There's nothing more aggravating or borderline debilitating than tooth irritation. And along with the pesky pain comes the daunting reality that you could have a dentist appointment in your near future involving Novocaine, a root canal, and a 3-day recovery. But before you call out of work, line up your Netflix queue, and beg a friend to come over for support, it's important to consider the many reasons why that pain coming from your pearly whites might not be cavity-related at all.
"Toothache or tooth pain can be the result of a myriad of causes other than a simple cavity," says Gerry Curatola, dentist and founder of Rejuvenation Dentistry and RealSelf advisor. "That's why it's important to be discerning and attentive to what type of pain it is, where it's coming from, and when it's happening."
To help you pinpoint the issue, here's the lowdown on the other reasons you might be experiencing dental discomfort.
1. You brush too hard and it's led to gum recession.
Of course you want to get those puppies as clean as a whistle, but applying too much pressure or brushing too aggressively can actually lead to more problems—and pain. "Doing this wears away at the actual tooth structure, as well as the recession of the gums that normally covers the root of the tooth," says Ira Handschuh, dentist at the Dental Design Center in White Plains, NY. You may notice extreme sensitivity to eating and drinking cold items, which is due to your root structure being more exposed. While you can't "undo" the damage caused by overbrushing, you can make an appointment with your dentist, who can place tooth-colored fillings on the areas where the tooth has worn away, says Handschuh. "Sometimes even placing a gum graft to build the gums back to the height they were originally is also possible," he says. Your best bet to avoid this fate altogether: Invest in a high quality electronic toothbrush or a manual extra-soft bristled brush, and dial back the pressure.
2. You have a gum infection.
If you've been told that you have periodontal (gum) disease, you're far from alone. In fact, nearly half of the US adult population 30 and older has mild, moderate, or severe periodontitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But even if you're lucky enough to not have it, you can still contract a gum infection. "This occurs when germs or bacteria enter the teeth or gum area and multiply to a point where the body cannot fight off the bad bacteria," says Melissa Thompson, a Massachusetts-based dentist and owner of three Aspen Dental practices. "The infection may cause pain or swelling, a small pimple above the tooth or area, the release of pus, or even a bad taste in the mouth." As soon as you notice any of these signs, it's best to get to your dentist's office, stat. "Gum infection may lead to an abscess, which can cause even worse pain," says Handschuh. "Your dentist will have to clean out the gum region around the infected tooth and prescribe antibiotics and oral rinses immediately."
3. You've experienced tooth trauma.
You might be thinking that, if this were the case, you'd know right away, but surprisingly, tooth trauma can be the result of an incident that happened many years ago. "This can entail anything from falling and hitting the teeth, being in a car accident where there's a force to the mouth or jaw, or even chewing on some type of food that traumatizes the tooth," says Handschuh. Along with tooth trauma or a tooth fracture comes increased pain and sensitivity when chewing, which causes the tooth to flex and irritates the nerve endings within the tooth.
"If a patient were to fall and hit or damage a tooth, their dentist would need to keep watch on that tooth with regular follow-ups and x-rays to make sure there's no infection and also that the nerve inside the tooth is not dying," says Thompson. If the tooth has died as a result of trauma, signs would include discoloration on the outside of the tooth and temperature sensitivity. "A root canal and crown is typically the treatment recommended for a dead tooth, and, if the tooth needed to be removed, implanting a bridge or removable appliance such as a partial denture would be the next step," she says.
4. You have a severe sinus infection.
Especially during allergy and flu season, a sinus infection may creep up in a way that doesn't even feel like a normal one. "Since the roots of certain teeth actually sit right by the sinuses, the pressure from a sinus infection actually mirrors tooth pain," says Handschuh. "Instead of dental treatment, one would need medication like a decongestant and possible antibiotic prescribed by her family physician."
5. You grind or clench your teeth while sleeping.
Maybe a significant other has already clued you into the fact that you have this habit, but it can cause more than just annoyance to your bed partner. "In some cases, chronic teeth grinding can result in a fractured or loose tooth," says Handschuh. "So it's very important to have your teeth evaluated by your dentist so he can examine the way your teeth fit together, and consider whether or not any of them are hitting too hard or too early." An imbalance in where your teeth meet when they grind together is what can cause problems like tooth and muscle pain. "There are many ways to treat this type of pain, one of which might be the use of a night guard, which assists in removing forces off of some teeth and placing the forces evenly throughout the oral cavity," he says.
