Listen to Your Teeth
March 07, 2013
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Listen to Your Teeth...


            By their very nature, toothaches rarely start at a convenient time.  Most often, the pain gets really bad on a Saturday night over Labor Day weekend.  Or, a tooth infection will set in thirty minutes after your dentist has left town to a four day seminar explaining how to treat tooth infections. 


            Yes, Murphy’s Law can and often does apply to teeth.


            Then again, medical emergencies in general happen at inconvenient times.  Nobody I know has ever scheduled their heart problem or accident.  We must all roll with the swells of life.


            But, wait...there’s more to this story.  Many toothaches (remember, trauma happens that we cannot predict), are preventable.  That’s right.  If we’d all listen to the whispers from our teeth, then there would be a lot less toothaches to deal with.


            So how does one become a tooth whisperer?  First, let us understand how teeth work.


            Teeth are amazingly designed to be strong and resilient.  A tooth is made of several hard layers (enamel is the hardest substance in the body) that protect an inner sanctum of blood vessels and nerves.  This inside exists to allow our teeth to feel and to heal.  Each tooth has it’s own personal control center.


            Many toothaches start as small cavities.  These cavities can be caught and treated at preventive dental appointments.  Step one to preventing toothaches is to see a dentist to stop small cavities before they ever start to hurt.


            As a cavity grows, the bacterial infection begins to irritate the nerve of the inner tooth.  At this stage, teeth can be occasionally sensitive to hot or cold or sweets.  This is where it pays to listen to your teeth.  Often, these “medium sized” cavities can still be treated with a simple, long lasting filling.  One visit, no post-operative pain.


            If ignored, things can and do get worse.  The occasional twinge will turn into constant aching or throbbing pain.  A toothache sets in and the only solutions are to remove the tooth or remove the inflamed nerve through root canal therapy.


            But wait, it hurt really bad for a day or two, then went away.  I must be healed, right? 


            That would be great, but it is not usually the case.  If a tooth hurts for a few days, then quits hurting, that is a sign that the nerve and blood vessels within the tooth have been killed by the bacterial infection.  The pain is gone, but the infection lives on inside the tooth, waiting for a holiday weekend to rear it’s ugly head.  This is when an abscess develops and ruins your family vacation.

            So that’s how it works.  If you listen to that sensitive tooth, a long painful weekend might be avoided.


            Until next week, keep smiling.


-Please send comments to Drs. Parrish at