Royal Oak and Birmingham, MI
Most people can expect to have dental issues at some point in their lives. For some, that dental trouble is obvious: for example, a blow to the mouth that produces bleeding and broken or missing teeth are clear signs that the mouth is in distress.
For other, less sudden kinds of dental trouble, the teeth and gums may not provide signals that are so easy to read. In fact, in some cases there may by no signs at all, and the patient is only informed of a problem at a dental checkup. However, in many cases the mouth is, in fact, providing clues that something may be amiss.
What are the most common kinds of dental problems? And what are some signs of these?
Decay and gum disease
Two of the biggest threats to the mouth are tooth decay and periodontal disease. Both are related in cause, and the appearance of one often means the other is present, too.
Tooth decay can be defined as the weakening of teeth caused by disintegration of their enamel and the interior tissue. This tends to occur because of an abundance of lactic acid in the mouth. Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which naturally occurs in the mouth and is nourished by compounds identified by chemists as “sugars.” These “sugars” are found in a wide variety of food and beverages and include sucrose (found in table sugar and things made with it), glucose (found in bread and most starches), lactose (found in milk and dairy products), and fructose (found in fruits, and often used as a sweetener for mass-produced pre-packaged foods). Many foods contain more than one kind of sugar.
The lactic acid produced by s. mutans causes a process called demineralization in the enamel (the hard white outer coating of the teeth), and although ions in saliva causes remineralization, if too many bacteria and acid is present, the wearing can outpace the restoring. This can cause the smooth surface of dental enamel to become roughened, encouraging bacteria to settle on the teeth, forming a film called plaque. Plaque can then emit acid directly onto the teeth, which can lead to pits, and then holes, in the enamel known as cavities. This exposes the interior tissue of the tooth called dentin to the acid, which can then wear away and expose the nerve. The acid can also cause all the enamel to become thinner.
The acid also irritates and inflames the gums and can eventually cause them to become infected. This will lead to them reducing in size (receding gums), which can expose more and more of the tooth to the acid. The plaque may, in fact, extend below the gumline, attacking the roots of the tooth and even the jawbone. This is what is known as periodontal disease, or gum disease.
Early signs of dental trouble
Often, the early stages of tooth decay and periodontal disease exhibit warning signs:
Sometimes, a cavity that is forming is visible. For example, if a tooth begins to have a spot – most often black or brown – that does not go away after brushing or flossing, that is almost always a cavity.
Likewise, the thinning of enamel may cause teeth to appear yellow. This is because the whiteness of teeth comes from the enamel; the dentin below is actually yellow in color, and as the enamel – which is already translucent – gets thinner, the teeth can appear yellow.
Gums that appear discolored (usually a dark red or purple, as opposed to their normal healthy shade of pink), swollen, or shrinking may indicate the early stages of periodontal disease.
Sensitivity, pain, and loose teeth
Cavities cause holes in the enamel, the outer protective layer of the tooth whose function includes shielding the dental nerve. Holes in enamel or thinned enamel provides the nerve with less protection from things like temperature variations from hot and cold food and beverages. Even breathing in very cold air can cause discomfort and pain. Likewise, the gums also protect the roots of teeth. If they recede, they offer less protection. This, too, can cause sensitivity to hot and cold and pain from certain foods.
Inflamed gums can hurt even in the absence of hot and cold; sometimes the pain happens during chewing or when the gums are touched. And sometimes the gums can just hurt for no apparent reason. Finally, gums securely hold the teeth in place. When they recede, teeth can start to become loose.
Sensitivity, mouth pain, and loose-feeling teeth are all signs of dental trouble.
Blood and trouble flossing
Many people will experience bleeding gums on occasion, such as during over-enthusiastic flossing. But blood that occurs with every brushing or flossing, or for no apparent reason, is a sign of periodontal disease.
Furthermore, most people have also gotten food stuck in their teeth from time to time or have seen floss (especially of the woven veriety) start to fragment or tear. But if food continually gets stuck in one particular place, or if floss regularly tears in a specific spot, it might be a sign of enamel roughened by a cavity.
Bad breath and bad taste in the mouth
An unpleasant but inevitable occurrence is that eventually everybody will have bad breath, especially upon waking or eating something strong-smelling. This will usually go away after brushing. On the other hand, persistent bad breath that remains even after brushing might be a sign of gum disease. A stubborn bad taste in the mouth may be another sign.
What to do next
None of these symptoms necessarily guarantee dental trouble, but for anyone observing one or more of these signs, an excellent next step would be to consult a dentist for an examination. A dentist can determine whether decay or periodontal disease is present and will recommend the best way to move forward.
Hartrick Dentistry provides dental treatments for patients of all ages in the Royal Oak area. Dr. Nancy Hartrick has nearly 30 years of dental experience. Schedule an appointment online or by calling 248-712-1149.