The Top 5 Ways To Avoid A Dental Emergency

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Isn’t that how the saying goes?

Well, when it comes to teeth, most people really can’t tell if it’s broken.

Consider these interesting dental tidbits:

  • Periodontal (gum) disease is the number one cause of tooth loss world-wide. That’s basically a condition in which you lose the bone that surrounds your teeth, so that even healthy teeth may fall out.
  • Most people who get cavities diagnosed by their dentist didn’t have any idea that they even had a cavity.
  • A substantial number of patients who clench or grind their teeth — resulting in worn-out, chipped, and cracked teeth — swear that they don’t.
  • Some patients who come into a dental office convinced that they have a cavity because of pain, actually don’t have a cavity at all.

What the heck?! Yeah, it can get a little confusing, and that’s probably why at one point or another many people find themselves confronting a dental emergency. Some emergencies are simply the result of accidents. After nearly twenty years of practice, I have seen quite a lot of these too. But in reality, the vast majority of dental emergencies are simply caused by neglect. So here are a few tips on how to stay out of trouble:

1. Never open anything with your teeth. Just don’t do it. I have restored countless teeth after people tried to open or hold objects with their teeth. It’s not worth it. Grab a scissor, pliers, bottle-opener or whatever you need to do the job. Your teeth were made to chew your food.

2. Use an athletic mouth guard if you play sports. Sports are fun and can be great exercise. They can also cause teeth to get punched out, kicked out or knocked out. Use a professionally made mouth guard if you play sports.

3. See your dentist regularly. Some things can even be tough for your dentist to detect. Unless you have x-ray vision and can see inside your own head, you will never know if you have decay between your teeth until it is so large that it starts to look ugly or pieces of the tooth actually fall apart. Also, you don’t want your first realization that you have periodontal disease to come from noticing that your teeth are loose. Your dentist should also be checking for oral cancer at your examination visits. If you have it, early diagnosis can be a matter of life or death.

4. Brush and floss your teeth daily. There is simply no substitute for prevention. Brushing your teeth after every meal and flossing at least once a day goes a long way in protecting you from oral diseases — not to mention bad breath.

5. Wear a custom night guard if you grind or clench your teeth. Bruxism — the term used for the grinding or clenching of teeth, has been observed by dentists to be increasing in frequency among their patient populations. No doubt, stress has a great deal to do with this, but if you have been diagnosed with bruxism don’t take it lightly — because your teeth won’t either. I have also noticed a significant rise in bruxism over the last 10 or so years and its effects can be devastating.

Oh, and that emergency dentist you were thinking of using. You know, you saw the billboard on the way to work. He’s the one that is willing to see you 24/7. So, in the worst case scenario, you will have someone to go to, right?

I wonder how many people he has actually treated at 3:00 AM? If it happens at all, I’m certain it doesn’t happen often. Sure, you can CALL him 24/7, but you’ll be seen at the first opportunity. And if he does agree to see you after hours or on a weekend, it will likely cost you a few extra hundred in addition to the cost of your treatment. By the way, be prepared to bring cash, because he may not accept checks or a credit card from a brand-new emergency patient.

The moral of the story is simple. Use common sense and just don’t let things get that far along. If it has been more than six months since you have seen your dentist (unless you have full dentures) you are over-due. Even patients with dentures should see their dentist at least once a year to check the fit of their dentures, be evaluated for adjustments or relines, to have the dentures cleaned, and to check for oral cancer.

How long has it been since your last dental visit?

Richard Walicki, EzineArticles Basic PLUS Author

Why You May Have a Cavity (or Even Two, or Three) and Not Know It

Consider this article a public service announcement. I really dislike it when patients lose their teeth unnecessarily. My practice philosophy is that if a person has a dental problem, the goal is to handle that difficulty first, but then empower the patient with the correct knowledge that will keep him out of trouble from there on out. Ideally, my hope is that most future visits to my office will only be for routine maintenance.

Unfortunately, and all too often, I encounter new patients with teeth that are so badly decayed there is little hope of salvage. Possibly just as frequently, I find these patients scheduling a checkup – usually after a long absence from dental care – who are surprised to learn that they have any cavities at all. Sometimes they will think they lost a filling when, in fact, a piece of their enamel has broken away.

Why are they surprised? The common denominator seems to be the idea that cavities are supposed to hurt.

Well, sometimes they do hurt. But most of the time – especially in the early stage – they don’t.

In fact, by the time a tooth does start to hurt you it’s usually pretty bad. More often than not, it is so bad that a dentist is evaluating whether it can be treated with endodontic (root canal) therapy or whether it needs to be extracted. A little understanding of basic dental anatomy is helpful here.

