If you are experiencing dental problems, don’t wait to get treatment. Early stages of dental and gum decay can be reversed through natural means, however, past a certain threshold, these problems will require professional intervention, without which they will only get worse. In this post, we will be discussing the process of dental decay and gum disease, how they relate to other health problems, and what dentists can do to treat these problems at all stages.
Like most dental problems, tooth decay results from plaque. This is the sticky, fuzzy substance that accumulates on your teeth when you go too long without brushing. It is actually the result of a chemical reaction. When carbohydrates from the food that you eat mix with the bacteria that naturally lives in your mouth, plaque is created. Plaque is a toxic, acidic substance that can eat its way through the various layers of the tooth until it eventually reaches the tooth nerve. As anyone who’s experienced a major cavity or abscess can tell you, that tooth nerve is incredibly sensitive. It’s enough to cause fireworks to go off in your brain, and not the kind you want.
If left untreated, plaque eats its way through the following layers of the tooth:
- Enamel – This is the protective outer layer of the tooth. It is comprised primarily of minerals. Enamel can be replenished naturally through a combination of improved dental hygiene and diet. Plaque attacks the enamel first. It begins to eat its way through the enamel. Usually, it eats little holes in the enamel, which people often confuse for cavities. This makes sense, as cavities are usually understood as holes being eaten away in the tooth. Holes in the enamel usually appear as black spots, and occasionally as white spots. However, this does not constitute a cavity, as this can be reversed. Cavities occur when plaque makes its way into the next layer of the tooth.
- Dentin: This is the white, bony layer of the tooth beneath the enamel. When plaque begins to eat its way through the dentin, pain usually occurs. Unlike enamel, dentin cannot be naturally replaced. Once a hole is worn down in the enamel, you officially have a cavity, and professional dental intervention is required. This problem is usually solved by a simple dental filling. However, if this is not taken care of, plaque will eventually make its way into the next layer of the tooth.
- Pulp: This tissue is named as such because of its “pulpy” texture. It is a soft tissue that contains the tooth nerve. Once plaque begins to infect the tooth pulp, inflammation and infection occur. This causes the tooth pulp to swell, however, the swelling is suppressed by the surrounding dentin, thus the pressure is focused downward onto the tooth nerve and blood vessels that supply blood to the nerve. Needless to say, this stage is incredibly painful. Usually, infection to the pulp is solved by a root canal, which involves entering the tooth and clearing out the tooth pulp entirely. The tooth is then filled with healing medicine and the tooth is covered with a dental crown. Root canal therapy has been regarded as a nightmarish dental procedure in the past, however, with modern dental technology, it doesn’t have to be the nightmare it once was. Ultimately, a root canal is a small price to pay compared to the pain of infected tooth pulp. Getting a root canal from your dentist will ultimately eliminate your pain.
If left untreated, dental decay will eventually result in an abscess. This is an inflamed pocket of pus that manifests near the tooth nerve, usually at the gumline. It resembles a pimple and is incredibly painful to touch. If dental decay has progressed to this point, your dentist can drain the abscess and administer a root canal.
Periodontal (Gum) Disease
As with dental decay, periodontal disease results from plaque, specifically plaque buildup at the gumline. People often refer to this condition as “periodontal disease”, “gum disease”, or “gingivitis”. They’re essentially correct, however, there are different names for different stages of gum disease.
The overall condition is referred to as “periodontal disease”, which is essentially synonymous with “gum disease”. Periodontitis is the result of gum inflammation as a reaction to plaque buildup. It progresses along the following stages:
- Gingivitis: This is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. Gingivitis is often painless. Sometimes it can result in mild to moderate irritation. Symptoms are usually limited to excessive bleeding when brushing the teeth. Sometimes bleeding can occur when merely touching the gums. Bad breath is usually another symptom. Gingivitis is reversible. Your dentist will likely be able to treat gingivitis with professional teeth cleanings. Improved dental hygiene and diet are also necessary factors. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress into:
- Periodontitis: This is an advanced stage of gum disease. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis is usually irreversible, however, it is still treatable. Periodontitis is the stage at which the gums begin to recede from the teeth. Periodontitis is usually painful, and the gums become incredibly sensitive to the touch. It also results in the erosion of the bone that supports the gums. Because the gums swell and recede from the teeth, the teeth begin to loosen. Tooth loss is common with periodontitis. Dental treatments like scaling and medication such as Doxycycline are common treatments for periodontitis.
Dental Decay, Periodontal Disease, and Their Links to Heart Disease and Stroke
Again, plaque is the main factor of concern in this regard. The mouth, specifically the gum line, has a direct connection to the body’s bloodstream. Plaque is not only the main factor in dental decay and gum disease, but it is also the main factor of concern in heart disease and stroke. Inflammation is also another common factor. Not only is there a correlation between periodontal disease and heart disease, but there is also a connection between dental decay and stroke. Both heart disease and stroke involve arteries which are directly connected to the bloodstream. As periodontal disease and dental decay progress, there is an increased risk of bacteria-ridden plaque entering the bloodstream and effecting these areas.
Good oral hygiene is not only imperative for a healthy and presentable smile, but it is also important to the overall health of the body. Like nature itself, the body is an interconnected system. Problems in one area can have profound effects on another, seemingly unrelated part of the body. If you are experiencing dental decay or periodontal disease (or both), it is important to see your local dentist. He or she can provide the dental care that you need.