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Yes, you can actually sprain your tooth—here’s how to avoid the painful injury


Thumbnail for Yes, you can actually sprain your tooth—here’s how to avoid the painful injury
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Photo: Unsplash/Jelleke Vanooteghem

Maintaining a solid dental hygiene routine just requires following a few simple instructions: Floss at least once a day, brush your teeth for two minutes in the morning and at night, and skip the mouthwash. But even if you follow your dentist’s prescribed ground rules to a tee, a little-known injury known as a “tooth sprain” (yes, seriously) could cause your pearly whites some major pain, and—if left untreated—could also result in major consequences for your overall health.

The technical term for this condition is “trauma from occlusion,” Tonic reports. For those who aren’t dental buffs (present!), the term “occlusion” refers to contact made between teeth. “All teeth have ligaments around them, just like your knee or your ankle,” explains Steven Freeman, DDS, a St. Augustine, Florida–based dentist. “When the ligaments endure more pressure than they were designed to handle, it causes the nerves inside the tooth to become irritated, and sharp pain occurs. We call that a tooth sprain.”

“When the ligaments endure more pressure than they were designed to handle, it causes the nerves inside the tooth to become irritated, and sharp pain occurs. We call that a tooth sprain.” — Steven Freeman, DDS

Just like improper running form could sideline you with a sprained ankle, Dr. Freeman says certain habits—like grinding or clenching your chompers in your sleep (and even biting your nails, reports Tonic)—predispose you to damaging the ligaments in your smile. However, the doc says one leading cause of a tooth sprain happens right in the dentist’s chair.

“One of the most common ways a tooth gets sprained is poor-fitting crowns or fillings,” he says. “Our bite is sometimes misaligned by a filling or crown that is too high or has not been properly contoured.” Walk out of your appointment with your teeth out of whack, and you could experience trouble chewing and cold sensitivity. And to make matters worse, your body might begin overcompensating for that tooth, which can cause temporomandibular disorder (TMJ), leading to pain in your jaw that can manifest into headaches, ringing in the ears, and obstructive sleep apnea.

So even though your natural inclination might be to GTFO once the drilling concludes during your appointment, sitting tight and cooperating with your dentist’s follow-up questions is totally worth your while in the long run. And if biting down post-procedure feels awkward or out of alignment, make sure to flag your concern. After all, the last thing you need in your life are more trips to the dentist, right?

Other questions you might be wondering about dental hygiene: Is probiotic toothpaste legit and do you really need fluoride to keep your teeth healthy?

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