7 Common Dental Problems and the Best Ways to Treat Them

These 7 common dental problems are easy to identify. But are they easy to treat and solve? Find out how to deal with cavities, gum disease, infections, and more.

7 Common Dental Problems

Image from Julia Farias de Mattos on Flickr.

You might not like it, but your teeth are troublesome. We are not used to thinking of our teeth as living things, but the reality is that they do contain nerves and live tissues. Our mouths are a breeding ground for bacteria, both bad and good. They are thoroughly active, all of the time and in every situation. So, it is any wonder that teeth end up causing problems?

They are under a lot of strain, what with biting, chewing, grinding, talking, and aging every single day of our lives. To stay strong and healthy, they really do need a little tender love and care. This means brushing and flossing regularly (preferably twice a day, at a minimum). It means attending routine exams and check-ups at your local clinic. And it means eating a reasonably healthy diet, so that plaque does not take over. Try to avoid consuming too many sugary snacks, drinks, and breakfast cereals.

Nevertheless, problems do occur sometimes, even for patients with excellent dental care routines. So, it is important to be able to spot the signs of underlying dental conditions and understand how to solve them. While your dentist may be able to fix up your teeth in an emergency and plug up cavities with fillings, the responsibility for their health lies with you. Learn how to identify the signals for danger so that you can respond quickly and efficiently.

This guide to some of the most common dental problems will explain what to look for, which steps to take, and how to approach treatments.

Problem One: Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is also referred to as dental caries or cavities. It occurs when the bacteria in plaque is given the chance to settle on teeth. It produces an acid that slowly eats away at the tooth enamel and forms holes. This bacteria is particularly prevalent after eating sugars and starches, so limit exposure by eating a healthy diet.

The likelihood of developing a cavity depends entirely on lifestyle. The better your oral health routine, the less chance you will have of suffering tooth decay. However, older people and children are slightly more at risk, because their enamel is more vulnerable. If a child develops cavities within baby teeth, they will be repaired as soon as the adult teeth emerge, but this does not mean that dental attention isn’t still essential.

The best possible approach to dealing with plaque is prevention. Once you have cavities, there is no real way to reverse them (though new technologies may make this a reality soon). The only option is to fill and repair them, so save your enamel while you still can. Brush and floss regularly, attend routine dental exams, and avoid eating too many sugary foods.

If you are unlucky to develop a cavity, you must have it treated by a dentist. If you leave it to deteriorate, it could progress into an infection or abscess. These conditions cause a lot of pain and discomfort for patients. This is why timely repair procedures are essential, whether they take the form of a standard filling, a crown, or a tooth extraction. The dental code states that extractions should always be a last resort, so it is fairly rare for decayed teeth to be pulled.

Problem Two: Gum Disease (Periodontitis)

This is a bacterial infection brought about by accumulations of plaque in the mouth. The bacteria eats away at the gum tissue and the ligaments that hold the teeth in place. There are five established stages of gum disease, which means that there is usually plenty of time and opportunities for patients to reverse its progress.

During the early phases of gingivitis and mild periodontitis, the symptoms can still be reversed with a good dental care routine and immediate treatment for any underlying infections. Once the disease moves on to the third and fourth phases, it becomes much harder to treat, so give yourself the best possible chance and respond early.

As with cavities, absolutely anybody can develop gum disease. At present, over half of all adults in the US are believed to have some form of gum disease or infection. The most at risk individuals are those with poor dental hygiene, lapsed brushing and flossing techniques, and other serious health problems. For example, patients with diabetes are more prone to developing persistent gum infections.

If your gums bleed on more than one occasion, you need to consult a dentist. This is the main symptom of gingivitis. The dentist will perform a routine exam by gently probing at the pockets inside the gum tissue. If these pockets bleed or become painful, in response to touching, they are likely to be infected. You may need antibiotics to treat the condition.

