Laser Therapy as an Alternative Treatment for Mouth & Jaw Pain
Have you ever met someone who actually likes going to the dentist? We haven’t either. But regular dental exams are necessary to maintain our oral health, and dentists can spot early warning signs of other serious diseases, like certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or diabetes, from their examinations.
If you’re experiencing pain in your mouth or jaw, it’s time to make a call to the dentist. But not all dental treatments have to be painful and uncomfortable. Dentists can use laser therapy to help relieve pain and accelerate healing for common oral health issues.
Common Causes of Pain & Inflammation in the Mouth & Jaw
Pain and inflammation in the mouth and jaw is harder to ignore than pain in other areas of the body. Since we need our mouths to eat, breath, and talk, if something is awry—it won’t be ignored. Below are some of the common causes of mouth and jaw pain.
Impacted Wisdom Tooth
Your third molars usually start to come in around the age of 18, or the “age of wisdom.” Most people end up having some or all of their wisdom teeth removed because these wise teeth often grow in at an angle, causing them to push into other teeth instead of up through the gums and become “impacted.” Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain in the back of the mouth and in the jaw. If they’re not removed, impacted wisdom teeth can become infected or cause damage to the teeth they push against as well as the lower jaw.
Bruxism is the clinical term for teeth grinding and jaw clenching. This condition is most common in children, and they usually grow out of it. However, people with sleep disorders like snoring or sleep apnea are at risk for bruxism as an adult. Untreated, bruxism can become extremely painful, causing a sore or even locked jaw and tension-like headaches. Additionally, the constant grinding at night can wear down and damage teeth.
Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a sliding joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull. You can feel its movement if you set your hand on the side of your face, just in front of your ear, and open your mouth. Acute jaw injury, arthritis, genetic factors, and bruxism can cause inflammation of the cartilage disc between the bones in this joint, leading to pain and restricted movement of the jaw as well as an aching in or near the ear (however the ear itself is not affected).
Peri-implantitis is the inflammation of soft tissue that causes the wearing away of hard tissue (bone) surrounding dental implants. While peri-implantitis doesn’t usually cause pain, it does cause bleeding, and an individual may notice their implant feels wobbly or loose. Ultimately, peri-implantitis is an infection caused by poor plaque control and lack of regular maintenance.
Arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases can manifest in the soft cartilage disc in the TMJ, leading to inflammation, pain, and wearing away of the cartilage.
Mouth and jaw pain is more than just a nuisance. Untreated, the conditions causing the pain can also cause a lot of damage. Regular dental check-ups are important to prevent and spot these conditions early, and one option a dentist may offer to help with the pain is laser therapy.
How Laser Therapy Helps With Mouth & Jaw Pain
Laser therapy is the application of concentrated red and near-infrared light to be absorbed by the body to aid in the treatment of pain and inflammation. Specifically, red and near-infrared wavelengths of light are absorbed by different tissues in the body and target the mitochondria of the cells in these areas. The light absorbed by the mitochondria affects the heme protein, cytochrome c, which is responsible for the synthesis of a cellular energy molecule, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The result is increased cellular energy.
Increased cellular energy from laser therapy helps with pain, inflammation, and healing in a few ways. Laser therapy increases the production of certain white blood cells that act as inflammatory mediators to reduce inflammation quickly. The treatment provides pain relief by decreasing levels of the pain-eliciting chemical, bradykinin. Lastly, increased collagen production from laser therapy helps heal wounds faster and reduces the formation of scar tissue.
Laser therapy can be used anywhere on the body, but for the mouth and jaw, laser therapy helps reduce pain following a third molar extraction, relieve pain and restore motion to the TMJ, and reduce inflammation and bleeding from peri-implantitis.
Benefits of Laser Therapy for Mouth & Jaw Pain
During laser therapy, a technician (who may be your dentist or oral surgeon) will move the laser handpiece over the area of your mouth or jaw for a few minutes, not exceeding twenty minutes. The technician may hold the handpiece against the skin, but they won’t need to press into the jaw or cheeks. The laser itself is painless. You may feel a slight warming of the skin if your dentist is using a class IV laser therapy system, but it won’t burn or damage your skin.
There are two major benefits of using laser therapy to manage pain in the mouth and jaw, with the first being that laser therapy is most effective when applied extraorally, or outside of the mouth. If your jaw is tender or difficult to open, you won’t need to strain it further to receive laser therapy treatments. And, as an extra bonus, there won’t be someone else’s hands in your mouth.
The second major benefit of laser therapy for mouth and jaw pain is not needing to rely on oral pain medication. Especially post-oral surgery, taking medication is difficult at best when the mouth is swollen or numb. Additionally, medications like ibuprofen can upset the stomach, and this side effect can be aggravated by taking the medication on an empty stomach. However, severe mouth and jaw pain make chewing difficult, and if you’ve had oral surgery, your diet is generally restricted to prevent damage or infection.
Most people experience no side effects from laser therapy, and the treatments don’t require painstakingly eating a cup of applesauce with a numb or swollen mouth beforehand. Side effects for laser therapy are a mild, temporary dizziness from a peripheral vasodilation effect that may cause a drop in blood pressure and an increase in pain during the first 24 hours; however, most people feel relief quickly following treatment.
Laser therapy is a safe, effective, and painless option to help manage mouth and jaw pain both from common causes like TMJ disorders and post-oral surgery such as a third molar extraction. Laser therapy treatments help reduce pain and accelerate healing by stimulating the body’s natural healing processes.
If you’re looking to try laser therapy, click the link below to find an Aspen Laser provider.