We’re all guilty of it; only going to the dentist once pain strikes. As hard as it can be to find time to book your next appointment, or to set funds aside for the bill, it’s important to remember that taking good care of your teeth is a lifelong investment. Attending regular check-ups with your dentist or orthodontist can ensure that any potential problems are detected early, and treated before they get worse.
Just remember, if you wait until you’re experiencing the pain associated with tooth decay, a lot of the damage is already done.
What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the gradual destruction of your tooth’s outer enamel layer, which is commonly caused by bacteria, known as plaque, forming on the tooth. Consuming starchy foods or sugary drinks can cause the plaque on your teeth to start to produce harmful acids, which slowly eat away at the protective enamel layer of your tooth. The eventual break down of the enamel is known as a cavity.
What Are The Health Risks Associated With Tooth Decay?
Dull, aching pain is a major symptom associated with tooth decay. If the decay has spread, the irritation may strike the nerve directly – making the pain a lot more pronounced, and creating a heightened sensitivity to hot and cold. If you’re experiencing this, you should visit your dentist immediately, to see if it is possible to treat the decay with a filling. If the decay has spread too far and the nerve is exposed, you may require a root canal. Tooth decay and exposed nerves can also significantly increase your risk of contracting infections, as the bacteria that cause tooth decay are transmissible, and the mouth is a major entry point to the body.
While pain is the most common problem caused by tooth decay, it can also predispose you to a range of other health ailments. Poor oral health can impair your general health and well-being by creating or exacerbating health conditions such as heart and lung disease, stroke, or social anxiety and depression. Lesser but still serious side effects include difficulty swallowing and speaking, chronic pain, and loss of sleep.
Oftentimes, poor oral hygiene is symptomatic of poor diet and malnutrition. Increased consumption of sugar and starch can have drastic impacts on teeth and gums, and on general health and well-being. In turn, loss of permanent (adult) teeth and subsequent chewing discomfort can then result in further nutritional problems, which can escalate to cardiovascular disease or diabetes. A survey conducted by Australia’s Department of Health concluded that a startling 17.4% of Australians avoid certain foods due to dental problems associated with tooth decay.
Gum disease, which is also commonly associated with tooth decay, can also have severe impacts on overall health. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to the destruction of soft tissues in the mouth, causing long-lasting disability; and, rarely, death. A study carried out by New York University has produced findings that confirm a possible link between periodontal (gum) disease and cognitive dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The inflammation of gums caused by dental decay is said to contribute to brain inflammation, neurodegeneration, and Alzheimer’s.
“The research suggests that cognitively normal subjects with periodontal inflammation are at an increased risk of lower cognitive function compared to cognitively normal subjects with little or no periodontal inflammation”.
Pediatric Dental Disease.
Cavities are a common dental problem in young children and adolescents, with severe potential side effects; causing speech impairments, crooked adult teeth, or poor jaw development if left untreated. According to oral health experts, childhood tooth decay, or Pediatric Dental Disease, is a leading chronic childhood illness worldwide.
Pediatric Dental Disease can be hugely detrimental to oral development in children, impacting upon speech functionality, nutrition, and self-esteem. It can also result in increased absences from school, and even hospitalization if left untreated. Therefore, it is extremely important for parents to teach their children good oral hygiene habits by encouraging and enforcing daily teeth brushing, good eating habits, and regular dentist check-ups.
Avoiding Tooth Decay
While tooth decay is generally considered to be bad news, there is some good news in all of this; serious tooth decay is entirely avoidable!
A lot of us are guilty of doing the bare minimum… Can you remember the last time you replaced your toothbrush? When was the last time you flossed? Do you brush for 2 minutes each time, or just passively pass over each your pearly-whites?
Generally speaking, your bathroom cupboard should contain a soft-bristled toothbrush (preferably electric, but a traditional one can do the job too), dental floss, fluoride toothpaste (though this isn’t always suitable for everyone; consult your dental professional if you have any questions or concerns), and mouthwash.
Of course, brushing and flossing is a huge part of an effective dental hygiene regimen, but the appropriate focus should also be paid to diet. A balanced diet not only benefits your teeth and gums, but your overall health and well-being, so there is a lot to gain from eating well and avoiding excess amounts of sugar and fat.
While we all know that sugary drinks and foods can rot our teeth, entirely avoiding sugar is much easier said than done. If you do occasionally indulge in something sweet – it’s worth rinsing your mouth with water or mouthwash afterwards, to wash away any lingering sugars. Complex carbohydrates can contain starches that are sticky and can remain on the teeth for hours after you eat. The plaque on our teeth feeds on sugary and starchy acids, so effectively washing the remnants of the food we eat is vital to healthy teeth and gums.
There’s nothing to stop you from having a healthy and happy smile if you’re willing to take the time to properly look after your teeth. Poor oral hygiene can lead to a number of scary consequences, so if you have any concerns about the health of your mouth, be sure to come and see us!