Could a Dental Problem Be Causing Your Headaches?

headacheAccording to the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, about one in eight Americans suffers from chronic headaches that interfere with daily life. An estimated 80 percent of headaches are caused by muscle tension. A misaligned bite is a common cause of muscle tension that leads to headaches. Muscle tension headaches caused by dental stress can cause pain on one or both sides of the head or around the entire head.

Tension headaches are caused when muscles are strained and contracted for long periods of time. When you swallow, your upper and lower teeth come together to brace your jaw against your skull. If your bite is unstable because of poorly aligned teeth or a missing tooth, your muscles work harder to bring your teeth together, which can lead to muscle strain and pain.

An unstable bite can cause muscles in the neck to lengthen or shorten, which throws the head off balance and causes other muscles to strain to continue to support the head. The muscles become painful, which causes you to feel tense. That in turn makes the muscle spasms worse, which contributes to more pain.

The pain that you experience from muscle tension in your jaw can be referred to other parts of your head. If you have pain behind your eyes, sore or tired jaw muscles when you wake up, teeth grinding, clicking or popping jaw joints, or a head or scalp that are painful to the touch, these are signs that your headaches could have a dental origin.

If you think your headaches might be caused by a misaligned bite, contact your dentist. He or she will examine your teeth, muscles, and jaw joints to figure out if that is the cause of your headaches and recommend treatment to correct your bite and ease the strain on your muscles.

Headaches could have other non-dental causes. Seek immediate medical attention if your headache leads to weakness in an arm or leg, loss of vision, disorientation, or loss of consciousness.

Preparing to Get Your Teeth Whitened

teeth whiteningIf you are planning to get your teeth whitened, it is important to prepare in advance in order to achieve the best possible results.

Before you get your teeth whitened, you should have a dentist check to make sure that you are in overall good oral health. If you have cavities or if the roots of your teeth are exposed due to gum disease, the chemicals used in the whitening process could aggravate those conditions. If you have any dental problems, you should have them treated before you whiten your teeth.

Your dentist will be able to determine the location and cause of the stains on your teeth. Extrinsic stains are on the surface of the teeth. They can be caused by food, drinks, and smoking. Extrinsic stains can be removed by teeth whitening. Intrinsic stains are located underneath the tooth enamel and cannot be removed through a whitening procedure. Teeth whitening also does not work on veneers, dental caps, or crowns.

You should have your teeth cleaned by a hygienist before your whitening procedure in order to remove any tartar and other debris that you cannot remove on your own. It is also important to brush and floss well every day to prevent problems prior to your whitening procedure.

If you experience sensitivity, begin brushing with a desensitizing toothpaste two weeks prior to your whitening treatment. This can prevent sensitivity during and after the procedure. If you are prone to extreme sensitivity, you can take a pain killer prior to the whitening procedure, but only after checking with your doctor.

Set aside enough time for the procedure, as well as prep or recovery time. Ask your dentist’s office how long it will take.

If you are using an at-home whitening kit, you should also get a check-up and cleaning first and follow good oral hygiene practices. If your dentist is preparing your at-home kit, he or she may need to make a mold of your teeth, provide the necessary materials, and schedule a follow-up appointment.

Call your dentist if you experience extreme or prolonged sensitivity or pain after you get your teeth whitened. Be sure to continue brushing and flossing to maintain your white smile.

What Causes Swollen and Bleeding Gums?

flossingTaking care of your gums is an important part of oral health. Bleeding or swollen gums can be caused by several factors and can be a sign of gum disease.

Over 75 percent of Americans over 35 have some form of gum disease. Most have the less severe gingivitis, while 5 to 15 percent have more advanced periodontitis. Gingivitis is generally not painful and can be reversed if it is detected early and good oral hygiene habits are followed. If it is left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis and lead to tooth loss.

Brushing too hard is one common cause of bleeding gums. Use a manual or electric toothbrush with soft nylon bristles that have blunted ends. Use gentle, circular motions to avoid damaging your gums.

Floss your teeth at least once a day. Use gentle up and down motions following the natural curve of your teeth.

Canker sores, or mouth ulcers, can make gums painful and swollen. While their cause is not known, canker sores may be caused by bacteria or viruses and may come back over time. They are not contagious.

Chemotherapy to treat cancer can cause stomatitis, which causes painful sores and ulcers in the mouth. This can lead to painful, swollen, and bleeding gums.

Smoking is another common cause of bleeding, sensitive, or painful gums. People who smoke are much more likely to develop gum problems than those who don’t.

