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Arlington, VA 22209

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Temporomandibular Disorders

OUR JAWS DO A LOT of work throughout the day, opening and closing over and over so that we can do ordinary things like talk, eat, and yawn. Ideally, all of the anatomy involved functions as it should and we can perform these tasks without trouble, but many people struggle with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders because something has gone wrong.

The Anatomy Of The Temporomandibular Joints

The joints on both sides of our jaw, located between the ear and the cheekbone, consists of three parts: the socket (part of the temporal bone), the ball (the top part of the jawbone), and a small, fibrous disk that acts as a cushion between the two. The ball and socket are covered in cartilage to help keep movement smooth and comfortable.

If the disk erodes or moves out of its proper alignment, if the cartilage on the bone is worn away by arthritis, or if there is a traumatic injury to the joint, a TMJ disorder may be the result.

Symptoms Of TMJ Disorders

Common symptoms of a TMJ disorder include:

  • Clicking or popping sounds in the joint when chewing, or a grating sensation
  • Pain or tenderness of the jaw
  • Pain in one or both of the temporomandibular joints
  • Difficult or painful chewing
  • Aching pain around the face
  • Aching pain in and around the ear
  • Difficulty opening or closing the jaw due to locking of the joint

Tips For Relieving TMJ Pain

If you’re dealing with TMJ pain, there are a few things you can do to reduce it on your own:

  • Keep yawning and chewing to a minimum.
  • When possible, avoid extreme jaw movements like from singing or yelling.
  • If you have to yawn, control it by pressing a fist beneath your chin.
  • When resting, hold your teeth slightly apart rather than fully closed. This is the natural resting position for the jaw, even when the lips are closed.
  • Eat soft foods that require little to no chewing.

Treatment For TMJ Disorders

In most cases, TMJ pain is temporary and goes away on its own after a week or two, but not always. If it doesn’t, and especially if it gets worse, then it likely needs treatment, which varies depending on the cause.

These treatments include ice packs, exercise, and moist heat, medication, and splints, but if none of them are enough, then measures like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasound treatment, or trigger-point injections may be necessary. If all else fails, jaw surgery may be recommended.

Talk To Us About Your Jaw Pain

If you’ve been experiencing persistent pain or tenderness in your jaw or difficulty opening and closing it completely, give us a call or stop by so that we can look for the cause and get you on the path to being pain-free.

Together, we can defeat TMJ pain!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Oral pH: A Delicate Balance

YOU MIGHT REMEMBER a little bit about pH from a science class you took years ago in middle school or high school. Even if you don’t, that’s okay; it’s time for a refresher course because pH plays a major role in our oral health.

The Basics (And Acidics) Of pH

We could go into some really complicated things about hydrogen ions, but the important thing to know is that a pH of 7 is neutral — neither acidic nor basic. For example, water has a pH of 7. As the numbers get smaller than 7, the substance becomes more acidic, and as they get larger than 7 (up to 14), it becomes more alkaline or basic. Make sense? Good. Now let’s look at what this has to do with our mouths.

Acid Versus Tooth Enamel

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, so it’s pretty tough. It is, however, highly susceptible to acid erosion. All it takes is an environment of pH 5.5 or lower for the enamel to begin dissolving.

There are many ways our teeth can be exposed to acid. The most obvious is when we eat or drink something sour or tart because we can actually taste the acid. When we consume something sugary or starchy, oral bacteria eats the leftovers stuck between our teeth and produces acid as a waste product. Acid reflux and vomiting also expose our teeth to stomach acid, which is very strong.

Saliva: The First Line Of Defense

The best natural defense our teeth have against acids is saliva, which has a pH slightly above 7. Saliva washes food particles away and helps keep oral bacteria populations in check. This is why dry mouth is such a dangerous problem for oral health. The less saliva we have, the more vulnerable our teeth are.

Sipping soda or snacking throughout the day is also a problem for our teeth, because saliva needs time to neutralize our mouths afterward, and constantly introducing more acid makes that much harder.

A More Alkaline Diet Will Help Your Teeth

A great way we can help out our saliva in the fight to protect our teeth, aside from the usual methods of daily brushing and flossing and regular dental appointments, is to eat fewer acidic foods and trade them for alkaline ones. That means adding in more fruits and veggies and leaving off some of the breads, dairy, and meats — and we should definitely cut back on soda and other sugary treats.