6. You recently had fillings or drillings done to a tooth.
If this is the case, you may notice sharp sensitivity when biting down in the area that you had work done. "When teeth are drilled, you may experience sensitivity to cold for a couple of weeks, which is normal, but if there is sensitivity when you bite, especially on hard substances, an adjustment may be needed so that you are chewing more evenly," says Thompson. Since you'll most likely notice this occurrence after you've already left your dentist's office, you'll have to schedule a follow-up visit so that your dentist can check on the bite and make minor adjustments to alleviate the pain. "Your dentist will adjust the bite if needed, and if it's temperature-sensitive, he may place a topical fluoride or desensitizing paste on the area," says Thompson.
7. You have a cracked tooth.
This can be caused by a number of things, including biting into something hard that causes the tooth to crack, an injury from something outside the mouth, like falling or an accident, or even tooth clenching and grinding. "If there is a crack, the tooth pain could be experienced when biting down, chewing, or even drinking something hot or cold," says Thompson. If the crack is to one of your front teeth, you may be able to actually see the damage, but if it is to the back teeth, visibility might be more difficult. Visit your dentist's office right away so she can examine or restore the area before the crack worsens—and immediately stop chewing on anything hard. "If it's due to jaw clenching and teeth grinding, a custom-made night guard will be recommended to protect the teeth from future trauma," says Thompson.
The bottom line: Tooth pain might have a simple, easy-to-treat cause or it may be more complicated, so it's always best to play it safe and head to your dentist's office for an evaluation. "If left untreated, some tooth pain and infections can lead to life-threatening concerns and can spread throughout the body, causing an even greater infection," says Handschuh. Follow up with your regular dental care appointments every 6 months (or more frequently if recommended by your dentist) to avoid these more serious scenarios. "Have an open, honest dialogue with your dentist to set up a commitment to keep your mouth healthy and pain-free for your entire life," says Handschuh.
You can always make an appointment at our office. Our newly renovated office is conveniently located at 2100 Carlmont Drive . We are on the corner of Alameda de las Pulgas Avenue, 1 block west of Ralston Avenue, and directly across from the Carlmont Shopping Center. We are also near Hwy 92 and Hwy 280. There is a parking area in front of the office.
Many people know that poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, tooth decay and even lost teeth. But are you aware that failing to brush or visit the dentist regularly also can lead to more serious health issues? According to Colgate, recent research suggests that there may be an association between oral infections, particularly gum disease, and cardiovascular disease and preterm birth.
A healthy mouth is good for more than just a pretty smile. Oral health can affect the entire body, making dental care more than just a cosmetic concern.
Many people know that poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, tooth decay and even lost teeth. But are you aware that failing to brush or visit the dentist regularly also can lead to more serious health issues? According to Colgate, recent research suggests that there may be an association between oral infections, particularly gum disease, and cardiovascular disease and preterm birth. Gum disease also may make diabetes more difficult to control, since infections may cause insulin resistance and disrupt blood sugar.
Your mouth also can serve as an infection source elsewhere in the body. Bacteria from your mouth can enter the bloodstream through infection sites in the gums. If your immune system is healthy, there should not be any adverse effects. However, if your immune system is compromised, these bacteria can flow to other areas of the body where they can cause infection. An example of this is oral bacteria sticking to the lining of diseased heart valves.
Other links have been found between oral health and overall health. In 2010, researchers from New York University who reviewed 20 years of data on the association concluded that there is a link between gum inflammation and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers in the UK also found a correlation. Analysis showed that a bacterium called "Porphyromonas gingivalis" was present in brains of those with Alzheimer's disease but not in the samples from the brains of people who did not have Alzheimer's. The P. gingivalis bacterium is usually associated with chronic gum disease and not dementia.
Researchers also have found a possible link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer. Harvard researchers found that men with a history of gum disease had a 64 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared with men who had never had gum disease, based on studies of men from 1986 through 2007.
While oral health issues may lead to other conditions over time, symptoms also may be indicative of underlying conditions of which a person is unaware. Inflammation of gum tissue may be a warning sign of diabetes. Oral problems, such as lesions in the mouth, may indicate the presence of HIV/AIDS. Dentists may be the first people to diagnose illnesses patients don't even know they have.
An important step in maintaining good overall health is to include dental care in your list of preventative measures. Visit the dentist for biannual cleanings or as determined by the doctor. Do not ignore any abnormalities in the mouth. Maintain good oral hygiene at home by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once per day. Mouthwashes and rinses also may help keep teeth and gums healthy.
Oral health and other systems of the body seem to be linked. Taking care of your teeth promotes overall health.
A brilliant smile, fresh breath -- and the ability to sip a frozen margarita or two without any unnecessary pain -- are the best case scenarios when it comes to oral health, right? "There are three key factors that affect the health and appearance of our teeth: oral health routine, diet and lifestyle choices," Cosmetic dentist and Philips Zoom ambassador Dr Luke Cronin from Quality Dental said.
