A couple of days ago a friend was complaining to me that he had gotten something stuck between his teeth. He’d had lunch at a barbecue joint and wouldn’t you know it he had some brisket jammed between his molars. He was looking for a toothpick or a straw to get it out because it was kind of uncomfortable.
If you’ve ever suffered the same fate you’ll know what I’m talking about. It isn’t necessarily painful, but it’s a kind of persistent pressure that doesn’t really let up until you get whatever is jammed in there out. There are a lot of nerve endings in the gums and the tissues that support the teeth that tell you brain, “hey, something funny is going on here.”
So I whipped out the floss that I carry in my pocket and rescued him. It took him about to seconds to snap the offending piece of brisket out and he was good to go.
“I’m lucky you’re a dentist,” he said as if it’s a given that dentists don’t go anywhere without floss, a toothbrush and maybe a spare dental mirror for good measure. The reality is my dirty little secret.
In a perfect world, the contacts between your teeth are tight enough that normal chewing doesn’t wedge food between them. Too tight makes it so flossing to remove plaque and food debris is difficult or impossible, but too loose means food can become impacted. Food impaction is an inconvenience to be sure, but it can become a problem. A spot where food impacts is more prone to decay simply due to the fact that you cannot remove the debris. The bugs (and by bugs, I mean bacteria) that sit there will metabolize the sugars in the impacted food into acid. When the pH of that part of the mouth reaches a critical level (5.5 to be exact) then the enamel of your teeth will start to dissolve. The longer impacted gunk sits there, the greater the chances that the pH can drop into dangerous levels and cause cavities.
Impacted food can also cause gum problems. I’ve spoken with periodontists (gum specialists) that have removed popcorn kernels from gum abscesses. People with gum disease are more prone to food impaction because their teeth are slightly more mobile than those without bone loss around their teeth. The bottom line is that places where food gets impacted are at greater risk for cavities and gum disease.
Why do we have spots where food gets stuck? Well, some people have naturally loose contacts between their teeth. As I mentioned, people with gum disease are definitely more likely to get stuff stuck in their teeth. If you have a broken or badly decayed tooth they will often be a spot that holds food debris. Finally, dental restorations like fillings or crowns can have inadequate contacts and be a risk factor on their own.
How do we fix it? Well, if you have naturally loose contacts between your teeth I’m not going to “fix” them if they don’t have disease. Those folks need to be extra careful in their brushing and flossing habits. Contacts that are particularly annoying to a patient can usually be “closed” in a minimally invasive fashion if the patient chooses. But if the loose contact in question is caused by decay or worse, the tooth is broken, we better fix it pretty fast!
Dentists probably floss more often than regular folks, but there is no law that requires dentists to carry floss. I carry floss because I have two very loose contacts. Both of them are caused by restorations that have opened up over time. I need to get them fixed and I’ve been procrastinating. That’s my dirty little secret. It may surprise you that dentists are like other human beings…some of us put off treatment that’s necessary, too. But that’s no excuse! Let’s unite in our commitment to close open contacts! No more food impaction!
Did this make you feel ashamed? Do you feel differently about dentists? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.
Gather round, children. I want to tell you a scary story. It’s the true story of a tooth. It was a tooth that was long thought to be dead. You see, the owner of this tooth was a 60+ year old man who had bumped it on a manure spreader when he was nine. Over the years, the tooth went dark. It never really hurt him, it just changed color. He got used to it over the years and just thought it was dead.
Then it happened. One dark and rainy night, some 50 years later, something changed about that tooth. He started to notice some feeling in that tooth. Some pressure. It felt different. It didn’t hurt, exactly. But something was different. He went to bed thinking it would go away.
He was wrong…very wrong.
He was awakened from a dead sleep with a sharp pain under his lip. The pain was intense and throbbing. It hurt so bad, he was ready to try and take that tooth out with his bare hands. And his dentist’s office didn’t open for another 4 hours! It was like a horror movie that had come true. The tooth he always thought was dead…had come back to life! And it was haunting him!
Have you ever seen someone with a dark front tooth? It’s relatively common in adults and very common in children. Most often it happens after some kind of trauma. Like a kid that bumps their front tooth on a coffee table or a guy to gets hit in the face with a softball. Sometimes these teeth turn dark. The dark color is actually an indication of the pulpof the tooth becoming necrotic. Necrotic is a fancy term for tissue death. So what we’re really talking about is a dead tooth.
