Americans don’t like going to the dentist. In fact, the ADA has estimated that 100 million Americans opt to put off their annual dental exam each year despite that fact that regular visits to the dentist and good oral hygiene are necessary to preventing most oral health disease.
Small oral aches can quickly escalate to a major dental issue, so it’s critical that you learn to recognize the signs that it’s past time to schedule an appointment with a dentist—especially if don’t keep regular dental appointments.
Symptom 1: Bleeding Gums
While it may be normal for your gums to bleed a little if you’re flossing for the first time in a while, you shouldn’t be seeing pink when you brush. Healthy gum tissue — which is vital to holding teeth in place and creating protective barriers in your mouth — doesn’t normally bleed. So, what can cause gums to bleed, become swollen, tender and irritated or even retract?
Well, using too much force when brushing for one. Overbrushing can wear down the enamel on your teeth and do some serious damage to your gums. If the bristles on your toothbrush stick out every which way, it’s a good indicator that you’re brushing too hard.
Bacteria can also cause your gum tissue to swell and bleed. Every mouth has some bacteria, but regular brushing, flossing and general dental care helps keep that bacteria in check. If you’re not practice good oral hygiene, however, bacteria starts to build up. Too much bacteria leads to gum inflammation and, eventually, gum disease.
Your dentist can recommend additional professional cleanings and self-care advice to reduce the inflammation and get gums back to a naturally pink hue. Advanced levels of gum disease may need additional treatment such as gum-flap surgery.
Symptom 2: Obvious or Unusual Swelling
There can be a number of reasons for sudden facial swelling. Infected forms of acne, tooth infections, swollen lymph nodes, and some types of cancer can all cause swelling of or around the jaw or mouth.
Swelling in the face or cheek, combined with persistent throbbing pain, fever and sensitivity to temperature and pressure are all indicators of a possible tooth abscess. If these signs are present, seek treatment as soon as you can. A tooth abscess is a result of bacteria getting into the innermost level of the tooth, the dental pulp, where important vessels and nerves are located. The abscess will not go away without treatment and can spread to the jaw, neck and head. It is also possible for an abscess to develop into a life-threatening infection called sepsis without adequate treatment.
If you are in extreme pain or are excessively swollen, seek emergency care. Otherwise, watch and wait a week or so to see if the swelling recedes on its own.
Symptom 3: Sudden Onset or Cessation of Pain
Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. When pain goes beyond general sensitivity, is throbbing, shooting, and prevents you from eating or speaking as usual, seek professional attention immediately. At less significant levels, it may be safe to simply monitor the situation until your regularly scheduled dental appointment, but do seek immediate care if the pain worsens—especially if worsening of sensitivity is followed by a sudden cessation of pain.
Generally, patients welcome the loss of pain, but be on alert if that comes with a loss or change of sensation in the area. If you are experiencing numbness or the loss of sensation in a previously infected area, seek treatment. This lack of sensation can indicate that an abscess has affected nearby nerves. Without attention, your next visit may be used for a root canal.
Symptom 4: Loose Teeth
Permanent teeth are, as their name suggests, meant to be permanent. If you find that your teeth begin to wiggle or loosen in their socket, schedule an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible. Loose teeth, with or without pain, can indicate an injury or an infection. Once a tooth is lost, surgery or an orthodontic implant or device would be necessary to replace the area of the loss.
When loose teeth are paired with red and possibly bleeding gums, it can be indicative of periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease that can be particularly dangerous for adults. There have been cases where heart attacks and heart disease have been linked to untreated gum disease.
Symptom 5: Bad Breath
Chronic bad breath, or halitosis, can indicate an underlying health issue that needs dental or medical attention. This type of bad breath exists even after frequent brushing or using OTC mouthwash and friends may remark about it to you in an effort to bring it to your attention. What can cause such a persistent problem? Some sources include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Tobacco products
- Dry mouth
- Gum disease
- Dental cavities
- An infection in the mouth, the nose or the throat
A visit to the dentist can offer insight to the cause and provide direction on an appropriate course of treatment in your specific case.
Seek Emergency Treatment
You are strongly suggested to come in for an emergency dental appointment for swelling and pain that impacts your ability to function normally. Likewise, loosened teeth, unusual bleeding and chronic bad breath can all indicate bigger problems that may need to be diagnosed and treated quickly.
You can prevent an oral health crisis from happening by educating yourself on proper oral hygiene and by learning to recognize and address problems quickly to prevent further infection or potential tooth loss.