"Make sure you clean your teeth regularly and effectively, this means morning and night for around two minutes. Electric toothbrushes are clinically proven to remove more plaque than manual brushing. You should also floss every day, flossing removes the food particles and subsequent plaque that can get lodged between teeth that cannot be reached by your toothbrush. The final element of good oral health -- and a great smile -- is regular check-ups and cleans at the dentist."
1. Plaque Problems
"In the absence of effective daily brushing and flossing, plaque build up will occur on your teeth and below the gum-line. Bacteria then forms, which can lead to decay of the tooth's external enamel and other dental problems such as gum disease," Dr Cronin said. "A worst-case scenario is where tooth decay and/or gum disease is undetected or ignored, the structure of the tooth and the surrounding tissues are damaged to the extent that teeth either fall out or have to be removed."
2. Gum Disease
While teeth are the stars of the show when it comes to oral healthcare, our gums need TLC too. Dr Dunn -- who is Macquarie Centre's principal dentist and a Philips Sonicare ambassador -- explained that there are generally no painful symptoms until late on, so patients are often left unaware of the damage being done to their gums. "A patient may notice red and puffy gums (gingivitis) which may bleed from brushing and flossing, leading patients to shy away from effective cleaning," he said. "If left untreated, the gingivitis can progress into periodontal or gum disease. This causes teeth loosening/loss in susceptible people, due to the disease progressing into the supporting bone surrounding the teeth." Dr Dunn advises regular check ups and early intervention to aim to halt the effects of gum disease.
3. Mouth Ulcers
Not many of us haven't felt the uncomfortable sting of a mouth ulcer from time to time. So what causes them? "Ulcer's usually form from minor injuries to the mouth, including those suffered as a result of hard brushing, certain trigger foods including acidic fruits, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, allergies, braces, stress or as a result of a bacterial, viral or fungal infection,' said Dr Dunn."Some are due to generalized medical conditions including auto-immune diseases," Dr Dunn explained that ulcers present as painful lesions to the mouth tissue, on the cheek or gums. The best way to avoid ulcers is, well, avoidance and sleep. "Avoid known acidic trigger foods, follow a balanced and healthy diet, and get enough sleep - plus good oral hygiene is essential," Dr Dunn said.
4. Dental Cavities
If giving up sugar entirely isn't doable -- and we all know how hard it is to avoid office donut time -- then minimise the harm. "Regular consumption of food and beverages that are high in sugar causes the most damage to your teeth. When sugar is consumed it interacts with the bacteria that naturally occurs within the mouth," said Dr Cronin. "The bacteria feeds on the sugar to produce acids that attack the tooth's enamel, if teeth are not regularly cleaned these acids create holes or cavities in the tooth."
Dr Cronin's advice? If you do indulge in a sugary treat or a soft drink, it's worth taking the time to clean your teeth soon afterwards, or rinse your mouth out with water to remove any sugar that is sticking to the surface of your teeth. "Saliva and fluoride both contain minerals that help repair weakened enamel however they will only do so much to counter the effects of sugar on your teeth," Dr Cronin explained.
5. Discolouration In Teeth
You may not be able to start your day without a latte or two but it's not doing anything to help keep. But there are actually ways to regime an holistic boost -- and naturally whiten your teeth too? Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic practice done in conjunction with your usual brush and floss routine -- and can whiten teeth more gently. Miranda Kerr is a fan. So what is it?
"Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying remedy that can help whiten teeth, freshen breath and prevent gums from bleeding," Cocowhirl founder Denise Gribben said.
Oil pulling involves swirling an organic coconut oil around the teeth and gums -- for up to 20 minutes on an empty stomach -- in order to draw out the toxins. The oil's natural antiobiotic and antiviral properties can brighten and clean the teeth.
If alternative methods aren't for you, Dr Cronin suggests, "your best bet is to have a regular clean at your local dentist to remove staining and stubborn plaque build-up."
Rachel Hall runs an holistic fresh breath clinic. She's seen -- and smelt -- it all when it comes to halitosis. "There are a surprising number of non dental causes of bad breath," Hall said. "Medications can cause dry mouth and without enough saliva, food particles and bacteria can stay on the teeth. Sinus infections, mouth breathing and some gut bacteria can cause bad breath too. To find out honestly if your breath is less than fresh, lick your wrist, let it dry for 10 seconds and then smell it."
If you don't like what you smell, there are simple ways to fix it. Hall suggests brushing and flossing (you can now also try interdental cleaners) regularly, buying a tongue scraper and using it daily, drinking more water and even using a saltwater gargle to keep your throat and tonsil area clean. "Chewing sugar free gum can help combat bad breath too. To care for your breath holistically, keep fit, get plenty of sleep and avoiding sugar with reduce inflammation in the body which means your mouth will naturally be healthier and fresher," Hall said.