Women may experience redness, swelling, and sensitivity in their gums due to hormonal changes from puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and hormonal birth control.

Consult your dentist if you notice changes in the way your teeth fit together when biting or in the way your dentures fit. You should also schedule an appointment if you have deep pockets between your teeth and gums, if your gums bleed during and after tooth brushing, if you have loose or shifting teeth, if you have persistent bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth, if your gums are receding, or if your gums are red, swollen, or tender.

There are several steps you can take to prevent sore, swollen, or bleeding gums. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once daily. Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water. If you smoke, quit. If your gums are sensitive, you should avoid extremely hot or cold foods or drinks. You can also reduce stress to lower the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that causes inflammation throughout the body, including in the gums.

What Is Zoom Whitening?

Zoom whiteningZoom whitening is a procedure that uses a hydrogen peroxide gel activated with a UV light to remove stains from teeth. While individual results cannot be predicted, in many patients Zoom treatments can significantly lighten the color of teeth.

The procedure is done in up to three 15-minute sessions. The old layer of gel is removed after each session, and a new layer is applied. Some people have to stop after only one or two sessions because their teeth become sensitive. It is possible to see significant results after just one or two sessions.

The results are visible immediately after the procedure, but there may be a rebound effect that causes the teeth to lose some of their whiteness. This occurs because the procedure removes moisture from the teeth. As they regain moisture, the teeth may appear less white. If you have white spots on your teeth, they may appear whiter immediately after the procedure, but they should blend in more after a few days.

If you are planning to have any cosmetic work done, it is best to wait about a week before choosing a shade until you see the final results of the teeth whitening procedure. If you have had restorative work, such as a crown, veneer, or filling, Zoom whitening will not change its color.

For the first 48 hours after the Zoom procedure, the pores in the enamel of your teeth will be open. This will make your teeth susceptible to staining. Your dentist will give you a list of things you should not eat or drink during this time in order to prevent your teeth from becoming stained. If you do eat or drink something you shouldn’t, you should brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with water as soon as possible.

If you experience sensitivity after the procedure, you can take an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, and brush with a toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

Some doctors recommend that pregnant women not have any elective cosmetic procedures. If you are considering Zoom whitening and you are pregnant, discuss it with your doctor.

Scaling and Root Planing Can Treat Gum Disease

dentistScaling and root planing are treatments used to remove plaque and calculus from the teeth that allow bacteria to grow and contribute to gum disease. Scaling and root planing are the most common and conservative means of treating periodontal disease.

Scaling is the removing of calculus, or tartar, and plaque that are attached to the teeth, especially below the gum line and along the root. Planing smoothes the surface of the root. This prevents plaque from being able to attach to rough surfaces.

Scaling and root planing are done with electric or air-powered ultrasonic scalers and hand instruments. The ultrasonic instruments have a relatively dull metal tip that vibrates at a very high frequency to remove plaque and calculus from the teeth and a water irrigation system that cools the tip and flushes out debris from around the tooth. Hand instruments have cutting edges that are used to chip away plaque and calculus. A variety of instruments can be used for different teeth and tooth surfaces.

Ultrasonic instruments are used first to remove large amounts of plaque and calculus from the roots and crowns of the teeth. Hand instruments are then used to remove any remaining plaque or calculus and make the tooth’s surface smooth. Your dentist may insert antibiotic fibers into the pockets between your teeth and gums to promote healing and prevent infection.

If you have gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease, you may be able to have the scaling and root planing procedure completed in one visit. If you have more progressive gum disease, or periodontitis, your dentist will probably do one quadrant of your mouth at a time.

Some people experience discomfort during scaling and root planing. A local anesthetic may be used to numb the area. If your medical doctor has told you to take antibiotics before dental procedures, be sure to discuss that with your dentist.

You may have some soreness or sensitivity to heat and cold for a few days after the procedure. You can treat that with over-the-counter pain relievers. You may experience some minor bleeding for up to a week. Your dentist may give you an antiseptic mouth rinse to use. You should continue brushing and flossing as usual. If you develop a fever, heavy bleeding, pain, or swelling, call your dentist.

The procedure carries some risks. Scaling and root planing eliminate pockets that can trap bacteria. This can cause the gums to recede, which may expose parts of the roots and make the teeth sensitive to heat and cold. The procedure can potentially introduce harmful bacteria in to the bloodstream. The gum tissue can also become infected. You should discuss these risks and the potential benefits with your dentist.

