Did you know that unhealthy teeth can mean an unhealthy body? Did you also know that people with tooth decay have a much higher risk of heart attack? It seems that good dental hygiene equates with good health. For this reason I have chosen to focus this posting on the causes of tooth pain (or dental pain).
Dental pain (especially pain from a dental abscess) is one of the most severe pains a human being can experience. It is remarkable to me that a structure so small can cause so much pain. The mechanism of pain production (obstruction of a hollow organ…the tooth…with the buildup of pressure) is the same type that causes pain in a bowel obstruction or in a heart attack.
Proper digestion and absorption of food is dependent on the preparation of it by chewing. Each tooth has a specific function and all are needed for effective chewing. When there is pain in any given number of teeth, the result is a reduction in food preparation.
When poorly chewed food enters the digestive tract the normal digestive enzymes do not have access to the swallowed food so that it cannot be broken down into its component parts. A lack of break down results in a reduction in absorption. Therefore, tooth function is essential for proper nutrition.
All tooth pain is not caused by the same thing. Though dental decay (or dental caries) is the most common form of tooth pain, the causes of tooth pain are more complicated than that. Before I get into the common causes of tooth pain, let’s briefly review the anatomy and physiology of teeth.
A Brief Review Of Tooth Anatomy And Physiology
Did you know that teeth are the hardest substance in the human body? There are 5 essential components to a tooth:
Enamel: made of calcium phosphate, it is the rock hard material on the outer surface of the tooth.
Dentin: is the living cellular material underneath the enamel that creates and supports it.
Pulp: as the name implies, it is a soft inner core of the tooth, also made of living cells, through which the blood supply and nerve supply of the tooth run.
Cementum: this is a connective tissue layer (connective tissue is living tissue that connects one type of tissue to another) that binds the root of the tooth to the gum and jaw.
Periodontal Ligament: this ligament (a ligament attaches a bone to another bone) lashes down the tooth to the jawbone.
You can compare what I have said to the above diagram. As you can see, the tooth is more complex than it appears on the surface.
Good blood flow is essential to the health of the tooth. Any disease that has a tendency to effect blood vessels can affect the health of the tooth (such as Diabetes or Hypertension).
The nerve in the tooth has the ability to detect pressure changes. When biting, if your teeth lacked pressure sensation, it would be possible to fracture a tooth from simple chewing. The pressure that is generated from chewing is applied in the precise amount that breaks up the food without breaking the tooth. The sensation from each tooth is processed in the brain to govern the amount of pressure generated.
What Causes Pain In Your Teeth?
As you may have already surmised, I will not be able to cover all the possible causes of tooth pain. So it is that an entire field of medicine called Dentistry is so necessary. The following are the 3 most common causes of tooth pain:
Dental Caries (or tooth decay):
In dental decay the enamel of the tooth is eroded by the action of bacteria that remain on the tooth after a meal. This process is enhanced with poor dental hygiene and eating high carbohydrate meals. This process is generally painless (though it can be seen by a trained dental hygienist or dentist) until the enamel is breeched.
In dental inflammation there is a connection through the breech in the enamel and dentin which allows bacteria to enter and multiply within the tooth. The bacterial growth causes inflammation of the interior of the tooth with resulting pain.
With a perpetual breech of the enamel and inflammation of the interior of the tooth, permanent colonization of bacteria can result in a collection of fluid, white blood cells, and bacteria called an abscess. This can result in tremendous pain and require extensive surgical intervention (that is the need to see an Oral Surgeon).
These are the most common causes of tooth pain. So what are you to do about it?
What Are The Treatments For Tooth Pain?
Superficial tooth decay can be easily repaired by drilling out the affected enamel and filling the defect with a dental enamel replacement (there are many types that a Dentist will use). The process is easily performed by a well-trained Dentist. These days most Dentists pride themselves on “painless” Dentistry and utilize a number of anesthetic agents to reduce any discomfort from the procedure.
As the destructive process on the tooth worsens, and the architecture of the tooth deteriorates, restoration of the tooth can become more challenging. Antibiotics can help treat inflammation and an abscess. However, the breech in the enamel must be sealed to stop continual bacterial invasion.
If the architecture of the tooth is damaged to the point where the dental ligament is dissolved, the tooth will have to be pulled.
After a period of healing many people opt for dental implants to replace the loss of individual teeth. The cosmetic and functional result of these types of procedures is quite good.
Obviously, the key to dental pain is good dental hygiene and preventive dentistry. The following recommendations have been made by the American Dental Association:
- Brush your teeth daily with a fluoride containing toothpaste. A toothbrush should be replaced 3 or 4 times a year (or as the bristles fray).
- Floss daily to remove food in between teeth. Food particles between teeth can cause dental caries on the sides of the teeth if not removed by flossing.
- Rinse your mouth out after eating sticky carbohydrates (even coffee with sugar).
- Have a dental preventive checkup once a year at your Dentist’s office.
I have reviewed the major causes of tooth pain, the basics to treatment, and some preventative guidelines. In reality, good dental hygiene is the best treatment (which should begin when the children are very young). If you are suffering from chronic pain of your teeth the examination and treatment by a Dentist will usually remedy your pain. Dental pain is one area of medicine where the treatment of chronic pain is very effective and nearly always eliminates chronic pain.
Don’t forget to make comment. I would love to hear from you and will answer you promptly.
Wishing you much joy and good health.