We Can Fight Enamel Erosion Together!

If you’d like more tips for how to protect your tooth enamel, just ask us! We want you to have all the tools you need to keep your teeth healthy and strong so that they will last a lifetime.

Our top priority is our patients’ healthy smiles!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Dental Care For Baby Teeth

THE SMILE OF a happy child is one of the best things in the world. Unfortunately, dental caries (tooth decay) is the most common chronic disease of childhood. We want those smiles to stay as healthy as possible, which is why we’re dedicating a blog post to baby teeth dental care.

Baby Teeth Matter

Because baby teeth are temporary, you might be tempted to think they’re not very important, but don’t fall into that trap. Healthy baby teeth are essential for speech development, building self esteem, promoting good nutrition through proper chewing, and saving space in the jaw for the development and positioning of adult teeth.

Avoid Sipping On Juice Or Milk

The harmful oral bacteria in our mouths that cause tooth decay love sugar. Every time we eat or drink something sugary, they have a party, and it takes about half an hour for our saliva to wash away the leftover sugars. However, when we give our kids sippy cups or bottles of milk or juice to drink over a long period of time, their saliva doesn’t have time to wash away the residue and their oral bacteria gets to party nonstop.

This is such a common problem that it has a name: bottle rot. You can protect your child’s teeth from bottle rot by only giving them milk or juice at mealtimes and only giving them bottles or sippy cups of water to sip on while they play or when you put them to bed.

Thumbsucking And Pacifiers

It is perfectly natural and healthy for babies and toddlers to suck on their thumbs or fingers or use a pacifier. Doing so helps them feel safe and happy, and most children will stop on their own around age four. However, if they keep going after that, it can begin to impact their dental alignment, creating problems like an open bite. Come see us if you’re concerned about your child’s thumbsucking or pacifier habit.

Sealants

One great way to give your child’s teeth extra protection from cavities is sealants. These are typically applied to the chewing surfaces of molars. They cover deep pits and grooves that are so difficult to keep clean. The sealing process is quick and easy, with no discomfort, and the teeth will be protected for years.

Good Oral Health Habits

No matter what your child eats or drinks, if they have sealants, and if they grow out of using a pacifier or sucking their thumb on their own, nothing can replace good oral health habits like daily brushing and flossing. While your child is too young to do it themselves, you can do it for them and with them and explain why it’s so important for keeping their teeth healthy and happy.

Regular Checkups

Don’t forget that one of your best resources for keeping your child’s teeth healthy is the dentist! With regular checkups, we can make sure that everything is going well and answer any questions you or your child have about good dental care.

Let’s keep those teeth happy and healthy!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Dental X-Rays: It’s Time For Your Close-Up

IF WE ASKED you to list three things that happen in a typical dental exam, dental X-rays would probably be one of them. But do you know what they’re used for? It depends on the type of X-ray, so let’s look at what these are.

Getting The Wide Shot With Panoramic X-Rays

If you’ve ever stood on a circular thing with your chin on a little platform and been told to stand still for a few seconds while a machine spun around your head, you’ve had a panoramic X-ray. This is the most common type of extraoral (outside the mouth) X-ray.

Panoramic X-rays show the entire mouth in one image. In them, we can see incoming adult teeth and wisdom teeth, including impacted ones, which is how we can determine whether there is enough room for them and if they’ll come in without any extra help. This type of X-ray also makes it easier to detect abscesses, tumors, and cysts.

Enhance: Periapical X-Rays And Bitewing X-Rays

In photography, wide shots show a lot, but they aren’t as useful for details as a closeup. The same is true in X-rays, which is why we don’t rely only on the panoramic image. The next level of dental X-rays are the bitewing X-rays. These intraoral (inside the mouth) X-rays focus on a specific area inside the mouth at a time, and we usually take one for each of the four quadrants of your mouth.

Bitewing X-rays give us a better view of the gaps between teeth, which are hard to see with the naked eye. These images make it easy to check for tooth decay and cavities in those areas. When we need to get even more detailed, we take periapical X-rays, which hone in on an individual problem tooth. These can be taken alongside bitewing X-rays.

Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

Dental X-rays involve brief exposure to low levels of radiation, but they are considered extremely safe. The short exposure time and protective coverings like the lead apron ensure that radiation exposure is as low as possible. We also only take X-rays as often as we absolutely need to, which further reduces exposure.

