When is it time to see a dentist?
By Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe
Strong oral hygiene habits must be initiated at a young age
How well do you actually take care of your dental health? To make an appropriate assessment of your own situation, ask yourself these questions: Am I steadfast about visiting a dentist yearly for a checkup?
Do I brush and floss my teeth twice daily? Am I vigilant about avoiding those sugary foods that can damage the teeth?
Unfortunately, we don’t always make our oral heath a priority and it isn’t uncommon that some may go many years without ever seeking out professional dental care.
Strong oral hygiene habits must be initiated at a young age; and if you’ve neglected your teeth when you were younger, then chances are that you’ve set yourself up for a lifetime of chronic (and expensive to manage) dental problems.
More focus must be placed on oral health maintenance, since poor oral care may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and even exacerbate chronic health conditions down the line.
At baseline, everyone should definitely make time out for an annual dental checkup and cleaning. But there are also times when you should be seeking out dental care for serious issues that can arise over time. So, what problems really warrant a trip to the dentist outside of your regular checkup?
Here are a few major red flags that it’s time to see a dentist:
1. Your teeth are highly sensitive to hot or cold temperatures:
If you experience tooth sensitivity when you eat or drink hot or cold foods/beverages, it may be indicative of a problem with dental caries (cavities). The problem may start out during childhood and the kinds of food you eat in conjunction with your dental hygiene habits may contribute to its formation.
Avoiding sugary beverages like soda, or sweet and sticky candy is one measure to avoid tooth decay.
The sugars you ingest may attract cavity producing bacteria in the oral cavity which creates a more acidic environment that may promote the erosion of your tooth enamel.
One way to recognize that you may be at the cusp of cavity formation is the development of whitish spots on the teeth known as decalcification.
When this occurs, the enamel of your teeth may start to lose important minerals like calcium and subsequently these decalcified regions of the teeth will start to weaken.
2. You have a horrible toothache:
An unbearable and excruciating toothache can sometimes be attributed to a serious dental infection known as an abscess.
Abscesses may be acute or chronic in nature and are caused by harmful bacteria. Some signs of infection can include fever, throbbing pain extending to the neck, and even facial swelling.
Left untreated, dental abscesses have the potential to spread to regions of the head and neck and cause sepsis and other life threatening problems. Dental abscesses require urgent dental treatment!
3. Your gums bleed frequently:
Bleeding gums may be a sign of inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) or diseased gums (periodontitis). If you notice an exacerbation of bleeding while brushing or flossing, that is a major sign of likely gum disease.
Gum disease may lead to recession of your gums and loosening and shifting of the teeth. If you ignore the problem, it can also lead to a permanent loss of teeth.
Periodontal health is especially important for soon to be moms; It is imperative that pregnant women pay close attention to their dental health since research has linked women with periodontal disease as being at a heightened risk for premature and low birth weight babies.
4. You struggle with chronic bad breath:
Halitosis is an embarrassing oral health condition that can be a result of uncontrolled cavities, abscesses, and periodontal disease.
You may not even realize you have a problem with bad breath, but rest assured everyone you come in close proximity to will likely be aware of your mouth odor.
It’s important to see a dentist if you experience persistent bad breath to determine if you have a treatable dental problem or if you must be referred to a medical doctor for further medical work up of the condition.
5. You observe a sore in your mouth that just will not heal:
One major concern whenever a patient has a sore in the oropharynx that doesn’t resolve over time is the possibility of oral cancer.
Warning signs to look out for include bleeding lesions, tender bumps in the mouth, chronic patches within the oral cavity (usually red or white in color known as erythroplakia and leukoplakia), and unintentional weight loss.
All suspicious lesions require prompt and thorough evaluation from your dentist. Survival rates for malignant oral lesions improve when the cancer is detected and treated early.
So here is the takeaway: Always invest in your dental health, to the extent that you do your general medical health. Take care of your teeth from childhood into adulthood and most importantly recognize when you must see a dentist.