Dental problems are never any fun, but being able to identify what they are, and what you need to do about them is not difficult! We’ll cover the warning signs of common dental problems, what you should do in these cases, and potential remedies for when you need to react quickly in dental emergencies or might not be able to make it to the dentist (after hours, holidays, etc.). Speaking of emergencies, it is also good to know which issues constitute a dental emergency, especially when that reaction time can determine whether your dental health outcome will cover it or not. With our guide, we won’t let your teeth get out of hand!
Here at Your Community Dental, we prioritize our patients’ care and dental maintenance. Oral pain or issues with your teeth can disrupt every part of your day and routine, so knowing when and what to do with these problems is essential.
Our teeth are living parts of our body; they contain nerves, tissue, and serve as a breeding ground for bacteria. Our gums are the same! On top of the fact that we use our teeth to talk, chew, bite, grind, we have to provide our mouth with excellent care and upkeep. This is why we brush at least twice a day, floss daily, and attend regular dental cleanings and check-ups. However, our teeth and gums are susceptible to problems, especially as we age.
What are some of the most common dental problems?
- Gum disease
- Mouth sores
- Tooth decay
- Enamel degradation
- Bad breath
- Tooth erosion
- Tooth sensitivity
We’ll touch briefly on a few of the most common dental problems that lead to dental emergencies.
Bleeding gums is definitely a common problem, but how do you know when it has become a real issue? That depends!
Gum disease is an infection of the gums surrounding the teeth, and is the main cause of tooth loss among adults. Anyone can be susceptible to gum disease, but those who smoke, have diabetes, are undergoing hormonal changes (e.g. pregnancy, menopause, puberty), or experience dry mouth can be more at risk.
- Bad breath
- Red, swollen, tender, or bleeding gums
- Sensitive teeth
- Painful chewing
Gum disease occurs in two major stages: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, where bacteria in plaque builds up, making the gums enflamed and prone to bleeding. It is worth noting that not all cases of gingivitis lead to periodontitis; however, gingivitis, when left untreated, leads to periodontitis. Advanced gingivitis leads to periodontitis, which is when pockets form around the teeth as the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away, and bacteria starts to collect and grow below the gum line. As the pockets deepen, the teeth are no longer held in place, thus leading to tooth loss.
Tooth Decay/Enamel Degradation
Tooth decay is a condition more widely known as cavities. Did you know that besides the common cold, tooth decay is the most prevalent disease in the United States? It’s also one of the most common causes of tooth pain. Tooth decay is a result of acidic damage to the tooth from bacteria that lives in plaque (i.e. the sticky film formed from eating sugary foods). Over time, this weakens the enamel and eventually begins to destroy it, forming a cavity.
- Sensitivity to sweets
- Temperature sensitivity
In early tooth decay, there may be no symptoms. If left unchecked, the tooth can become infected, abscessed, or pockets of pus can form that cause pain, and facial swelling. Dentists typically treat cavities by removing decayed tissue and filling them with a filling material.
So we know some of the rudimentary dental problems. Let’s talk about how they might lead to dental emergencies.
Chipping, Cracking, and Breaking Teeth:
Teeth are some of the strongest bones in the body and we use them accordingly. You might find yourself ripping into a tough to open package, prying open a bottle cap, biting into food that’s a bit too hard; all of these cases can lead to chipped, cracked (fractured), or broken teeth.
- Cavities: Cavities will weaken the integrity of the tooth, thus making your tooth weaker.
- Old Amalgam Fillings: Also known as silver fillings, amalgam fillings do not bond to the teeth. This means that they do not strengthen or reinforce teeth that are already weakened by cavities, and leave teeth vulnerable to fractures.
What should you do if you chip your tooth?
You may not even realize that you have chipped your tooth right away, as it may not hurt. What’s more is that minor chips may not even need major treatment. Some minor chips may just be polished and smoothed out by your dentist. Other chips (those more visible or larger that are going to interfere with overall teeth functionality and appearance) may be repaired with filling material.
If you cannot make it to the dentist right away, your chipped tooth is not immediately going to cause you any major dental problems. Chipped teeth usually do not cause pain, however, the sharp areas of a chip can be quite unpleasant on your tongue. Left untreated, chipped teeth can crack further.
If you chip your tooth at home or at a time beyond dentist hours, you can:
- Rinse with warm salt water to clean area
- If bleeding, apply pressure with clean gauze
- Use temporary dental cement, sugarless gum, or dental wax over sharp edges to protect tongue and cheek
- Consume soft liquids and soft foods
What’s going to happen when you get to the dentist?
- Small chips can be polished out
- A filling might repair a chipped molar tooth
- Front teeth might be bonded
- Extensive damage can require a crown or cap
- If the chip has caused damage to the tooth’s pulp, a root canal may be required
If you can, take the chipped pieces of tooth with you to the dentist. While they will not be able to use the broken piece to restore your tooth, they may be able to see if the piece that broke was enamel or part of a filling.