Factors that determine whether or not X-rays are necessary include the patient’s age, stage of dental development, oral health history, risk factors for various conditions, and whether or not they are presenting symptoms of oral health problems.

Still Have X-Ray Questions?

If you would like to know more about how we use dental X-rays in our practice or have any concerns about safety, just ask us! We want our patients to have all the information they need to feel comfortable when they come to see us.

Your dental health is in good hands!

Top image by Flickr user Cory Doctorow used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Canker Sores: Causes And Treatment

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to enjoy one of your favorite foods, but that angry, swollen lump on your gums or the inside of your cheek kept stinging and hurting? Then you know what it’s like to have a canker sore.

These sores are round ulcers that can develop on the inside of the lips and cheeks, on the gumline, or even on the tongue, and spicy, hot, or acidic foods can painfully agitate them. Let’s take a look at what causes these sores, how we can avoid them, and how we can help them heal faster.

What Causes A Canker Sore

Canker sores can develop for a variety of reasons. They can be the result of a viral infection, a food allergy, or a mouth injury, but other factors like stress, hormonal fluctuations, and vitamin or mineral deficiencies can also make them more likely. Another factor that can contribute to the frequency of canker sores is braces. Dental wax can help shield sensitive oral tissues from the protruding pieces of an orthodontic appliance.

Treating A Canker Sore

If you have a canker sore, you want it to go away as quickly as possible. One way you can do that is by brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush, because it is gentle on the gums. If your current toothpaste is painful, try swapping it out for a toothpaste without the ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate.

To relieve the irritation, you can use a topical medication, a special mouthwash, or oral pain relievers. Rinsing daily with salt water is also a great way to reduce inflammation and encourage faster healing (just make sure you don’t swallow it).

Preventing Future Sores

A few foods, such as salmon, kale, carrots, parsley, spinach, and yogurt, can help reduce future ulcer breakouts because of their high vitamin B12, iron, and folate content. Flossing daily and brushing your teeth twice a day also help reduce ulcer breakouts, because a clean mouth is healthier.

The Dentist Can Help Too!

If you’ve been struggling with canker sores, schedule a dental appointment! There may be an underlying cause that needs diagnosis and treatment with prescribed medications.

We love to see those healthy smiles!

Top image by Flickr user Matt Biddulph used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Straight Teeth: Not Just About Looks

THE MOST OBVIOUS impact of orthodontic treatment is a straighter, more attractive smile. While it is true that we tend to perceive people with properly aligned teeth as happier and more successful, the benefits aren’t just superficial.

Clearer Speech

Do you remember the lisp you had between losing your two front teeth and the adult ones growing in? Based on that, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that our teeth are a crucial component to our ability to speak and enunciate clearly.

In order to make the right sounds, our lips and tongues have to maneuver around our teeth. When teeth are properly aligned, this is simple, but crooked teeth can result in a lisp, slurring, or difficulty making certain sounds that require tongue-to-tooth contact, such as the “t,” “s,” and “ch” sounds. Orthodontic treatment can solve these problems by moving the teeth into their proper positions.

Healthier Digestion

We don’t give our teeth enough credit for the role they play in good digestion. Chewing is a very important part of the process. It doesn’t just chop the food into small enough pieces to fit down the esophagus, it mixes the food with saliva, which begins the chemical digestion process.

When we wolf down our food without much chewing — or when we chew with misaligned teeth that don’t do the job effectively — it forces our stomachs to work harder than they should. If you already have straight teeth, put them to good use by chewing each mouthful for longer. If you don’t, your digestive system will thank you for getting orthodontic treatment.

Better Breathing

Having poorly aligned teeth can make it difficult or even impossible to comfortably close your jaws when you aren’t moving them, which can lead to habitual mouth breathing. Mouth breathing has a number of negative effects, including dry mouth, bad breath, snoring, chronic fatigue, and brain fog. The effects are an even bigger problem for kids, sometimes going as far as changing the development of their facial bone structure.

Straight Teeth For A Better Life

Not only do straight teeth make it easier to speak, eat, and breathe properly, they’re also easier to clean! Maybe you’ve been avoiding orthodontic treatment because you’re happy with the way your smile looks, but the many benefits of straight teeth are worth considering.

