A Guide to Common Dental Problems
How to prevent or treat the (sometimes painful) troubles that can lurk in your mouth.
Problem: Tooth Infection
The pulp inside the tooth (which contains nerves) is damaged or becomes infected because of decay or injury. The root canal, which connects the top pulp chamber to the tip of the root, may become infected, too.
Who’s at risk: Anyone with a deep cavity or a cracked tooth, which can let in bacteria. An injured tooth can have a problem even if it's not visibly cracked or chipped.
What to do: If you feel pain in or around a tooth, see your dentist. He may refer you to an endodontist, who specializes in root-canal procedures. In one to three visits, the dentist will perform the notorious root canal (which is much less painful than it used to be). He will remove the pulp, clean the pulp chamber and root canal, then fill the tooth. Finally, he may seal the tooth with a porcelain or gold crown.
Problem: Enamel Erosion
Exposure to acid, primarily from soda or citrus drinks, can wear down the surface of the teeth, making them rounded and discolored. Overbrushing can have a similar effect on enamel near the gum lines.
Who’s at risk: Anyone who sips lemonade, soda (even diet soda), or sports drinks all day. This is also an occupational hazard of wine professionals. “I see people with good home care who are getting cavities,” says Cindi Sherwood, a dentist in Independence, Kansas, and a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. “A lot of times the only risk factor we can come up with is diet soda.” Aggressive brushers may also be wearing away the enamel along with the plaque.
What to do: If necessary, teeth can be restored with bonding materials. But to prevent further damage, you have to change your habits. If soft drinks are the culprit, for example, switch to water. Second best is to drink sodas (or sports drinks) with a full meal or sip them through a straw, then follow with a tooth brushing, sugarless gum, or a good swish of water in the mouth. If the problem is overbrushing, a soft-bristled brush or an electric toothbrush is a start. A dentist or a hygienist can demonstrate proper, gentle brushing technique.