Problem Three: Tooth Infection (Root Infection)

This happens when the root (the bottom part) of a tooth becomes infected and fills up with bacteria. It damages the nerves and the pulp tissue inside the tooth itself, if left untreated, so get to the dentist right away if you think that you might have this condition. A deep crack, fracture, or cavity can lead to an infection.

The most severe root infections cause patients to develop painful abscesses. These appear in the form of very sore facial swellings. However, abscesses usually only occur once a root infection has progressed to a more serious state. If you deal with a painful or cracked tooth quickly, this should not happen.

The only real solution for a root infection is an affordable root canal treatment. This is quite a complex and lengthy treatment, so it takes a couple of hours to complete. It has a reputation for being very painful, but the reality is quite different. As an anesthetic is always used, patients very rarely feel any pain until after the treatment when the tooth is healing.

The root canal procedure involves a dentist drilling a hole in the top of the infected tooth. They then insert a special file and grind away at the inside of the tooth until a clear tunnel to the root has been made. Once the passage is open, a suction tool is inserted and used to remove all of the infected pulp tissue and nerves. Finally, the empty tooth structure is filled with a tough material called gutta percha. This prevents bacteria from entering and gives the tooth strength.

Problem Four: Enamel Degradation

This is a very common problem and it is characterised by very round and noticeably discoloured enamel surfaces. It occurs as a result of exposure to corrosive materials like fizzy drinks and sugary snacks. The acid in these ingredients wears down the enamel and gives it a stained and unhealthy look. In some cases, overzealous brushing may also be a factor.

The one thing that will lead to enamel degradation faster than anything else is sipping on fizzy and sugary drinks all day, every day. This includes sports drinks, carbonated soft drinks (diet ones too), and most forms of wine. In fact, this is considered to be an occupational hazard for professional wine tasters and reviewers.  

Like cavities, there is only so much that can be done once a certain amount of enamel has been worn away. You cannot get back the material that has been eroded. This means that prevention is always the best cure for enamel degradation. Where possible, swap out soft drinks for water. If you enjoy drinking fruit juices, make sure that you clean your teeth regularly and restrict these drinks to mealtimes.

Your dentist may recommend that you switch to a softer toothbrush, so as not to further erode the enamel. If the surface of teeth are severely damaged, they might require bonding support. In very serious cases, the options will be limited to repairing as much of the damage as possible. The earlier you catch signs of enamel erosion, the better your chances of reversing the process to some degree.

Problem Five: Dry Mouth

This condition is sometimes called xerostomia, but it is most easily recognised with the simple term ‘dry mouth.’ Unsurprisingly, it is caused by a lack of saliva in the mouth. This can occur for a number of different reasons, but it is a well-known side effect of taking prescription medications. If you are on any kind of drugs, ask your doctor whether this could be an issue.

The risky thing about dry mouth is that it robs the gums and teeth of essential moisture, lubrication, and cleansing. Saliva actually has mild antibacterial properties and it is used to wash away residual plaque from teeth. So, without it, bacteria is allowed to remain on the enamel and starts to eat away at it.

The most at risk groups are patients on prescription medications and older people (primarily over the age of fifty). As the mouth ages, saliva production naturally slows and the friction against teeth increases. Over time, if left untreated, this lack of saliva will contribute to the development of decay and cavities.

Unfortunately, there is no direct cure for dry mouth. If medication is the cause, the only guaranteed solution is to stop taking it and this will usually cause a lot more harm. As far as your physical health goes, medications trump your saliva glands in this case. Do not stop taking prescribed meds unless instructed to by your doctor. Sometimes, drinking more water can help with discomfort and parched sensations.

Problem Six: Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)

The rather long winded condition, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, involves a dysfunction of the similarly named joint. It is found a little below the ears, but above the jawbone. The condition usually leads to the grinding or clenching of teeth while asleep. It is more common in women than men and is most likely to appear during the childbearing years.

