Many of the symptoms of poor oral health are easy to ignore. We have toothpastes to mask sensitivity, gels to numb toothaches, and at-home bleaching kits to whiten those surface stains. These are all great temporary solutions, but only a dentist can help you figure out for sure what the underlying cause of your dental problem or discomfort is and find a solution.
In 2013-14, only 50 per cent of all Australians aged 15 and over had visited a dental professional in the 12-month period (source). There is no substitute for a trip to the dentist, and those who don’t make good dental health a priority in their life will end up regretting it later on. Left unchecked, oral health can quickly deteriorate with age and leave you needing dentures or other medical procedures.
The good news is that regular dental check-ups can prevent or even reverse most dental problems. So don’t wait until you have a serious issue before scheduling an appointment. Once every six months is a good rule of thumb. Here are ten signs that you’ve been avoiding the dentist for longer than you should:
Your teeth are sensitive to hot and cold
This can be a sign of tooth decay or cavities. Tooth decay is caused by bad bacteria wreaking havoc on your teeth and wearing away at the protective enamel. When the decayed tooth enamel is worn down to expose the nerves and blood vessels, you experience sensitivity to hot and cold food or drink.
Your gums are inflamed, puffy or bleed easily
Inflamed gums are caused by a build-up of plaque under your gum line, due to improper brushing technique or a lack of oral hygiene. This can make your gums look as if they are receding away from your teeth. Puffy, sensitive or inflamed gums can be a sign of gingivitis or periodontitis, which need a dentist’s intervention before they get worse.
You experience toothaches
Pain in your teeth can be caused by an infection introduced to the “pulp chamber” of the tooth via deep cavities and decay. It can also be caused by grinding your teeth. Many people grind their teeth at night and aren’t aware of it, so if you’re experiencing tooth pain it’s best to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away.
You have persistent bad breath
Bad breath, or halitosis, is one of the most common problems that a dentist will hear about. While most bad breath is caused by bacteria thriving under the gum line or at the back of your throat, other causes can be more serious problems with your sinuses or stomach.
You have white spots on your teeth
These spots on your teeth may be a temporary side effect from bleaching your teeth, or they may be the first signs of tooth decay. Acid produced by bad bacteria begins to wear away the protective enamel of your teeth, and this is what’s causing those white spots to appear. If you haven’t been bleaching your teeth lately and you’ve been enjoying too much sugar, a worn-down enamel might be the culprit.
You notice a change in the colour or texture of your mouth
Any unusual changes to the colouration or texture in your mouth, such as white or red patches where there weren’t any before, or lumps and bumps that just won’t go away, should be seen to by a dentist. They could be the early signs of a myriad of dental disease, including mouth, throat, or tongue cancer.
Interested in Cosmetic Dentistry? Get our complete guide to the 10 “Must-Knows” of Cosmetic Dentistry.
You have difficulty or experience pain when swallowing
This is a common complaint among the elderly. The cause might be easily treated, such as ulcers or dry mouth, or it may be caused by certain medications you are taking. Others causes are more of a reason for concern, such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke. Your dentist can help you figure out a plan to ease your discomfort and get you enjoying your favourite foods and beverages again.
You have headaches in the morning or a sore jaw
This can be caused by grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism. Grinding your teeth, especially at night, may be a response to stress and anxiety, or the result of an irregular overbite or underbite. Your dentist can help you find out the cause of your head and jaw pain, and may prescribe a mouth guard to wear at night while you figure out a long term solution together. Abnormalities in teeth alignment may need braces to correct an irregular “bite” and change the look of your smile for the better.
You have a metallic or other unusual taste in your mouth
This can be caused by medications or medical treatment you’re receiving, or a side effect of pregnancy, age, smoking, or hormonal changes. It can also be a sign of gingivitis, a pesky disease caused primarily by plaque build-up. A dentist can help you rule out certain causes and set you on the path to better oral health.
You have or suspect diabetes, HIV, cancer, or another serious medical condition
Your mouth can show early signs of diseases not generally associated with oral health. Cancer and HIV can affect your mouth health because of the way they weaken your immune system. Those with diabetes develop infections easier and are slower to heal. If you have or suspect an underlying medical condition is the cause of your dental discomfort, it may be affecting your oral and dental health.
So… Be Sure to get Regular Dental Checkups!
But don’t just wait until you have a problem to schedule a visit to your dentist. Regular dental check-ups are important because your dentist can detect and prevent oral disease and dental problems early – this may save you from having to schedule that dreaded root canal a few years down the road.
Like most things regarding your health, continuing to care for your teeth is as important as seeking treatment. Once you have your permanent or “adult” teeth grow in, it’s the only set you’ll get for the rest of your life. Left untreated, advanced periodontal disease can lead to losing most or all of your teeth. So take care of your smile in the best way that you can, and leave the rest up to the professionals.