Posts for: September, 2021
Although we've known for some time how tooth decay forms, it's still prevalent across the population—even more so than cancer or heart disease. Along with gum disease, it's a leading cause of tooth loss.
Fortunately, our knowledge about tooth decay has grown considerably, to the point that we now recognize a number of risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop this disease. By first identifying them in individual patients, we can take steps to address them specifically to reduce the chances of this destructive disease.
Genetics. Researchers have identified around 40 to 50 genes that can influence cavity development. The best way to assess your genetic risk is through family history—if numerous close family members contend with tooth decay, your risk may be high. If so, it's important to be extra vigilant with addressing other areas over which you have more control.
Saliva. Cavities are directly caused by oral acid, a byproduct of bacteria, that can erode tooth enamel over prolonged contact. This is minimized, though, through a normal saliva flow that neutralizes acid and helps remineralize enamel. But poor saliva production can slow acid neutralization. You can improve your saliva flow by drinking more water, changing medications or using saliva-boosting products.
Oral hygiene. You can reduce bacteria (and thus acid) by removing their "room and board"—dental plaque. This accumulating film of food particles harbors the bacteria that feed on it. Daily brushing and flossing, accompanied by regular dental cleanings, effectively removes dental plaque, which in turn lowers the levels of oral bacteria and acid.
Dental-friendly diet. Even if you diligently address the previous risk factors, your diet may fight against your efforts. Diets high in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, provide abundant food sources for bacteria. On the other hand, a diet primarily of whole foods rich in vitamins (especially D) and minerals like calcium and phosphorous strengthen teeth against decay.
Preventing tooth decay isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach. By identifying your own particular risk, we can craft a care strategy that can be your best defense against this destructive dental disease.
While mouth pain can certainly get your attention, what exactly hurts may be difficult to identify. It might seem to emanate from a single tooth, or a group of teeth. Then again, it might not be clear whether it's coming from teeth or from the gums.
Still, it's important to pinpoint the cause as much as possible to treat it correctly. One of the main questions we often want to answer is whether the cause originates from within a tooth or without.
In the first case, tooth decay may have entered the pulp at the center of the tooth. The pulp contains nerve bundles that can come under attack from decay and transmit pain signals. Incidentally, if the pain suddenly goes away, it may simply mean the nerves have died and not the infection.
The decay can also spread into the root canals leading to the root and supporting bone, and then make the jump into the gum tissues. One possible sign of this is the one mentioned earlier—you can't quite tell if the pain is from the tooth or the surrounding gums.
The root canals could also serve as a transportation medium for infection in the other direction. In that case, gum disease has advanced into the bone tissues around a tooth near its roots. The infection can then cross into the tooth. Again, both a tooth and the gum tissue around it can become diseased.
We have effective treatments for individual occurrences of interior tooth decay or gum disease: The former usually requires a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill and seal the tooth from future infection; we alleviate gum disease by removing the dental plaque causing it and helping the gum tissues to heal. But combined tooth and gum infection scenarios are more difficult to treat, have a poorer prognosis and may require specialists.
To reduce the risk of either tooth decay or gum disease developing into this greater problem, it's best to take action at the first sign of trouble. So, see your dentist as soon as possible when you encounter oral pain or if you notice swollen or bleeding gums. The earlier we treat the initial outbreak of disease, be it tooth decay or gum disease, the better your chances of a successful and happy outcome.
If you would like more information on tooth pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Not all toothaches are alike: Some are sharp and last only a second or two; others throb continuously. You might feel the pain in one tooth, or it could be more generalized.
Because there are as many causes as there are kinds of dental pain, you can expect a few questions on specifics when you come to us with a toothache. Understanding first what kind of pain you have will help us more accurately diagnose the cause and determine the type of treatment you need.
Here are a few examples of dental pain and what could be causing it.
Temperature sensitivity. People sometimes experience a sudden jolt of pain when they eat or drink something cold or hot. If it only lasts for a moment or two, this could mean you have a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling, or an exposed root surface due to gum recession. If the pain lingers, though, you may have internal decay or the nerve tissue within the tooth has died. If so, you may require a root canal treatment.
Sharp pain when chewing. Problems like decay, a loose filling or a cracked tooth could cause pain when you bite down. We may be able to solve the problem with a filling (or repair an older one), or you may need more extensive treatment like a root canal. In any event, if you notice this as a recurring problem, don't wait on seeing us—the condition could worsen.
Dull pain near the jaw and sinuses. Because both the jaws and sinuses share the same nerve network, it's often hard to tell where the pain or pressure originates—it could be either. You may first want to see us or an endodontist to rule out tooth decay or another dental problem. If your teeth are healthy, your next step may be a visit with a physician to examine your sinuses.
As you can see, tooth pain can be a sign of a number of problems, both big and small. That's why it's important to see us as soon as possible for an examination and diagnosis. The sooner we can treat whatever is causing the pain, the sooner your discomfort will end.
If you would like more information on treating dental pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”