However, anybody prone to stress may develop this disorder. It is largely psychological, so it does not have to be a chronic or permanent problem. In order to fix it though, a patient may need to address the source of tension in their life first. This can be done with relaxation exercises, counselling, or a soothing hobby like drawing.

TMJ does need to be addressed, and fairly quickly, because it wears away at the surface of teeth. Not only this, but it can lead to serious pain in the jaw, face, and neck. If there is constant tension and pressure, even during sleep, the muscles will suffer for it. There could be headaches, earaches, and other painful symptoms to deal with.

If you are struggling with this condition, ask your dentist for a night time mouth guard. This is a flexible device that fits into the mouth while sleeping. It keeps the mouth slightly open and the tongue slightly raised so that the teeth are not able to grind together. Mouth guards are cheap, effective, and easy to use. They can make a big difference to the symptoms of TMJ.

Problem Seven: Oral Cancers

Clearly, this is one of the most serious dental problems that you can develop, so it is vital that you recognise the signs as soon as they appear, if they ever do. Most oral cancers begin as a small, pale, pinkish lump or growth inside the mouth. It is almost always painless. If you have a growth like this or you are worried about a change in your mouth, consult a dentist now.

A specialist will be able to gently examine your mouth, head, and neck for signs of trouble. For smokers, this kind of check-up is very important, because the habit significantly increases the danger of developing mouth cancer. It is also more common in people who drink excessively, so keep an eye on your alcohol consumption.

The reality is that mouth cancer kills. It has one of the lowest survival rates of all for cancer, primarily because so few cases are caught in the early stages. It is sad to think of how many people could still be alive if they had kept up with routine appointments and exams. Make sure that you never become one of them by making regular visits, keeping a close eye on the health of your mouth, and staying in touch with your dentist.

Ideally, you do need to stop smoking. This will dramatically decrease your chance of developing the disease. If you try and fail to kick the habit, ask your dentist to screen you for oral cancers at every routine check-up. For cancer, prevention is not just cheaper than the cure. It can mean the difference between life and death. Take care of your mouth and consult your dentist immediately if you spot anything troubling.

The Value of Always Remaining Vigilant

Your mouth is like any other part of your body. If you take good care of it, it is likely to give you very little trouble. And the trick to maintaining excellent health is vigilance and a practical attitude. Your dentist may be able to name all of the individual bones and teeth in your mouth, but they cannot tell you whether or not it feels strong and healthy. This is our job.

It can be difficult for people with poor oral hygiene to tell when something is wrong in their mouths, because they get used to having weak enamel, bad breath, a furry tongue, and a host of other problems. But, ultimately, none of these things are healthy. They can all signify the presence of something more serious.

For instance, bleeding gums is an especially common problem, but a good example of one that usually indicates infection. You must not ignore it, because it has the potential to turn into a persistent and chronic condition. The more comfortable and friendly you are with your dentist, the easier it will be to raise concerns and ask questions. And you can only get this familiarity with regular contact.

So, please your mouth, your dentist, and yourself by sticking to a robust dental care routine. If you do end up needing a treatment, know that it is not the end of the world and it is much better for you that the dentist has identified and found a solution for your mouth problems. As aforementioned, extractions are much rarer than people think. You don’t have to worry about having multiple teeth pulled, because it only happens in the most severe of circumstances.

The Possibility of Tooth Extractions

If an extraction is necessary, your dentist will tell you in plenty of time, so that you can digest the news and prepare for the procedure. These days, the treatment is fast, efficient, and involves no pain. The healing process can be a little tricky, but with the right help and advice, you should not run into any problems.

Once the wound has healed, your dentist will call you back in to discuss repair and replacements options. In most cases, a lost tooth can be replaced with a sophisticated dental implant. Whether the end outcome, choosing a suitable replacement option is important, because gaps in teeth can lead to degeneration of the bone and remaining enamel. This is why dentists always encourage patients to invest in a cosmetic and artificial solution. 

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