What should you do if you crack or fracture your tooth?
Your teeth might be some of the strongest bones in your body, but they definitely aren’t indestructible! Teeth can crack from an injury or general aging (i.e. wear and tear).
- Sensitivity when exposed to very hot or cold temperatures
- Erratic pain, especially when eating and chewing
So why does a cracked tooth hurt? If you know the structure of your tooth, then the pain from cracking makes a lot more sense. The inside of the tooth, under the enamel and dentin, is a soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains nerves and blood vessels. When outer layers of the tooth (enamel and dentin) become cracked, air and other elements are able to seep in and cause trouble.
We advise you see your dentist as soon as possible after the tooth is cracked to keep it from worsening, but you can manage the symptoms from home in the following ways:
- Floss between teeth that are cracked
- Keep your mouth clean by rinsing with warm water mixed with a teaspoon of salt
- Use a cold compress against the cheek to reduce swelling
- Sleep with head elevated
- Consider an over-the-counter dental anesthetic
- Take over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen
- Do not use topical oral pain medicines or ointments to eliminate pain
Left untreated, a cracked tooth can cause more pain over time or face further complications, like infection or tooth loss. A treatable cracked tooth is when the crack extends from the chewing surface of the tooth vertically toward the root, but the tooth is not yet separated into pieces. A root canal procedure and a crown will be in order to protect the crack from spreading.
A non-treatable tooth has separated into pieces, which actually extend below the gum line. This means the tooth cannot be saved, and must be extracted.
In cases of other types of tooth fractures (e.g. vertical root fracture, split tooth) there may be need for endodontic surgery.
If you believe you have an infection or if the pain is unmanageable, seek dental treatment immediately. It’s best if you can see your dentist as soon as you’re aware of the issue. In the mean time, avoid contact with the cracked tooth; eating or biting down on the tooth will cause further cracking and potentially lead to a root fracture.
Abscessed Tooth/Root Infection
Inside of the pulp area of the tooth is where the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue reside. The nerves, or roots, go all the way from the tip of the tooth’s root into the pulp chamber. The pulp may need to be removed when it is damaged, breaking down from the multiplication of bacteria. The bacteria and dying pulp can cause an infection or abscessed tooth, where a pocket filled with pus forms at the end of the tooth’s root. Deep decay, repeated dental procedures, large fillings, trauma to the face, or chips and cracks in your teeth can cause infections and abscesses.
- Swelling in the face, neck, or head
- Swelling and tenderness around gums
- Bone loss around the tip of the tooth’s root
- Sudden rush of foul-smelling and tasting fluid in the mouth if abscess ruptures
- Severe toothache pain with chewing or pressure
- Temperature sensitivity
- Discoloration of the tooth
- Recurring pimple on the gums
In some cases, there are no symptoms present.
What’s going to happen when you get to the dentist?
The dental treatment for an abscessed tooth or root infection is the root canal procedure. This can be performed by a dentist or an endodontist, and can require one or more dental visits, depending on the difficulty of the procedure for your particular tooth’s case. The following is how the root canal procedure may go:
- After taking X-rays to spot infection in the surrounding bone, the dentist will numb the area using a local anesthetic.
- They will then place a rubber dam around the tooth to keep it free from saliva.
- An access hole will be drilled into the tooth.
- Pulp, filled with bacteria and debris, is scraped and removed, and then washed with water or sodium hypochlorite.
- If there is an infection, the dentist will place medication on and in the tooth.
- Once cleaned, the tooth will be sealed. Some may be sealed the day of, the next day, or up to a week later, but those who wait longer periods will have a temporary filling to keep the tooth clean.
Such teeth that are abscessed or infected may need further restoration to strengthen the tooth, preventing it from breaking and restoring it to full function.
Root canal therapy is the treatment of choice, as saving your natural teeth is usually the best option. Your dentist can drain an infected tooth, but may be unable to save it. The only alternative to a root canal is that the tooth will be extracted, and replaced with a bridge, implant, or denture. These alternatives are more expensive, require more treatment time, and require more procedures.
Keep track of your smile:
Many of these issues are easy to avoid or manage before they turn into dental emergencies. Tackle the common dental issues by addressing them with your dentist right away. Keep up or establish an oral-care regimen the includes the following:
- Adhere to healthy and daily oral upkeep, which includes, but is not limited to: brushing twice a day, flossing, and rinsing with fluoride.
- Avoid a diet high in sugar, or eating in between meals.
- Drink more water: water keeps you hydrated and saliva flowing, which protects your enamel and cleans your mouth.
- And of course, schedule ahead and attend regular appointments with your dental professionals for checkups.
If you believe you are experiencing any dental issues, it might be time to come in for a check up. Reach out to Your Community Dental today to schedule an appointment and let us prioritize your dental care!