Straight teeth lead to better oral health and better overall health!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

The Effects Of Pregnancy On Oral Health

YOU CAN ALWAYS expect your body to go through a lot of changes when you’re expecting, but did you know that some of those changes are to your oral health?

The changing hormone levels of pregnancy actually put expecting mothers at greater risk of developing a variety of oral health issues, including gum disease, enamel erosion, and unusual swellings in the gums.

Pregnancy Gingivitis

There’s so much to do in the months leading up to the arrival of a new baby, but that’s no reason to leave brushing and flossing on the back burner, because pregnancy hormones can lead to the tender, swollen gums of gingivitis.

Around 40 percent of pregnant woman have some form of gum disease, and studies have linked pregnancy gingivitis to premature delivery and lower birth weights. Make sure to brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush and floss daily to keep the plaque away from your vulnerable gums.

Morning Sickness And Enamel Erosion

While hormones cause problems for an expectant mom’s gums, morning sickness can cause problems for her teeth. Stomach acid from frequent vomiting, heartburn, or acid reflux eats away at the hard, protective enamel on each tooth. The best way to minimize this effect is to swish with baking soda and water after a bout of morning sickness. This will neutralize any acid left in your mouth before you brush.

Pyogenic Granuloma

Perhaps the weirdest oral health change a pregnant woman can experience is pyrogenic granuloma, or “pregnancy tumors.” The name might sound scary, but these swellings (which often resemble raspberries between the teeth) are not malignant. They most often appear in the second trimester. The dentist can remove them if they’re uncomfortable, but they usually vanish after the baby is born.

Protecting Your Teeth — And Your Baby’s!

In addition to your daily brushing and flossing, what you eat can play a big role in keeping your teeth healthy. Cut back on sugary treats and load up on essential nutrients. Your baby’s teeth start developing in the second trimester, and they need plenty of protein, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins A, C, and D to grow strong.

Your Dentist Is Your Greatest Resource

One of the best things you can do to protect your oral health during your pregnancy is to visit the dentist. Routine cleanings and checkups are crucial for combating pregnancy gingivitis and making sure everything is staying healthy. If it’s been a while since your last appointment or you expect to be expecting soon, get proactive and schedule your next checkup today!

We have the world’s best patients!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Root Canal Myths: Busted

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD someone begin a sentence “I’d rather have a root canal than…”? The negative portrayal of root canal treatment in our culture isn’t just a cliché; it’s a myth! That’s why we’re using this post to knock down some of the most common root canal myths out there.

Myth 1: “Root Canal Treatment Is Painful”

Many adults struggle with dental anxiety. The prospect of going to the dentist may fill them with dread, even for a simple cleaning appointment, so we understand why a patient might expect something horrible and painful when they get the news that they need root canal treatment. However, thanks to modern technology and anesthetics, root canal treatment can be performed quickly and comfortably. The best part is that the pain of your infected tooth will be gone!

Myth 2: “If My Tooth Doesn’t Hurt, I Don’t Need Root Canal Treatment”

A common assumption people make is that if their teeth don’t hurt, they’re healthy. This isn’t always true. In some cases, the tooth may already have died, but it still needs root canal therapy to prevent a dangerous infection.

Myth 3: “Root Canal Treatment Is Only A Temporary Fix”

Some patients are skeptical of root canal treatment because they think the benefits won’t last very long. This is not true. A tooth does become brittle after root canal treatment, and the grinding forces from chewing and talking may cause the crown on the tooth to break, but this is only a problem with the restoration, not the root canal itself.

Myth 4: “It’s Better to Just Pull The Tooth”

It might technically be easier to yank a problem tooth than to carefully remove infected pulp, fill in the root, and place a new crown, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. Our natural teeth are nearly always preferable to any kind of false teeth. They look and work better, while an extracted tooth may result in future problems for the surrounding teeth, in addition to a lengthy replacement process.

To learn about the steps of root canal treatment, check out this video:

The Root Canal Reality

The truth is that root canal therapy is a great way to save a tooth, and modern dentistry has made the process comfortable and pain-free. If you’ve been avoiding root canal treatment because of one of these myths, do the best thing for your tooth and schedule a dental appointment today!

We love our patients’ healthy smiles!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Kissing And Cavities

WE HOPE ALL OF our patients are excited for Valentine’s Day! We also hope the topic we’re about to discuss won’t spoil the romantic mood, but we need to talk about what kissing does to oral bacteria.

