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Oral Health Conditions

Oral Health Conditions

Dr. Lanie can point you in the right direction for treatment for many different oral conditions, whether it is something treatable at our office or requires a specialist or referral to your primary care physician. Below, we look at some common oral health conditions, some of their underlying symptoms, and what treatment options are available.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is a common degenerative oral health condition that results in the erosion of tooth enamel. The foods we eat contain sugars and starches. When combined with the bacteria that exists in our mouths, the result is plaque, a sticky substance that forms on teeth. Plaque produces acids that damage the surface of the teeth, resulting in holes that are called dental caries, or cavities. The National Institutes of Health reports that 92% of adults aged 20 to 64 have had at least one cavity.


Cavities are holes in teeth resulting from tooth decay and can affect people of all ages. As they are most often tied to poor dental hygiene habits, they tend to be most common in children who are still learning the proper way to brush and floss. However, adults can get cavities as well. New cavities can form around the edges of areas of the tooth where previous cavities were filled in childhood, and receding gums from periodontal disease can expose lower portions of the teeth which do not have enamel and were previously protected from decay by the gums.

While tooth decay typically starts with the enamel of the tooth, it can affect all of the layers. The enamel is the hard outer surface of the tooth, followed by the dentin in the middle, and, lastly, the pulp, which contains the blood supply and nerve endings of the tooth. A cavity can take around three years to form in the enamel but will progress much faster through the softer inner layers of the tooth. Cavities do not cause any pain when they are in the enamel of the tooth, so without regular dental exams, it’s possible for them to go unnoticed until they have grown deeper and more severe.

Cavities are usually categorized by what part of the tooth they develop on and the extent of the decay. Cavity types include:


Smooth surface

These cavities form on the smooth surfaces of the teeth and are most often found in the spaces between teeth where toothbrushes have trouble reaching. Flossing and regular professional cleanings are the best way to prevent these from forming.

Pit and fissure

These cavities form on the tops of molars, in the crevices of chewing surfaces where food and plaque can be harder to remove. They tend to be more of a problem for people who don’t brush as often as they should, or those with poor brushing technique. Dental sealants are a good preventative measure against these types of cavities, as they can fill in the deeper areas and make it easier to keep the tops of the teeth clean.

Root decay

The hard enamel of teeth takes the longest to be affected by dental decay, but as we grow older, we are more susceptible to periodontal disease and gum recession. This exposes the softer dentin layer that was previously protected beneath the gum line. Root cavities are the result of tooth decay forming on these portions of the tooth.


Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Some of the common symptoms of tooth decay include:

  • Bad breath
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Toothache/oral pain
  • Pain when biting down
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Sensitivity to sweet foods or drinks
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Visible holes or pits in teeth


Treatment of Tooth Decay

How tooth decay is treated depends on the severity of the decay.



Useful in preventing cavities from forming in areas that you may find yourself having trouble keeping clean, sealants cover the surface of molars with a plastic material that fills in pits and crevices where toothbrushes may struggle to reach.



If tooth decay is caught early enough, fluoride treatments can be used to help remineralize the tooth enamel. You may also be asked to use a prescription toothpaste or mouthwash that will help to restore the minerals that acid has removed from your tooth enamel.



When cavities have caused damage to the tooth enamel, it’s important to have the decayed portion of the tooth removed to halt any further progress of the cavity. The removed portion of the enamel can then be repaired with a dental filling.



In cases where a large portion of a tooth has been affected by decay, the structure of the tooth may be weakened to a point where a filling alone would leave the tooth vulnerable to cracks. In these instances, a crown can be used to cover and protect the tooth.


Root canal therapy

Sometimes, when tooth decay is not addressed soon enough, it can reach the inner parts of the tooth and cause pain and serious problems. Root canal therapy is a method for removing the infected pulp from the center of the tooth and replacing it with a rubber-like material that prevents bacteria from getting back in.



For cases where a tooth can’t be saved through root canal therapy, you may require an extraction to remove the infected tooth. Depending on the location of the tooth, your dentist may recommend a restoration such as a dental implant or bridge to prevent the surrounding teeth from shifting due to the gap.

TMJ Disorders

What is a TMJ Disorder?

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, otherwise known as TMJ disorder or TMD, is a common oral health condition affecting millions of Americans each year.

The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) functions like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. A TMJ disorder causes pain and discomfort in your jaw joint and muscles controlling jaw movement.

Symptoms of TMJ Disorders:

Some of the primary symptoms of TMJ Disorders include:

  • Consistent pain in your jaw
  • Earaches
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Facial pain

There are additional symptoms that could be linked to TMD, such as:

  • Tenderness around your jaw
  • Difficulty opening your mouth wide
  • A clicking sound or grating sensation when you open your mouth or chew

What causes TMJ disorders?

The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder often remains unclear, but the pain can stem from various factors such as genetics, arthritis, or jaw injury. Clenching or grinding your teeth, a condition known as bruxism, may also contribute to TMJ disorders.

What treatment options are available for TMJ Disorders?

Proper diagnosis is an important first step, as there are many types of TMJ Disorders, and the right course of treatment will depend on each patient’s unique situation.

Diagnosing TMJ disorders involves a combination of patient history, physical examination, and imaging tests.

  1. Patient History: During your dental appointment, our dental professionals will discuss your health history, including any symptoms you’re experiencing. This could help indicate a TMJ disorder.

  2. Physical Examination: Your dentist will likely conduct a detailed oral and physical examination. This may involve touching and moving your jaw, listening to and feeling your jaw when you open and close your mouth, and examining your bite and facial muscles.

  3. Imaging Tests: In some cases, dental X-rays of the jaw, a CT scan for detailed images of the bones involved in the joint, or an MRI to capture images of the TMJ disc or surrounding soft tissue may be necessary.

Dr. Lanie will consider all these findings together to accurately diagnose a TMJ disorder and its type. This comprehensive approach ensures the most suitable and effective treatment plan can be crafted to alleviate discomfort and restore normal jaw function.

The treatment plan will be designed according to the nature and severity of your TMJ disorder. Mild TMJ symptoms often respond well to over-the-counter pain relievers and cold packs. If conservative measures don’t relieve your symptoms, other treatments like oral splints or mouth guards, physical therapy, prescribed medications, counseling to understand and manage stress, and in some extreme cases, surgical procedures, may be advised.

Can TMJ Disorders be prevented?

While preventing TMJ disorders entirely may not be possible, there are strategies you can use to reduce risk and manage symptoms. These include avoiding hard foods, wearing a night guard if you grind your teeth, practicing good posture, and engaging in regular jaw exercises.

TMJ disorders can be a significant hindrance, but with the right knowledge and professional dental care, you can successfully manage and even overcome TMJ-related discomfort. If you suspect you may have a TMJ disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out to us to schedule an appointment for diagnosis and personalized treatment options.

Remember, maintaining regular dental check-ups is key to tackling oral issues at their budding stages, ensuring you a future of hearty laughter and brilliant smiles.

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