene, especially if you have dentures. While they look like real teeth, they’re not. Toothpaste is a no-no because the abrasives in toothpaste designed for tooth enamel can scratch appliance surfaces. These microscopic scratches can develop havens for disease-causing bacteria.
Instead, use liquid dish detergent, hand soap or a specific cleaner for your appliance with a different brush from your regular toothbrush or a specialized tool for your particular appliance. Use warm but not very hot or boiling water: while heat indeed kills bacteria, the hot temperatures can warp the plastic in the appliance and distort its fit. You should also avoid bleach—while also a bacteria killer, it can fade out the gum color of appliance bases.
Be sure you exercise caution while cleaning your appliance. For example, place a towel in the sink basin so if the appliance slips from your hands it’s less likely to break hitting the soft towel rather than the hard sink. And while out of your mouth, be sure you store your appliance out of reach of small children and pets to avoid the chance of damage.
Cleaning and caring for your appliance reduces the risk of disease that might affect your gums or other natural teeth. It will also help keep your appliance working as it was designed for some time to come.
A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.
We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?
Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.
When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?
In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.
So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.
If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”
People with missing teeth have more replacement options than ever before, including the ever popular but often more expensive dental implant. But there has also been an expansion of choice on the more affordable side of dental restorations. The flexible removable partial denture (RPD) is one such choice.
Though RPDs have been around for some time, the newer flexible RPD offers some advantages over the more rigid traditional RPD. They’re made of a kind of nylon that’s pliable but also strong and durable. This material is thermoplastic, meaning when heated it can be injected into molds based on a patient’s individual mouth to form an accurate denture base. The gum-colored base can also be formed to cover any receded areas of the gums, which can greatly improve smile appearance.
Older versions of RPDs are made of rigid acrylic plastic that stay in place in the mouth with metal clasps that attach to remaining teeth. The flexible RPD, on the other hand, is secured with finger-like nylon extensions that fit and hold in the natural teeth’s concavities near the gum line. This, along with its relatively light weight, offers a more comfortable fit.
But aside from these benefits, flexible RPDs do have a few drawbacks. Although fracture-resistant, they’re not easy to repair or reline to readjust the fit to accommodate mouth changes. They can stain (though not as much as a traditional RPD), so they require diligent cleaning and maintenance.
We consider the whole category of RPDs as “temporary” restorations, meaning they’re intended as a transitional phase between tooth loss and a permanent restoration like a natural tooth-supported fixed bridge or dental implants. For some, however, the flexible RPD might be a more long-term solution. As mentioned before, to extend their life as much as possible they should be removed daily and cleaned thoroughly. And like any form of denture, they should not be worn overnight.
In either case, flexible RPDs offer an effective way to restore not only dental function diminished by missing teeth but an improved appearance as well. With careful maintenance, they could serve you well for some time to come.
If you would like more information on flexible partial dentures, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures: An Aesthetic Way to Replace Teeth Temporarily.”
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.