Necrotic teeth usually become abscessed teeth. An abscess happens when the immune system’s response to the trauma is so heavy that pus actually leaks out of the gum tissues! Although most people are grossed out by talk of pus, it’s pretty important. Pus is simply the dead cells that our immune system uses to cause inflammation, which is a response to infection or a foreign body. Often the teeth do become infected but if the injury is only from trauma, sometimes there isn’t true bacterial invasion in these teeth.
A tooth that has become necrotic needs treatment. It either needs to be removed or it will need root canal therapy. When these teeth aren’t treated, they usually stay chronically inflamed. This chronic inflammation often doesn’t hurt, but it’s almost always doing damage to the surrounding tissues. An untreated tooth with this kind of injury has the potential to become a zombie tooth.
Zombie teeth are dead and chronically inflamed. They almost never hurt…until they do! It’s like a classic slasher movie. Everyone is relieved when they think Jason or Freddy is dead. But they always come back to life!
Do yourself a favor…if you’ve got a zombie tooth make sure you get in to see your dentist! These teeth have a way of not being a problem until holidays and weekends!
Did you find this post horrifying? Did it scare you to death? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.
I was watching some water polo on TV this afternoon. This isn’t a sport that is heavily televised outside of the Olympics, so it’s not something I’ve seen much of. Two things I noticed…
It is a SERIOUSLY rough sport. More fouls than hockey and more dirty tricks than professional wrestling!
Mouth guards. They all had them. At the time outs, they’d all swim to the side and take them out to discuss strategy. But as soon as they were subject to flying elbows and head butts, they were wearing them again.
The one thing I didn’t see while watching water polo? Avulsed teeth and bleeding lips. Although I did see a couple of black eyes.
If you play sports, you should have a mouth guard. If you’ve tried one and don’t use it because it’s not comfortable, come see me. We can make you a custom fit mouth guard that’s comfortable to wear and looks sweet. Team colors, American flag, whatever you like. They’re a little bit more than the boil and bite type you buy at the sports shop, but they cost a lot less than dental implants, crowns, bridges or (say it ain’t so) dentures.
When most people think of summer in Michigan they picture sunny days spent at the lake, outdoor concerts and the smell of recently cut grass. Michigan summers are the reward for the punishment that is Michigan winter.
When I think of Michigan summers I think of getting hit in the face with a softball. Or maybe getting an elbow in the incisor while playing basketball. And summer always leads to fall football season, which sometimes leads to broken teeth. I know, I’m kind of weird. But summer is definitely the season of dental sports trauma.
Tooth and other dental injuries are the most common type of head and neck injury sustained during participation in sports.
A tooth knocked out (complete avulsion) while playing sports is likely to cost $20,000 or more to replace over a lifetime
Fixing a tooth or teeth that are broken but not lost during sports will likely create expensive problems that will need to be dealt with over the athlete’s life.
Am I using scare tactics? You betcha! I have treated patients who have needed extensive dental work to fix problems that could have been prevented. They all wish that they had been wearing a mouth guard when they got nailed with that baseball!
I know what you’re thinking. Wearing a mouth guard sucks. They’re bulky and annoying. They make you drool. They look silly. I would agree with you if you’re talking about the store bought “boil and bite” mouth guards. They’re awful. A custom made, lab fabricated dental mouth guard that is appropriately trimmed and adjusted is a whole different story.
"I've got one for every outfit!"
We have mouth guards made in a lab. We use a super accurate impression material to make a model of your teeth and then have a lab fabricate a mouthguard of ideal thickness. A thicker mouth guard offers more protection, but that needs to be weighed against comfort. If it’s not comfortable, you won’t wear it. Since different sports require different levels of protection, we can make a mouth guard in varying thicknesses depending on whether you’re boxing or playing tennis. Whatever sport you play, we’ve got you covered. More importantly, we can get all different colors and styles, add straps for football and even fit patients in braces!
The bottom line is that you should be wearing a mouth guard if you’re playing sports. Most athletes are pretty sure it couldn’t happen to them. I know a few that used to think that. They wear mouth guards now!
Did you like this post? Would you like to share it with friends? You can click on the heart shaped icon next to the title of this post and automatically share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+! Or you can leave a comment by clicking the “ballon” shaped button next to the title. Or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to answer any questions and appreciate your input! If you are looking for a mouth guard (or even a new dentist!) in Saginaw, MI I’d like to help!
I hear this line at least once a week. Really. “No offense, but I hate dentists.” How could I take offense at that?
My usual reply: “Perfect! I hate patients, too. Open wide.”