The Bacteria In Our Mouths

Our mouths are home to many species of microscopic organisms. Most of them are harmless, and some are even beneficial, but some cause tooth decay and gum disease. The worst offenders are streptococcus mutans and porphyromonas gingivalis.

Streptococcus mutans eats the leftover sugars and starches that stick to our teeth after we eat, and then it excretes enamel-eroding acid. Porphyromonas gingivalis is strongly linked to advanced gum disease, or periodontitis.

Managing Our Oral Bacteria

As bacteria reproduce very quickly, a good oral hygiene routine is essential for keeping the harmful bacteria populations under control. In a healthy, clean mouth, there might be anywhere from a thousand to a hundred thousand bacteria on each tooth surface, but a mouth that doesn’t get cleaned often can have as many as a hundred million to a billion bacteria per tooth. So don’t skip your twice-daily brushing and daily flossing!

So What Does This Have To Do With Kissing?

On average, an individual will have between 34 and 72 different types of oral bacteria. Once we get a strain of bacteria in our mouths, it probably isn’t going away. The trouble is that each person has different bacteria, so kissing or even sharing drinks with someone could introduce new strains of bacteria to our mouths.

This is more dangerous for children than adults. Young children don’t have as many types of oral bacteria as adults yet, and their immune systems aren’t used to dealing with them. Too many kisses from Mom and Dad can leave them more vulnerable to developing cavities.

The best way to avoid sharing your oral bacteria with your child is to keep those kisses to the cheek, don’t share your spoon or fork with them, and make sure they always have their own drink instead of giving them sips from yours.

Catch Feelings, Not Cavities

As long as you’re taking good care of your oral health and hygiene, you don’t need to worry as much about spreading dangerous, cavity-causing germs with your kisses, but even then, avoid doing things that could spread oral bacteria to small children. If you follow these tips and keep up with your regular dental appointments, you’ll be free to enjoy the feelings of Valentine’s Day!

We love all our patients!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Relief For A Burned Mouth

HAVE YOU EVER SAT down to a plate of lasagna from your favorite Italian place and immediately taken a huge bite without waiting for it to cool down? Or taken a swig of hot chocolate too fast? Maybe it wasn’t lasagna or hot chocolate for you, but we’ve all burned our tongues on foods or drinks we love, and we’ll all probably do it again. We want to make sure you know what to do for your mouth when that happens.

Step 1: Sip Cold Water

What you do immediately after burning your tongue will determine how quickly you recover, so instead of persevering with your hot food or drink, drink a glass of cold water. Not only will it help the burn feel better, but it will keep you hydrated so that your mouth can produce enough saliva to protect the burned area from bacteria.

Step 2: Keep Things Cool

Soft, cold foods will help to numb the sting of the burn, so open up the fridge and grab a yogurt, fruit cup, or applesauce. It might even be a good reason to spring for a smoothie or some frozen yogurt, and make sure to keep drinking cool water as well.

Step 3: Salt Water Swish

You might have learned from your grandma to gargle salt water when you have a sore throat. Well, she was right! Swishing or gargling salt water is also a great remedy if you have sore gums, have recently had a dental procedure, or even if you burned your tongue.

When we swish salt water, it temporarily makes our mouths more alkaline, which makes life difficult for harmful oral bacteria. To make your salt water rinse, just add half a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water and stir. Swish it around your mouth for about thirty seconds, spit, and repeat!

Step 4: Tasty Relief

Another way to speed up the healing process for your burned tongue is to apply sugar or honey directly to the tender area. This is another remedy that predates modern medicine. Sugar is a quick source of energy for the cells that are trying to heal, and studies have shown that honey is even more effective at promoting healing than sugar. Just make sure to drink some water afterward to rinse away any sweet residue.

Step 5: Pain Medication

For particularly bad mouth burns, these measures might not be sufficient to relieve the pain. At that point, it becomes a job for over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Luckily, oral tissues heal more quickly than any other part of the body, so even a particularly painful burn to the tongue should be gone within a few days.

Burning Tongue Syndrome And Your Dentist

Some people feel like they have a burned tongue even when there is no actual burn, a chronic condition known as burning tongue syndrome. If you’re feeling the burn for no apparent reason, schedule a dental appointment. Otherwise, follow these steps to get your burned tongue feeling good as new as soon as possible!

We look forward to seeing you at your next appointment!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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