GERD Can Cause Tooth Decay

dentistGastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can contribute to tooth decay when acid from the stomach wears away at enamel. The enamel on the sides of the teeth near the tongue and palate are generally affected more than the outer surfaces of the teeth.

GERD occurs when a problem with the esophagus and the lower esophageal sphincter allows stomach acid to travel back up to the mouth. This acid can damage enamel and lead to tooth decay if the problem persists over a period of time. If left untreated, GERD can also lead to ulcers or esophageal cancer.

Diet can contribute to GERD. Eating spicy foods and drinking excessive amounts of coffee and wine are common causes.

Common symptoms of GERD include heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest, nausea after eating, coughing, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, hiccups, hoarseness, and a change in voice. In some cases, GERD may not have these obvious symptoms. Silent GERD can be just as destructive to teeth. One symptom is an unexplained sour taste in the mouth.

If your dentist believes your tooth decay may be caused by GERD, you should visit your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. You can take over-the-counter or prescription medications to treat the symptoms of GERD. You can also change your diet and avoid drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen and take acetaminophen instead.

Patients with GERD often experience dry mouth, which can increase the amount of bacteria and plaque in the mouth and further contribute to tooth decay. Medications used to treat GERD can also dry out the mouth. If you have GERD, you can combat dry mouth by sucking on breath mints, candies, or lozenges, but you should avoid ones that contain sugar because that can contribute to tooth decay.

Baking Soda Can Improve Oral Health

baking sodaBaking soda has many uses in cooking and cleaning, but it can also improve oral health by neutralizing the acids that contribute to many problems in the mouth.

Baking soda can remove stains caused by food, beverages, nicotine, and alcohol and whiten teeth. It is included in many toothpastes and tooth whitening products. You can also dampen your toothbrush, dip it into a small dish of baking soda, shake off any excess, and brush your teeth to remove stains.

Gum disease, or gingivitis, is caused when plaque accumulates on the teeth. If left untreated, it can lead to sore, swollen, bleeding, or infected gums, as well as a host of more serious health problems. Brushing with baking soda or a toothpaste that contains it can help you prevent gum disease.

Halitosis, or bad breath, can be caused by acid from foods that stick to the teeth, tongue, and mouth. Baking soda can rebalance the levels of acid in the mouth and prevent bad breath. You can create a mouth rinse by dissolving half a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water.

Ulcers and sores in the mouth are painful, and they can be made worse because they come into contact with food, drinks, and other irritants, which can make them take a long time to heal. Baking soda can soothe ulcers and sores in the mouth and speed up the healing process. You can make a soothing mouth rinse by dissolving one or two teaspoons of baking soda in a glass of water.

Brushing and rinsing with baking soda is an effective way to prevent many oral health problems. It is included in many toothpastes, or you can make a toothpaste or rinse with the baking soda found in a box in your own kitchen.

What Is a Pulp Cap?

toothEndodontics involves treating the pulp at the center of a tooth. If a tooth becomes severely decayed, it may be necessary for a dentist to perform a root canal or extract the tooth. However, if the problem is addressed before the decay becomes too serious and the nerve is still alive, it may be possible to prevent the decay from reaching the pulp chamber with pulp capping.

To perform a pulp cap, the dentist must first drill down to the pulp. He or she will then clean the pulp and cover it with medicine to prevent infection. The dentist will then place a temporary or permanent filling in the tooth. Dentin should regenerate and cover the pulp cap. If you get a pulp cap, you should go for a follow-up visit several weeks later to be sure the dentin is growing properly.

Your dentist can do two types of pulp capping: direct and indirect. If the pulp is exposed after drilling the tooth, your dentist will do a direct pulp cap. If the pulp is not exposed, he or she will be able to do an indirect pulp cap, which involves capping the layer of dentin covering the pulp chamber.

A pulp cap offers several advantages. It can save the nerve and preserve the tooth and is less invasive than a root canal or tooth extraction. You will experience less sensitivity and have a shorter recovery time. The tooth can often be restored with a filling, rather than a crown. A pulp cap is also less expensive than a root canal.

Your dentist can only perform pulp capping under certain circumstances. The nerve must have been exposed recently, and it needs to still be alive. There should be little or no exposure of the pulp, and there should not be any infection or abscess. Since there are so many restrictions, pulp caps are much less common than root canals.

Pulp caps are generally less successful than root canals. If a pulp cap fails, a root canal may be necessary. If you have tooth pain, it is important to seek dental treatment as soon as possible to prevent the need for a root canal or extraction and have a greater chance for successful treatment.