I know, I’m making light of the way a lot of people feel about the dentist office. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I’ve found that approaching patients with a sense of humor is usually helpful.
So why would a patient “hate the dentist?” Some associate the dentist with pain. If you’ve ever had an abscessed tooth, who could blame you? Others may have had a bad experience in the dental office that has been hard to forget. Some people really don’t like the way that anesthetic makes them feel.
Finally, dental care is expensive. Anything that costs money that you would rather spend in some other way is expensive. Have you ever had someone trying to sell you a new roof or a dry basement try to explain to you how inexpensive their product is? Dentistry is kind of the same way. If you came into my office and said, “doc, I’ve got a bunch of money in my pocket that I don’t know what to do with so I thought I’d have a root canal” you’d be the first patient that ever said that to me.
Any of these concerns is 100% legitimate. So my job is to try to make you hate us less. I have a few suggestions that might make coming to the dentist a little easier:
Don’t wait until something is broken or something hurts. By the time it breaks or hurts it’s going to cost more to fix (if it can be fixed) and has more potential to hurt. Regular visits for checkups when you’re not having troubles make it a lot easier to catch small problems before they become big problems.
Dentistry has come a long way! The way it used to be and the way it is now is a LOT different. The needles are smaller, our numbing agents are better and our understanding of pain control is much improved! If you haven’t had work done for awhile I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I can’t guarantee that there will be absolutely no discomfort but we’re able to keep pain down to an absolute minimum.
Tell us! If you had a previous bad dental experience that information is really important. If you tell us what happened to you before, we’ll make sure we don’t do it again. For instance, I’ve had a patient tell me that her biggest problem with dentistry in the past was a feeling of claustrophobia because she was leaned back too far. This is an easy problem to fix but we don’t know if you don’t tell us!
Mead’s rule. There is never a time when we’re working on you that we can’t stop. In my office, the patient is in charge. If you need me to stop, for any reason, I will. Just raise your hand or let me know in some way. Even if it’s just to rest your jaw or take a deep breath. There’s nothing so important during dental work that we can’t give you a break. Even if you aren’t in control of anything else in your life…you’re in control when you’re here!
The goal of this Saginaw dentist is to turn “haters” into “regulars.” We do it by treating you like we’d want to be treated. We’ll greet you with a smile. You can pick whatever TV channel you might want to watch. Maybe you’d prefer to surf on your laptop or iPad. We’ll explain what we’re going to do before we do it and we’ll tell you how much it’s going to cost before we start anything. You’re in charge and what you say goes. I don’t know if we can change “I hate dentists” into “I love visiting my dentist” but we’re going to try!
Questions or comments about this blog? Would you like to make an appointment? Call the office at (989) 799-9133 or email me at email@example.com. I always answer my own email!
Murphy’s Law states that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” The dental corollary of Murphy’s Law (a.k.a. Murphy’s Law of Toothaches) is “if you’re going to have a dental emergency it will happen on the weekend or when you’re out of town or both.”
Last Friday I was working at the Midland office and had the opportunity to treat a patient with a toothache. Toothaches are incredibly common and the aforementioned Murphy’s Law of Toothaches was in full swing. The patient was visiting the area from Georgia* to participate in a yearly local hot air balloon event in Midland. He was the “crew captain” and was in charge of setting the balloon up and tracking it from the ground. And, as Murphy would have it, he had a terrible toothache. Tyler* told me that he knew he had tooth troubles and had plans to get some work done in the upcoming year.
But then he took a trip to Michigan…and he didn’t realize Murphy had decided to come along for the ride.
Now I ask you…if you were a hot air balloon pilot would you want your crew chief distracted by a bad toothache? I know I wouldn’t.
The story actually had a great ending. We were able to diagnose and treat the offending tooth and Tyler was soon feeling 100% again. In fact, he was feeling so good that he invited his dentist to go for a balloon ride later that weekend. And I did.
What’s the moral of this story?
First, remember Murphy’s Law of Toothaches. If you’ve got teeth that you know you need some work…just do it!
Second, if you do get in trouble on the road you can check out our Dental Referral Network to see if there are any recommended dentists close to where you’re travelling. Otherwise call our emergency line at (989) 488-7665 and I’ll do my best to help you find help.
Finally, I’m happy to treat dental emergencies and I’ll never say “I told you so.”
Just remember when you’re planning your next trip or vacation to make sure you don’t accidentally invite Murphy along for the ride!
*names and places have been changed to protect the “toothachey.”