There comes a time when you have to stop ignoring things and take action. Quite often, the thing you’ve been ignoring would have been a lot quicker and easier to remedy if you had sorted it out sooner. This can be very true of your teeth. When something seems a little strange or different in your mouth and you put off getting it seen to, you could be starting the slide down that slippery slope to dentures or worse, so go and see your dentist straight away.
‘But,’ you ask, ‘what are the signs that I really need to go and make an appointment?’
Here are 12 of the most common things you need to be aware of when making the decision to pick up the phone and ring your dentist. Some are really obvious and we’ll start with those, but some you may not have heard of – yet.
- Tooth or gum pain can be the sign of infection or decay. It’s important not to ignore this as, even if the pain seems to go away in a day or two, the original cause will still be there and may be getting worse. An abscess, or pocket of pus under a tooth, apart from usually being excruciatingly painful, can erode bone in the socket and leave your tooth loose. Worse but fortunately rarely, an untreated infection in your gums can also lead to a heart infection called infective endocarditis that can seriously damage your heart valves.
- Bad breath or halitosis may seem to haunt you, no matter how much you brush and floss. If your dental hygiene is good but you still have bad breath, it’s definitely time to see your dentist and find out what the problem is. If your dental hygiene isn’t that great yet, go and see your dentist and get a check-up and some advice on how to better care for your teeth.
- If heat or cold makes you jump or wince when either extreme comes into contact with your teeth, you probably have a sensitivity problem. This can be caused by a variety of things including:
- Exposed tooth root
- Tooth decay
- Broken teeth
- Gum disease
- Worn fillings
- Worn tooth enamel
All these conditions will allow heat and cold access to the sensitive dentine in the centre of the tooth. Acid and sweet things can also give sensitive teeth pain. The dentist should be able to treat the problem and reduce the sensitivity.
- Puffy or bleeding gums can be a sign of a condition called gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gum. The cause of gingivitis is often plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the surface of the teeth and gums. This has to be removed by brushing and flossing daily or it will harden at the base of the teeth and form tartar, which irritates the gums and causes inflammation. If gingivitis is not treated promptly, it can worsen into a nasty condition called periodontitis which can affect the mouth tissues, the teeth and the nearby bones.
- A metallic taste in your mouth on a regular basis, like you’ve been sucking copper coins, is usually a sign that your gums are bleeding and you may have gingivitis. You may also notice blood on your toothbrush when cleaning your teeth. Read number four above and pick up the phone.
- A constantly dry mouth can be caused by certain medications – over 400 of them to be exact – including antihistamines, some pain killers, decongestants and high blood pressure medicines. It can also be a symptom of a condition such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. Whatever the cause, saliva contains antibacterial properties which help to protect your mouth and it’s important to establish the cause of the lowered production.
- Sore areas or swelling in your mouth, face or neck can be anything from just an ulcer because you bit your tongue accidentally, through damage inside your cheek from a broken tooth, right up to a nasty infection or even cancer. Painful areas can look white or red and may have ragged edges. Most can be traced to a burn from a scalding drink or a jab from a sharp piece of food, but if the soreness lasts for more than a few days, make that appointment.
- Pain when you chew can be due to a hairline crack in a tooth. The crack quite often can’t be seen by the naked eye, but an X-ray will show it up. The dentist will often be able to repair the crack and save the tooth, if treatment is given soon enough.
- White spots on your teeth are often the first signs of tooth decay. The acids in plaque attack the enamel coating on your teeth and leech away the calcium from it, making the surface vulnerable. A visit to the dentist will confirm this and stop the decay before it gets more serious. White spots on the surface of children’s teeth is often caused by fluorosis which is an excess of fluoride. Children need to be encouraged not to swallow fluoride toothpastes.
- Lumps and bumps on your tongue, gums or inside your cheeks need checking out. Often a lump in your cheek forms when you’ve bitten the inside lining and a small area has swollen. It then continues to get in the way of your teeth and gets bitten repeatedly. It’s called a traumatic fibroma. As it attempts to heal, the small lump gets more and more solid and more in the way, so a vicious circle sets up. A dentist can remove this and it should heal in a few days. These lumps are normally harmless, but others may not be. It’s probably nothing to worry about, but you do need to get it seen sooner rather than later.
- White spots on the inside of your mouth may be what is known as oral thrush, which is a fungal infection caused by a group of yeasts called It can be caused by a wide range of things including long term antibiotic treatment, wearing dentures, and having a dry mouth. It can look quite unpleasant and the white areas can often be wiped off, leaving areas which appear red and may bleed a little. Thrush can make eating and swallowing uncomfortable. It is important to treat properly as, if it spreads to other areas of the body, the effects can be unpleasant. It is usually successfully treated with antifungal medications and your dentist may refer you to your GP for treatment.
- Teeth grinding or bruxism usually occurs at night and is often linked with stress or disturbed sleep. The jaws move in a chewing action, grinding the surfaces of the teeth together. Sometimes this is done with great force, causing damage to the enamel and even breaking the teeth. If you wake up with sore jaw muscles, headaches which get better during the day but are back in the morning or your jaw tends to pop or click when you open or close your mouth, then you may be a teeth grinder in your sleep. Your dentist will be able to make a mouth shield which will protect your teeth from the abrasion, but destressing your life if possible may also help.