2022 Top Dentist: Sara Vizcarra

Editorial StaffJuly 1, 2022
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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

TMD & Orofacial Pain

Dental School/Year Graduated: University of Missouri, Kansas City, 2003
Years in Practice: 19

People are sometimes surprised that jaw disorders and facial pain fall under the purview of dentistry. Describe your field to us.
Well, [such disorders] are very common, affecting one in every four people. Bruxism, which is the excessive clenching and grinding of teeth, is the most common condition that frequently affects teeth and dental health. Excessive grinding wears away natural tooth structure, causes failure of dental restorations and can even cause bone loss around teeth in a similar way to gum disease.

What drew you to the field?
Orofacial pain and trans-mandibular disorders have affected me and my family personally. Many years ago, I found myself suffering from tension-type headaches and neck and shoulder pain that was affecting my sleep and my everyday life. I also saw my son, at a very young age, grinding his baby teeth down to less than 50 percent of their normal size, [and] my mother suffers from a very debilitating condition called trigeminal neuralgia. So, my journey into [this career] started with trying to figure out how to help myself and help my own family.

How do you typically treat jaw and neck pain?
Most patients can be simply treated with a custom-made oral appliance to stop bruxism habits. Some may need trigger point injections, prolotherapy, Botox injections and other more specialized treatments. We also have lasers specially made to treat acute pain, and we can utilize pharmacological modalities as well.

What are the root causes of TMD/orofacial pain? Is stress a factor?
Yes, acute psychogenic stress can indeed play a major factor in day-time bruxism. [But] the root cause is multifactorial [and] cannot always be narrowed down to one single cause. The clinical signs and symptoms are also highly variable, making diagnosis and treatment more complicated.

You are a proud “boy mom.” What important values regarding oral health do you want to instill in your son?
Well, a beautiful smile starts with a healthy foundation. The mouth is the gateway to the rest of our bodies. My son, Luis, understands the importance of making healthy choices. We try to minimize sugar consumption and live a healthy lifestyle.

Climbing Mount Everest is on the top of your bucket list. What about this ambitious feat interests you?
I am an avid hiker, and being active is something all my friends would say about me. Staying fit and being healthy brings me great joy. The challenge of summiting the world’s highest mountain is a dream of mine simply because I tend to push myself to higher levels at everything that I do in life.

What’s the funniest thing a patient has said to you on nitrous oxide?
Unfortunately, the funniest comments are probably not appropriate to be repeated. The most common and innocent ones have been kids telling me that they are seeing chickens flying in the air and adults telling me they feel like they are on the beach enjoying a couple of shots of tequila!