Smiling patient in a dentist chair with dentist in the background
Dr Chris Darby

Dr Chris Darby

The Danger of Hidden Dental Problems

What are hidden dental problems? Often patients say they have no problems they are just looking to have their teeth checked. Sadly, too often we find these patients have a number of decaying teeth and bone rotting away due to gum infection. The human body is very good at resisting bacterial infection. As such, it does not show sensitivity or pain until the infections have started to invade the nerve of the tooth.

Thus, we like to see our patients on a regular 6 monthly basis. This way, we can prevent hidden dental problems before they spiral into severe issues. The only way they can be detected is by a visit to a dentist, which is why it is not advisable to restrict check-ups to those moments where you have sensitivity or a toothache or some other noticeable symptom.

Unlike obvious physical ailments, like a broken arm, many dental problems are entirely invisible and symptomless. There is no pain until the issue has become serious and you’re in need of invasive and possibly expensive major dental work.

When it comes to dentistry, you never want to ‘wait and see.’ Once symptoms have appeared, it is often too late for minor fixes. The options at your dentist’s disposal are drastically reduced. That means you may have to undergo a procedure your dentist would normally be able to save you from. That’s not a situation either of you needs to be in. Either way, the treatment will be painless and comfortable. But, you may well have to spend more time and/or more visits at the dentist the more severe the problem is.

Worst-Case Scenario

The best way to illustrate hidden dental problems is with one of the most common ailments – a toothache. By the time you present with a toothache, the bacteria have already eaten the whole way to the nerve of the tooth. You may require root canal therapy if you wish to save the tooth or an extraction and an implant to replace it. Before the toothache appeared, you would have ignored some sensitivity to hot and cold or chewing. These can be early symptoms of decay or minor infection, which can be treated with a small filling, a scale and clean or professional clean.

An extraction and subsequent dental implant are obviously expensive and invasive treatments. After a root canal treatment, the tooth is weakened due to the deep decay. The tooth will require a crown, which leads to a significant dental bill.

As you can see, a spot of decay can quickly spiral out of control. You have no idea that your teeth are slowly decaying, and those missed check-ups mean your dentist didn’t have the opportunity to find the decay early and prevent that cavity from spreading into the nerve or root or causing the tooth to crack so that you required a complete extraction.

The Silent March of Gum Disease

Perhaps the most serious invisible dental problem is gum disease. This affects vast swathes of adults and is particularly prominent in the middle-aged population. In fact studies report 90% of the population are suffering from gum infection to varying degrees right now.

Most sufferers will have reached this part of their life only having suffered some bleeding on brushing and some bad breath, which have not needed any substantial dental intervention, and they have probably feel that they are brushing pretty well and flossing occasionally with a relatively healthy dental hygiene routine. This means they have never felt dental pain, and have never had to deal with dental problems before.

The problem with general good dental health and only a few minor symptoms is that visits to the dentist seem unimportant and fall to the bottom of the “to do” list. So, by the time things start to feel a bit achy and creaky in middle age, they’re looking at severe cases of bone and gum disease. This is a case where the bacteria burrow between the gum and the tooth and eat away the jaw bone. In many cases, 50% of the bone around the tooth has been compromised without the patient realising there’s a problem at all.

Apart from puffy red gums, bleeding and symptoms related to low-grade plaque infection such as bad breath, presenting as gingivitis there is literally no way for the patient to know that the jaw bone is under attack and has rotted away.

The Importance of Regular Check-Ups

Both of these examples can be prevented by a simple visit to the dentist every six months. These bi-annual visits allow your dentist to check the general health of your teeth and gums and monitor any decay or infection.

A crucial element of these visits will be a scale and clean and hints on home cleaning –daily brushing, flossing and mouth rinse. Every day, bacterial plaque forms and settles on the teeth. This plaque attracts new bacteria and this leads to both tooth decay and gum disease. If it is allowed to settle, it calcifies and turns into tartar which is impossible to remove at home. A scale and clean also includes a polish. This smooths the surfaces of your teeth and helps to prevent plaque and bacteria from binding to your teeth.

It’s not just dental problems your dentist can pick up. Your dentist is a health professional. So, they can be the first line of defence on finding other serious health problems like oral cancers, snoring and sleep apnoea. Finding and treating both of these silent conditions early can literally save your life.

So, if you’ve been putting off that all-important dental check-up, don’t. If you wait until you feel a toothache or until your partner’s nagging has become too much, you’ll often find that it’s too late. Serious intervention may be the only answer.

Lifetime Holistic Dental’s active maintenance program is designed to look after the little problems before they worsen. Start your active maintenance program today.

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