4 Common Dental Problems and How to Prevent Them

Your oral health is an integral part of your overall well-being. While the aesthetics of your smile boost confidence and may act as a catalyst in social situations when making the first impression, your oral health is a much bigger picture than a dazzling smile. Many common dental problems may go undetected for a long time, ultimately causing discomfort, prolonged and more complicated treatment, as well as impact your general health in surprising ways.

Let’s discuss some of the most common dental problems and recommended tips for their prevention.

COMMON DENTAL PROBLEMS

We all struggle with oral health issues occasionally, some of which seem insignificant at the time. The good news is that most of those can be prevented with proper habits and are easily fixed when addressed promptly. At Mary Qian DMD, we firmly believe that patient education is a powerful tool in combating oral health problems and can be a leading factor in their prevention.

Here are some of the most common dental problems many people struggle with:

CAVITIES

Chances are you have probably heard the term tooth decay, cavity, or caries, all of which have essentially the same meaning – permanent damage to a tooth’s hard surface. Cavities are microscopic holes or openings in the tooth and are caused by a combination of factors unfavorable to our teeth, such as bacteria in your mouth, a diet rich in sugary and acid-producing foods, frequent snacking throughout the day, or inadequate oral hygiene. Other potential causes of cavities include:

  • The type of tooth and its location – Your back teeth, called molars and premolars, have a more heterogeneous structure with many grooves and multiple roots, which helps them function as a food-chewing mechanism. Back teeth attract food debris, which is also harder to clean due to their location, making them substantially more prone to decay than their smooth and easy-to-reach neighbors.
  • Genetic factors and age – Tooth decay is considerably higher among young children and teens, as well as older adults, who often struggle with receding gums, worn-out teeth, or health conditions requiring medication that may decrease saliva flow. Even though anyone with teeth can experience tooth decay, genetics also predispose certain individuals to develop caries.
  • Dry mouth – Saliva is vital in keeping your mouth healthy by helping you eliminate food particles and plaque buildup from your teeth and combat acid caused by bacteria. A wide range of factors can decrease your saliva flow, such as certain medications or underlying health conditions, ultimately placing you at a higher risk for tooth decay.
  • Eating disorders – Eating disorders often lead to severe tooth erosion and decay. Frequent purging causes the accumulated stomach acid to dissolve the enamel.

One of the tell-tale signs of cavities is a sudden, dull, and sharp pain in the affected tooth. If an infection develops, the pain may be continuous. Another sign you might have a cavity is tooth sensitivity, especially when your teeth are exposed to hot or cold. You may also notice holes or pits in your teeth, which may happen in the advanced stages of tooth decay. Other worrisome symptoms include bad breath or discoloration of the affected tooth.

Treatment of cavities will depend on the severity and extent of your tooth decay. A dental filling is a standard practice for treating the early stages of cavities, where your dentist carefully removes the decayed portion of your tooth and fills in a material such as composite resin, amalgam, or porcelain. If the decay has reached the tooth pulp, your dentist might recommend a more invasive form of treatment, such as root canal therapy, which consists of removing the damaged pulp. Often, a dental crown is necessary to provide additional support and protection.

If, despite all the efforts, your tooth cannot be saved, extraction may become a necessity. Your dentist will discuss recommended steps following the extraction to help you regain your full dentition and its function. Currently, dental implants are the best treatment for missing teeth, providing lasting comfort and unparalleled aesthetics.

GUM DISEASE

Gum disease is estimated to affect as many as 47% of adults over 30, and the frequency increases as we age. Gum disease, known as periodontal disease, is characterized by a chronic bacterial infection affecting the teeth-supporting tissues and bones. Gum disease is caused by plaque buildup, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth and gums. The accumulation of bacteria in your mouth leads to an inflammatory response in your gums. Plaque can develop when there is poor oral hygiene, such as inadequate brushing and flossing, or due to the lack of professional dental cleanings. If plaque is not addressed regularly, it can harden into tartar, which cannot be removed by brushing or flossing alone.

We distinguish two primary stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis, the first being the early stage of gum disease marked by red, swollen, and bleeding gums. It is usually reversible with proper oral hygiene practices and professional dental cleanings. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to the advanced stage of gum disease called periodontitis.

Periodontitis may cause irreversible damage to your gums and bone that support your teeth. Symptoms of periodontitis include receding gums, loose teeth, and bad breath. Treatment involves deep cleaning procedures, more frequent recare cleanings, and in severe cases, surgery.

TOOTH SENSITIVITY

Tooth sensitivity is a common dental condition causing pain or discomfort in your teeth when exposed to certain stimuli, such as cold air, hot or cold beverages, sweet or sour foods, or even brushing and flossing. The pain is usually sharp and sudden and can be temporary or chronic.