Take a look at the illustration at the bottom of this post.

The outer layer of the tooth is comprised of enamel. This is the hardest substance in your body. It breaks up your food and is designed to last you a lifetime.

And now, here is the important part for you to understand: it doesn’t contain any nerves.

It is more than ninety-five percent mineral. Water and organic materials make up the balance. And because it doesn’t have nerves, it doesn’t have feeling. This is actually quite practical since it wouldn’t do to have pain every time you bit into something. On the other hand, it also means that it can be decayed without giving you a warning.

In fact, decay can also travel into the supporting layer – the dentin – and still not cause you pain. It usually has to travel pretty close to the inner layer that contains the blood vessels and nerves – the pulp – before you feel it. Of course, by then, the tooth has generally undergone considerable destruction.

Another factor that makes spotting decay difficult is the way it spreads. I have drawn two black triangles into the enamel above. Notice that the narrow point is on the outside of the enamel. The broader base faces the inside of the tooth. This is how decay usually travels. Sometimes, it will undermine the interior of the tooth while the outer, harder enamel still maintains its form . . . until it eventually crumbles because the underlying supporting dentin has been eaten away by decay.

Many cavities also form at the contact point between two teeth. These are areas that you simply cannot see. Even the dentist needs an x-ray to spot these cavities in most cases.

So what does all this really mean? Spotting decay is not always that easy. As dentists, we use visual examination, but we also rely on probes, x-rays, and even laser detection devices to locate cavities. Even then, it can be difficult to find cavities under existing fillings.

Don’t rely on pain to tell you if you have a cavity in your tooth. If you do, you can be assured that your treatment is likely to be more uncomfortable, expensive, and may even result in the loss of a tooth that could have been treated much more easily earlier in the game.

If you have a loved one, who still has their teeth and hasn’t seen a dentist in a while, have them read this article. You may be saving them from quite a bit of discomfort – not to mention time and money – if they catch potential problems before they are hopeless.

Some of you may be thinking, “No big deal. If it’s that bad, I’ll just pull it.” OK, sometimes that is necessary, but therein lies a lesson for another day.

Tooth Anatomy

I Didn’t Have A Toothache Until The Dentist Filled My Tooth

I have been practicing dentistry for just over twenty years. In that time, I have had strangers, friends and family ask me questions about their dental problems. Maybe this question is one that has come up for you too. One of the more frequent queries I run across goes something like this:

“I recently went to the dentist and I was told I needed to have a filling done. It didn’t bother me before, but it does now – and what’s more, I’m being told I’ll probably need a root canal! Did I mention the tooth wasn’t bothering me? But now I’m looking at over $2,000 in dental bills, because once I’m done with the root canal I’ll have to put a crown on the tooth!”

Are you thinking, hmmm, that darned dentist probably should have just left the tooth alone?

Yeah, that’s usually what they are thinking too.

One of the first questions I then ask is: “Was there already a large filling on the tooth?” Invariably, the answer has been “yes.” In which case, my response is usually “Well, then, it’s really not that unusual.”

The first thing to understand is that the tooth was already treated before. The fact that it already has a large filling, suggests that either the original decay was extensive or it had to be replaced several times. Depending upon the location in the mouth, and severity of pressure placed upon the teeth, fillings do require replacement. Teeth are also not immune to new decay and larger fillings do not typically last as long as smaller ones.

So, picture a filling that originally came close to the nerve. Now, there is either new decay between the old filling and the remaining tooth structure – putting it even closer to the nerve – or there may be a fracture occurring between the tooth and filling because there is not enough enamel left to support the filling. Either way, the nerve is under assault.

The next comment is usually “Well, since it wasn’t bothering me, shouldn’t he have just left it alone?” Trust me, this is not a favorite situation for your dentist either. If he leaves it alone, the likelihood of it turning into a root canal is higher. Then the question becomes “why didn’t he tell me about it sooner?” And if it doesn’t turn into a root canal the patient risks losing the tooth if it fractures. So, really, the tooth’s chances of remaining calm are better if it is treated sooner.

Probably the biggest problem here is the omitted communication. Most of the time, the patient simply wasn’t told there would be a risk of post-operative sensitivity. While the dentist can’t entirely control whether the tooth will recover from a deep cavity or not, it helps when the patient knows there is a chance of later discomfort. The moral of the story: don’t put off your dental treatment. Small cavities conserve more tooth structure and seldom bother you afterwards. Large or deep feelings always put the tooth at risk of more treatment or greater discomfort.