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.”
It’s common for kids to be less than enthusiastic about visiting the dentist. For some, though, it’s even more of a challenge: A child with extreme anxiety and fear during dental visits could interfere with them receiving the dental care they need. The impact could even extend into adulthood.
Recognizing the need to reduce this high anxiety, dentistry has used a number of pharmacological tools for many years that relax a child during dental care. Sedatives have often been the only choice for reducing anxiety, especially during extensive procedures and treatments. But now there’s a promising new approach in dentistry that doesn’t depend on drugs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic method used for decades to treat depression, phobias and eating disorders, has been investigated recently as a possible approach for relieving children’s dental anxiety. During CBT, trained therapists use specific behavioral techniques to help patients develop mental and emotional strategies for dealing with stress.
During the usual course of CBT therapy, a therapist meets in counseling sessions with patients weekly over several months to help them change their routine thinking or behavior surrounding a stressful issue. Initially, the therapist guides the patient toward understanding the underlying causes for their negative reaction to the issue. They then work with the patient to devise an objective way to test whether those emotions and beliefs about the issue are true.
Using this effective method for changing behavioral and emotional responses for dental anxiety has had encouraging results from initial research. One study found CBT successfully reduced dental anxiety among a majority of a group of European children ages 9 through 16 who participated in the method.
CBT isn’t an overnight cure, often requires a number of months to achieve results. But for children who suffer from extreme fear of professional dental care, this drug-free method may provide long-term benefits that extend well past their childhood years.
Your child's permanent teeth come in gradually, starting just as they begin losing their primary ("baby") teeth and not ending until late adolescence or early adulthood. That's when the third molars or "wisdom teeth" close out the process.
Because of their late arrival, wisdom teeth have a high potential for dental problems. With a greater chance of crowding or obstruction by other teeth, wisdom teeth often get stuck fully or partially below the gums and bone (impaction) or erupt out of position. In one study, 7 in 10 people between the ages of 20 and 30 will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth at some time in their lives.
It's not surprising then that wisdom teeth are among the most extracted teeth, to the tune of about 10 million per year. Besides those already diseased or causing bite problems, many are removed preemptively in an attempt to avoid future problems.
But wisdom teeth usually require surgical extraction by an oral surgeon, which is much more involved than a simple extraction by a general dentist. Given the potential consequences of surgical extraction, is it really necessary to remove a wisdom tooth not creating immediate problems?
That's not an easy question to answer because it's often difficult to predict a wisdom tooth's developmental track. Early on it can be disease-free and not causing any problems to other teeth. But as some researchers have found, one in three wisdom teeth at this stage will later develop disease or create other issues.
For many dentists, the best approach is to consider extraction on a case by case basis. Those displaying definite signs of problems are prime for removal. But where there are no signs of disease or other issues, the more prudent action may be to keep a watchful eye on their development and decide on extraction at some later date.
More than likely, your dentist will continue to have an ongoing discussion with you about the state of your child's wisdom teeth. While extraction is always an option, wisdom teeth that aren't yet a problem to dental health may be best left alone.
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Most dental procedures today only require local anesthesia to numb just the affected area. It's a safer approach than general anesthesia: the unconscious state created by putting someone "to sleep" can lead to some unpleasant complications.
But patient comfort involves more than preventing physical pain during a procedure. There's also the emotional factor—many people experience nervousness, anxiety or fear during dental visits. It's especially problematic for an estimated 15% of the population whose dental visit anxiety is so great they often try to avoid dental care altogether.
One option is to use general anesthesia for patients with acute anxiety rather than local anesthesia. This removes them consciously from their anxiety, but they must then be monitored closely for complications.
But there's a safer way to relax patients with high anxiety called intravenous or IV sedation. The method delivers a sedative medication directly into a patient's bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted into a vein. The sedative places the patient in a relaxed "semi-awake" state, taking the edge off their anxiety while still enabling them to respond to verbal commands.
Coupled with local anesthesia, they won't experience any pain and very little if any discomfort. And many of the sedatives used also have an amnesiac effect so that the patient won't remember the procedures being performed.
IV sedation does require monitoring of vital signs, but the patient won't need help maintaining their breathing or heart function. And although the medication can be adjusted to reduce any lingering after-effects, a patient will still need someone to accompany them to and from their visit.
For lesser anxiety or nervousness, dentists sometimes prescribe an oral sedative to take just before a visit. This can help take the edge off your nerves and help you relax. With either method, though, sedation can help you overcome fear and anxiety and have a more pleasant treatment experience.
If you would like more information on IV sedation, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
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