Dental Problems: The 10 Most Common (and Treatments)
It’s no secret that people from all walks of life suffer dental problems. But which should you look out for? And, how do you avoid or treat them? Find out here.
Proper and consistent dental hygiene is essential to healthy living.
That’s why you brush your teeth a few times daily, plus floss your teeth and wash your mouth with fluoride daily. It’s also why you attend regular dental cleanings at your dentist.
You’re only insured for a couple professional cleanings per year, though. The rest of the time it’s up to you to know and keep good oral habits and to be vigilant for any dental problems you might develop.
You’ll be hard pressed to meet a person who hasn’t suffered dental problems at some point in their life. Even people with the best dental hygiene fall down sometimes, or get unlucky. So don’t think it won’t (or couldn’t) happen to you.
The goal, of course, is to avoid dental problems altogether, and to cure them as quickly and effectively as you can (often with the help of your dentist) when they come up. What should you be looking out for? How do you avoid and treat? Why, exactly, is proper dental hygiene and your vigilance so important? Find out here.
The 10 most common dental problems, and how to treat them:
Tooth decay (better known as a cavity) is caused by bacteria that’s been allowed to settle on your tooth. The bacteria produces an acid that eats away at your tooth enamel and forms holes in your tooth.
Anyone can get a cavity, and many people do. Children (so parents beware!) and the elderly are at the greatest risk because their enamel is most vulnerable.
Once you have a cavity, there is no way to reverse it, so the best approach to keeping cavities away is prevention. Practice good dental hygiene, eat sugar in moderation (since too much sugar is one of the best ways to rot your teeth), and attend your dental check-ups faithfully.
If you do get a cavity, you need to see your dentist, who will fill and repair it. Waiting on treatment will lead to infection, abscess, and pain.
Also known as periodontitis, gum disease is caused by the accumulation of plaque in the mouth. The bacteria eats away at the gums and causes gum infection, inflammation, and bleeding.
There are many stages of gum disease, beginning with gingivitis and advancing to periodontitis. The earlier you catch it the more likely it is that you’ll be able to reverse the disease with improved dental hygiene and treatment to the underlying infection. The later you catch it, the more damage you’ve done your mouth, and often permanently. Full-blown gum disease increases your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke – so it’s no joke.
Anyone can get gum disease.
If you’ve got poor or lapsed dental hygiene habits you are putting yourself at great risk.
Smokers should beware because smoking increases the risk of gum disease. Let the threat of gum disease be the kick in the butt you need to quit.
Some of us are just unlucky, as we have a genetic predisposition to gum disease. If you’ve got this in your genes, you’ll have to work even more diligently at your oral hygiene to keep your mouth healthy.
Teenagers often experience gingivitis, especially during orthodontia years. It’s not usually until an adult is in their 30s or 40s that the more serious stages of gum disease develop.
If your gums are swollen, if they bleed when you floss, if they’re sensitive to the touch, check in with your dentist immediately, and work with them to figure out what’s gone wrong. It’s likely you’ll need a scraping of tartar from under your gum line, some antibiotics to kill the infection, and maybe even surgery.
Tooth (Root) Infection
A tooth (root) infection occurs when the root of your tooth fills up with bacteria, which in turn damages the nerves and pulp tissue in the tooth.
A deep crack, fracture, or cavity will lead to infection if not treated right away. In the worst cases, and when left alone to progress for too long, a tooth infection will cause abscesses that present as sore facial swelling.
A root canal is the solution. It’s a complex and few-hours surgery, with a misleading reputation for being painful. Usually, patients don’t experience any pain from the root canal procedure itself, but only as the tooth heals after the oral surgery.
During surgery, while you’re under local anesthesia, the dentist or endodontist drills a hole in the infected tooth, scrapes away all of the damaged nerves and pulp tissue, and fills the tooth with a substance called gutta-percha to give the tooth strength and protection against future bacteria build up.
Usually, you’ve got tooth sensitivity because of an exposed root surface.
Your gum only needs to recede a few millimeters for your root surface to become completely exposed. At that point, you will notice the difference, and likely flinch in pain when the exposed root surface comes into contact with your toothbrush, food, or liquid. Extremely cold and hot substances will irritate the sensitive area, and so will substances with high acidity.
If you’re brushing too hard, you’re going to cause gum recession. Once a gum recedes, you don’t grow it back. So check in with your dentist about proper brushing techniques and the possibility of a softer toothbrush. You don’t want to work too hard at brushing your teeth and gums only to erode them and cause yourself pain.
Enamel degradation is a very common problem experienced by all kinds of people, and it shows itself as rounded and discolored patches on your enamel surface.
It’s mostly caused by contact with corrosive liquids, like sodas, sports drinks, and sugary candies and snacks. Sometimes, too much brushing, especially if it’s harsh brushing, can cause enamel to break down, too.
Like with gums, once you lose enamel, you can’t get it back. Again, prevention is the best practice. And, as always, the earlier you treat the problem and correct habits the better.
