Let’s get this out of the way right away. I don’t want patients to have more pain with their teeth. It’s just that most cavities don’t hurt. Patients hardly ever feel a cavity. Most of the time a cavity becomes noticeable when food gets caught in it. By the time it hurts there’s probably been irreversible damage to the pulp (nerve and blood vessel deep inside the tooth).
Another painless dental problem is periodontal disease or “gum disease.” A combination of bacterial toxins and immune system reactions can cause a patient to lose the bone support surrounding their teeth. Over time this causes a chronic inflammation in the gums and can, over time, cause tooth loss. It sounds horribly painful when I describe it like that. But it’s actually painless.
In moderation, pain will cause us to withdraw from a harmful stimulus. For instance, you yank your hand away from the hot stove. The pain of a burn, or even a potential burn, causes a quick response which actually helps you avoid more serious injury.
We don’t have that with long term, slow moving dental diseases like tooth decay and gum disease. And it’s kind of too bad.
More headlines…this one says, “Saginaw dentist thinks it’s too bad that gum disease and cavities aren’t more painful.”
It’s just that by the time something is painful we’ve probably added acute inflammation and often infection into the mix. This makes treatment more expensive and less predictable. So if you could feel a cavity earlier, maybe we could fix it when it’s cheaper and less expensive to fix. That’s all I’m saying. Really.
Dentists don’t really need much help getting bad press. So I should probably stop while I’m ahead!
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