Good Health (Australia) - - Dental Health Handbook -

Even with your best ef­forts, your teeth are sus­cep­ti­ble to wear and tear and other prob­lems. Here, we ex­plain what to look out for and the best course of ac­tion. If you have sen­si­tive teeth, you’ll prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­ence oc­ca­sional dis­com­fort or pain when eat­ing or drink­ing cold, hot, sweet and sticky or acidic foods, or even when you breathe in cold air or brush your teeth. Tooth sen­si­tiv­ity can mean any­thing from hav­ing the oc­ca­sional mild twinge to se­vere pain and dis­com­fort that lasts for hours. It can also be a warn­ing sign of den­tal prob­lems.

What causes it? Sen­si­tive teeth can be caused by: ◆ In­cor­rect brush­ing – ex­ces­sive and overly vig­or­ous brush­ing can wear away enamel, ex­pos­ing the un­der­ly­ing den­tine, which con­tains nerve branches. ◆ Tooth ero­sion and/or de­cay. ◆ Gum re­ces­sion or gum dis­ease. ◆ Cracked teeth.

◆ Tooth grind­ing – grind­ing your teeth will wear away enamel. ◆ Some den­tal pro­ce­dures can re­sult in tem­po­rary sen­si­tiv­ity.

What you can do Gen­tly brush­ing with de­sen­si­tis­ing tooth­paste can re­duce sen­si­tiv­ity within a few weeks in most cases. If you have used the tooth­paste con­sis­tently for one month and your teeth are still sen­si­tive, con­sult your den­tist to find out what’s caus­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity. While some cracks, breaks and chips are ob­vi­ous, there’s a con­di­tion called ‘cracked tooth syn­drome’ where teeth have frac­tures that are too small to be seen even on X-rays. Some­times the crack is be­low the gum line. The first sign of cracked tooth syn­drome is usu­ally a sore or sen­si­tive tooth some­where in your mouth.

What causes it? Front teeth usu­ally break due to a knock, an ac­ci­dent or dur­ing bit­ing. Back teeth can also be frac­tured by a knock but are much more likely to crack from forces ap­plied by the jaws slam­ming to­gether rapidly, while play­ing sport, for ex­am­ple, es­pe­cially if there is al­ready a large hole or fill­ing.

Other forces oc­cur dur­ing sleep be­cause some peo­ple grind their teeth with a much greater force than they would ever do when awake.

What you can do The most ef­fec­tive thing you can do is to look af­ter your teeth to pre­serve their strength so they are not as sus­cep­ti­ble to frac­ture. You can re­duce the risk of cracked teeth by: ◆ Try­ing to elim­i­nate grind­ing and clench­ing

habits dur­ing wak­ing hours. Re­lax­ation ex­er­cises may help. ◆ Try­ing to pre­vent den­tal de­cay and hav­ing it treated early – heav­ily de­cayed and heav­ily filled teeth are weaker than teeth that have never been filled. ◆ Not chew­ing hard ob­jects, like bones and ice cubes. ◆ Not chew­ing hard foods such as pork crack­ling and grainy bread. ◆ Ask­ing your den­tist for a night­guard or splint, if you think you grind your teeth at night. Teeth grind­ing, known as brux­ism, is the ex­ces­sive grind­ing, gnash­ing or clench­ing of the teeth that is not a part of nor­mal chew­ing move­ments. If you have brux­ism you may grind your teeth at night or un­con­sciously clench your teeth dur­ing the day. It can cause a range of oral health prob­lems such as: ◆ Cracked tooth enamel. ◆ Bro­ken teeth. ◆ Ex­ces­sive wear and tear on the teeth. ◆ Bro­ken restora­tions like fill­ings and crowns. ◆ Strains on the joints and soft tis­sue of the jaw.

What causes it? A com­bi­na­tion of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors are be­lieved to con­trib­ute to the con­di­tion. It may be trig­gered by: ◆ Anx­i­ety, stress, or ten­sion. ◆ Men­tal con­cen­tra­tion. ◆ Ab­nor­mal anatomy of the teeth or jaws (in­clud­ing high spots on fill­ings) that can cause an im­proper oc­clu­sion (or bite). ◆ Cer­tain med­i­ca­tions.

How you’ll know you’re do­ing it Usu­ally your sleep­ing part­ner – or even some­one who sleeps in a nearby room – will first no­tice the grind­ing and gnash­ing sounds you make while you sleep. Other signs in­clude: ◆ Headache, jaw or ear pain. ◆ Ach­ing teeth, par­tic­u­larly upon wak­ing. ◆ Ach­ing and/or stiff­ness of the face and tem­ples. ◆ Tight­ness in your jaw mus­cles. ◆ Clench­ing the jaw when an­gry, anx­ious or con­cen­trat­ing. ◆ Tooth sen­si­tiv­ity. ◆ Bro­ken, cracked or chipped teeth. ◆ Ab­nor­mal align­ment of teeth caused by un­even tooth wear. ◆ Flat­tened and worn tooth sur­faces. ◆ Loose or wobbly teeth.

◆ Tooth in­den­ta­tions on the tongue. ◆ Dam­age from chew­ing the in­side of your cheek.

How to fix it If you think you may be grind­ing your teeth, see your den­tist as soon as pos­si­ble for treat­ment.

A bite splint can pro­vide re­lief from some of the symp­toms if you have mild to se­vere grind­ing be­hav­iour. Worn at night, the splint is made from moulded hard plas­tic that fits over the up­per or lower teeth so you grind the ap­pli­ance and not your teeth.

Other treat­ments that may help to man­age teeth grind­ing in­clude stress man­age­ment ther­apy, re­lax­ation tech­niques and reg­u­lar ex­er­cise.

Biofeed­back is a treat­ment op­tion for peo­ple who pri­mar­ily clench their teeth dur­ing the day. Elec­tronic monitors are used to mea­sure ten­sion in the jaw mus­cles and this can help you learn how to re­lax mus­cles and re­duce ten­sion.

Wear a mouth­guard when play­ing and train­ing for sport if there is a risk of mouth in­jury. For some sports you will need a full-faced hel­met or face guard.

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