Swap fizzy drinks and acidic fruit juices for water. Check with your dentist about proper brushing techniques, and see if your dentist recommends a softer bristled toothbrush.
If your enamel is mostly eroded away already, your teeth may need bonding for extra support.
Also known as halitosis, bad breath is often a problem of the tongue. Layers of bacteria build up there and create smelly Volatile Sulfur Compounds.
What causes it? Bad dental hygiene. Poor diet. Sometimes, acid reflux.
If you’re not brushing every morning and night, and after meals, start there. Make sure you’re diligent about getting into and around all the nooks that might have become a home to food particles last time you ate. The point of the brush, floss, and mouthwash is to dislodge these particles and send them on their way, either to your stomach or out of your mouth and into the sink.
A daily tongue scraping is the best remedy. So get a tongue scraper from your local drug store, for pretty cheap, and add the tongue scraping to your daily routine.
Hydrate throughout the day. Really, you should be anyway. And if it will help your bad breath, you’ve got another reason to build this healthy habit. If you add citrus fruits to your water you’ll give your mouth even more reason to salivate, and that’ll be good for reducing bad breath.
Build and stick to a healthy diet, too. Because bad foods leave behind bad bacteria in your mouth. White sugar, bleached white flour, coffee, beer, wine, and whiskey are major bad breath culprits. Opt instead for vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains. Brush after you eat smellier natural foods like garlic, onion, and spices. And don’t brush right after coffee and alcohol, because you don’t want to press the staining material (tannin) in those liquids deeper into your enamel.
If you’re not getting the results you want with good a dental routine plus a healthy diet and regular hydration, consider trying a tea tree and/or peppermint oil-based mouthwash. Peppermint tea is also a quick, tasty, and reliable remedy for bad breath.
Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth is caused by lack of salivation in the mouth.
Saliva has antibacterial properties, and it helps to moisturize, lubricate, and cleanse the mouth. When you don’t have enough saliva, and these natural cleaning processes aren’t happening as they should, bacteria builds up and begins to eat away at your enamel.
Dry mouth is often a side effect of taking prescription drugs, so be sure to ask your doctor if you should expect dry mouth when going on a new medication. People over fifty are more likely to experience dry mouth because of our species’ increased need for regular prescription drug use as we age.
There is no specific treatment for dry mouth, unfortunately. Drinking lots of water can ease discomfort and the perpetual feeling of being parched.
If prescription drugs are causing it, then the only remedy is to stop the prescription drugs. Usually, that’s not an option, though, because the health problems you’ll face off the prescription drugs are worse than the dry mouth you experience on them.
Canker sores are non-virus sores that can be caused by diet, stress, and genes.
If you let a canker sore run its course, it usually takes about twelve days to heal. You can hasten the healing by avoiding foods with high acidity and using a natural toothpaste. (The foaming agent in regular toothpaste is a leading cause of canker sore recurrence.) Apply ice to ease swelling, and some aloe juice a few times daily, too.
If you’ve got bad canker sores all the time, though, you’re probably going to want treatment. You can take a thrice daily dose of L-Lysine when the sores are presenting themselves, and a once daily dose when the sores are dormant.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)
TMJ is a group of conditions that affect the Temporomandibular Joint, which is just below the ears and above the jaw. It manifests as unconscious teeth grinding, usually while sleeping. TMJ wears on your teeth, causes soreness in your jaw, and brings on headaches, neck aches, and earaches.
Women in their childbearing years are especially susceptible to TMJ. But, since it’s brought on by stress, anyone under great stress can suffer from it.
The treatment involves identifying stressors, reducing stressors, and establishing relaxation habits. You might also avoid foods that require serious chewing, take basic antihistamines, and ice any swelling.
For daytime grinding, you learn to identify when you’re grinding, and then how to place your teeth, tongue, lips, and jaw in a relaxed position. Your dentist might also give you a mouthguard to wear at night, so your teeth are unable to grind while you’re unconscious to stop them.
Oral cancer is as serious as your dental problems can get. It is lethal, and far too often it’s not caught early enough for treatment to be fully effective.
Oral cancer typically begins as a painless small pale red or pink lump inside the mouth. Dentists can screen for these lumps if you’re visiting regularly. So visit regularly.
Smokers are at the greatest risk, especially if they also consume large amounts of alcohol and are over the age of forty. Quit smoking, since it’ll make your mouth, body, and mind healthier in so many other ways, while also lowering your risk of oral cancer.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t panic. This information will be here for you to read over again, and as you need it.
Feeling like you have to give up all the foods and drinks and oral pastimes you love? Eliminate just one of your least healthy habits to start. You don’t have to go completely cold turkey on everything at once. Practice moderation, and get clear about what proper mouth hygiene is for you, given your genes and your habits.
We believe you can have beautiful and healthy teeth for life, if you’re willing to take care of them. And isn’t a beautiful and healthy smile for life something to smile about?