written by: Dr. Chang, April 2016
If you are like many, a new year signifies a time when people seek to renew or pursue new goals in their lives, including their health. As such, remember that oral health is part of your total health.
Your oral cavity not an extension of your body, but rather, I like to think of it as a gateway to good overall health. Consider it this way – many that come to see the dentist when they have a very bad toothache or infection aren't able to eat properly, and those that have multiple missing teeth don't enjoy the food they used to.
“But nothing hurts, so there's no need to come in, right?”
We hear this a lot from patients.
Well, think of high blood pressure. We don't really feel it and it usually doesn't hurt, but can quietly damage our bodies for years until symptoms develop. Left uncontrolled, it can lead to a possible heart attack.
Similarly, dental problems don't necessarily cause pain. Examples include:
• Tooth decay
Early tooth decay is painless. Decay can also burrow deeper into the tooth and not cause any discomfort or sensitivity.
• Periodontal disease
This affects the surrounding gums and bones that support your teeth. As the disease progresses, it is painless. Even advanced bone loss and resulting loose teeth cause little to no pain.
• Broken teeth
“Cracked tooth syndrome” can result in sensitive and painful teeth, but once broken they often feel much better.
What we find is that when there is significant discomfort, treatment to fix the problem is more extensive and expensive. Ideally, the best time to treat these issues is when they are small and the fix is minimal. This means there is less damage to the tooth. To ensure problems are addressed early, it is best to schedule regular hygiene appointments and exams with your dentist. We recommend visits at least every 6 months.
Some patients would benefit from more frequent visits if they have risk factors that would increase their susceptibility to dental problems. These include:
• Certain medical conditions
Diabetes is a systemic risk factor for periodontal disease. Diabetics have a weakened immune response, and this means bacteria under your gums can spread making the health of your gums and bones worse.
• Taking many medications
A common side effect of many medications is dry mouth. A dry mouth is a very big risk for developing decay!
• History of head and neck radiation
Radiation treatment for cancer also damages your salivary glands. This results in less saliva being produced and is a significant risk for tooth decay.
• History of high rate of tooth decay
If there were many fillings done in the past year, more frequent visits will allow your dentist to closely monitor for any new signs of decay.
I hope I haven't scared you to see the dentist. Rather, I hope you have a dentist that you trust and cares about your oral health as much as you do.
Stay tuned for our future blog on oral cancer and what this means to you. Dentist are trained to look for more than just cavities!