Posts for: December, 2019
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.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
For some time now, you’ve noticed things about your teeth and gums — your overall smile — that you would like to change. But you’re in unfamiliar territory: you don’t know where to begin.
Here, then, are a few basic cosmetic dentistry questions you should ask yourself and us to get you moving in the right direction.
Am I a candidate for cosmetic dentistry? Invariably, the answer is yes — there’s always a way to enhance your appearance, starting with basic hygiene or whitening. But whether you’re a candidate for a particular procedure will depend on a full examination of your mouth — a “smile analysis” — to assess its current condition and needs, and what cosmetic options would best fit those needs.
Are my expectations realistic? That will first depend on what we find with your smile analysis. It will, however, also include studying the bigger picture — how certain changes might affect not only your smile but your overall facial appearance. Your wants and desires are extremely important in this process, but they should also be balanced with a dose of reality — some things may not be in your best interest health-wise to undertake, or are not in keeping with basic aesthetic principles of beauty.
Will I be able to have an idea beforehand how the changes will look? We’ve come a long way in providing patients ways to preview their new smile before undertaking a procedure. It’s often possible to “see” your proposed smile through computer simulation, or in some cases “test drive” it with temporary (provisional) crowns or veneers. For restorations involving porcelain crowns, it may be possible to take your input and fine-tune the shape and color of the permanent crown before it’s completed.
What will it cost? This will depend on the treatment plan we develop. Some treatments like teeth whitening are relatively inexpensive, while procedures like dental implants or orthodontics are major investments. You should also consider the costs to your time — some treatments require only a single visit, while others may take months or even years to complete. Depending on your financial means and comfort level, cost will need to be factored into the final plan, as well as your expectations.
If you would like more information on cosmetic dentistry, 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 “Cosmetic Dentistry: A Time for a Change.”