Tooth sensitivity is typically caused by the exposure of the underlying dentin layer of your tooth, which is normally protected by the enamel and cementum layers. Dentin contains microscopic tubules that allow sensations to travel to the nerves of your tooth. When the dentin is exposed, these tubules can transmit the sensations of hot, cold, or sweet to the nerve, resulting in pain or discomfort.

Several factors are known to contribute to tooth sensitivity, including receding gums, enamel erosion, tooth decay, teeth grinding, and some dental procedures, such as teeth whitening.

Treatment of tooth sensitivity may depend on the underlying cause. Options include desensitizing toothpaste, fluoride treatments, dental bonding, gum grafts, and a wide range of other procedures recommended by your dentist.

The treatment for teeth grinding aims to address both the underlying cause and symptoms. Stress management techniques, including relaxation exercises and therapy, can help alleviate bruxism triggered by emotional factors. Dental approaches include the use of mouthguards and splints to protect the teeth from grinding forces and improve jaw alignment. In cases where misaligned teeth contribute to bruxism, orthodontic treatment may be recommended to correct the dental alignment.

Additionally, addressing any underlying lifestyle habits that aggravate teeth grinding, such as reducing caffeine intake or avoiding alcohol consumption, can significantly help in managing the condition. A comprehensive assessment by a dental professional is essential to determine the cause and develop an individualized treatment plan for teeth grinding.

PREVENTION

There are actions you can take today to enhance your oral health and prevent dental problems before they occur. Let’s discuss what you can do to minimize the risk of dental issues and maintain a healthy and glowing smile.

BRUSHING

As it turns out, proper brushing technique plays a vital role in maintaining impeccable oral health. Unless your dentist recommends otherwise, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, positioning the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gum line. With gentle, circular motions, brush the front, back, and top surfaces of each tooth, spending a minimum of two to three minutes.

Aim for brushing each quadrant of your mouth with an equal amount of time. Don’t forget to brush your tongue, which can harbor bacteria. You may opt for waiting to rinse your mouth after spitting out the toothpaste to prevent washing away the fluoride and its benefits. Repeat this practice in the morning and before going to bed.

Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly with water and store it in a clean, dry place.

FLOSSING

Flossing is an indispensable component of good oral hygiene and helps remove food debris and plaque from between your teeth and along the gum line. While brushing can clean the surfaces of your teeth, it can’t reach all the tight spaces between them. By flossing once or preferably twice a day, you can remove these harmful particles, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease over time. To floss correctly and effectively, utilize about 18 inches of floss, winding it around your middle fingers, leaving about 2 inches of floss to work with. Use a gentle sawing motion to guide the floss between your teeth, curving it into a C-shape and sliding it up and down against each tooth. Be sure to use a fresh section of floss for each tooth and repeat the same behind your back teeth.

DIET

Foods we consume can have a significant impact on our oral health. A diet high in sugar and acids can contribute to tooth decay, enamel erosion, and gum disease. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars and produce acids that can attack tooth enamel, leading to cavities.

On the other hand, a diet rich in nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus can help keep your teeth and gums healthy—these nutrients aid in strengthening tooth enamel and supporting healthy gum tissue. Foods high in fiber, like fruits and vegetables, can also stimulate saliva production, neutralizing harmful acids and washing away food particles and bacteria.

REGULAR DENTAL CHECK-UPS

An alarming number of people seek dental help only when the problems manifest in uncomfortable or painful symptoms. Regular dental check-ups aim to prevent oral health problems from occurring. During your visit, a dentist or dental hygienist can examine your teeth, gums, and mouth for signs of decay, gum disease, oral cancer, and other issues.

Early detection of dental problems can lead to more effective and less invasive treatment options, potentially saving you time and money in the long run. Additionally, regular cleanings, typically done during a checkup, can help eliminate plaque and tartar buildup that promote tooth decay and gum disease.

Dental checkups also provide an opportunity for your dentist to give guidance on proper brushing and flossing techniques, oral hygiene products, and other tips for maintaining good oral health. And for those who experience dental anxiety, regular visits can build a relationship of trust with your dentist and reduce the fear and discomfort associated with a dental chair.

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Dr. Qian is responsive, precise, and goes the extra mile to keep patients comfortable. I’ve had lots of dental work, and as a new patient in the past year, she guided me through the treatment of 2 complicated toothaches. On the lighter side, I was also very pleased with my teeth whitening procedure. Her staff is warm, helpful and professional.

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Barb Mitchell

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