Obesity Can Contribute to Periodontal Disease

dentistThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. This figure has grown dramatically in recent years. Obesity has also become more common among children.

Obesity has been linked to many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis, gastric reflux, infertility, gout, and cancer. Research suggests that obesity can also contribute to periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection of the gums and bone that support the teeth. It begins as gingivitis and, if left untreated, can lead to more severe periodontitis.

Bacteria form plaque on the teeth and along the gum line. If it is not removed, plaque can harden and form tartar. Bacteria in plaque and tartar can cause irritation and inflammation of the gums and cause them to separate from the teeth. Pockets, or spaces between the teeth and gums, can form and become infected. Over time, gum tissue and bone can be destroyed and teeth can become loose. Periodontitis can also contribute to other medical problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, and premature birth.

Common symptoms of periodontal disease include gums that are red, swollen, tender, bleed easily, or have pulled away from the teeth. Periodontal disease can also cause bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth. It can cause the teeth to fit together differently when biting or can change the way partial dentures fit. Permanent teeth may also separate or become loose.

Fat cells produce chemical signals and hormones that can increase inflammation throughout the body, which can weaken the immune system and make people more susceptible to periodontal disease. Inflammation also decreases blood flow to the gums, which allows periodontal disease to progress. Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk because of the higher amount of fat in their bodies.

Eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing periodontal disease. You should brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft bristled toothbrush and floss once a day. You should also avoid smoking and chewing tobacco and visit your dentist for regular exams and cleanings.

Many Medications Can Affect Oral Health

man smilingMany common medications can have side effects that impact oral health. It is important to let your dentist know about any medications and supplements you take, including over-the-counter products, so that he or she can monitor possible effects on your teeth and mouth.

One of the most common oral side effects of medications is dry mouth, or xerostomia. Over 400 medicines, including those used to treat allergies, depression, psychosis, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, seizures, acne, pain, motion sickness, cancer, and muscle spasms, can cause dry mouth. Not having enough saliva in the mouth can cause irritation and inflammation that can eventually lead to gum disease. You can relieve dry mouth by drinking lots of water or chewing sugarless gum.

Some inhaler medications used to treat asthma can cause a yeast infection known as oral candidiasis. You can prevent this by rinsing your mouth with water after using an inhaler.

Some medicines used to treat seizures and high blood pressure and prevent organ rejection after a transplant can cause the gums to swell and grow over the teeth. This process, known as gingival overgrowth, increases the risk of periodontal disease and damage to teeth. Men and people with plaque on their teeth are at higher risk of developing this side effect. You can lower your risk of developing gingival overgrowth through good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist often.

Many chemotherapy drugs can cause mucositis, or inflammation of the mucous membranes, the lining of the mouth and digestive tract. Mucositis can lead to swelling of the mouth and tongue that can cause pain, bleeding, and ulcers in the mouth. People who drink alcohol; use tobacco; are dehydrated; have diabetes, HIV, or kidney disease; or do not follow good oral hygiene practices are at increased risk.

Canker sores, or mouth ulcers, can occur inside the mouth or on the tongue. They appear similar to craters because they have a hole in the center caused by a break in the mucous lining of the mouth. Sores are a possible side effect of chemotherapy drugs, aspirin, gold used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, penicillin, phenytoin, sulfonamides, and streptomycin.

Some medicines can cause changes in taste, which is called dysgeusia. They can make food taste different or cause a metallic, salty, or bitter taste. This side effect is more common in elderly people who take multiple medications. These changes usually stop if the person stops taking the medication. Taste changes can be a side effect of chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, antifungals, antipsychotics, bisphosphonates, blood thinners, diuretics, transplant rejection medications, smoking cessation medications, stimulants, and medications used to treat allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, glaucoma, gout, heart disease, iron deficiency, muscle strain, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, seizures, thyroid conditions, and tuberculosis.

Sugar is added to many medications, such as vitamins, cough drops, antacids, and syrup-based medicines. If these are used for a long period of time, they can lead to tooth decay. You should rinse your mouth after taking one of these medications or ask for a sugar-free version of the medicine.

Some medications, such as antibiotics, can cause tooth discoloration when taken by pregnant women or children, and others can cause staining of teeth in adults. Too much fluoride from toothpastes, mouthwashes, or vitamins can cause fluorosis, which can lead to staining of the teeth. Iron salts taken orally can also lead to staining.

If you take medications, including over-the-counter ones, on a regular basis, discuss possible oral health side effects with your doctor. You should also discuss your medications with your dentist when you go for regular visits.