We’re Dentists. Here Are 5 Issues We’d Never, Ever Ignore.


When it comes to the basics of dental hygiene, most people know the key rules to follow—such as brushing twice a day—but many people are quick to overlook seemingly minor dental problems that occur. It may be dangerous.

“What many patients don’t understand is that your dental health is tied to your overall health,” says Dr. Akeadra Bell, clinical assistant professor at East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine and a general dentist at Triangle Family Dentistry in Rollesville. .

“As dentists, we don't just treat teeth, we don't just examine teeth. Your mouth is the opening to your entire body, and everything is connected,” Bell said. This means skipping a dental appointment or ignoring tooth pain could lead to bigger problems down the road.

If you're wondering what kinds of problems should bring you to the dentist, here's what the experts say:

Bleeding when brushing or flossing.

The most prominent problem that should be addressed is bleeding when brushing or flossing, said Dr. W. Craig Noblett, clinical associate professor and chief of endodontics at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

This may be an early sign of periodontal disease. In the beginning, the problem may affect the gum tissue, but if left untreated, it can lead to bone damage, Noblett said.

no all Bleeding is a sign of periodontal disease: “If something is caught in the gums next to the tooth, the gum tissue may become locally irritated,” says Noblett. Popcorn shells are a common culprit of this irritation. However, if you frequently notice bleeding when you brush or floss, that's a good sign that you have a problem that your dentist needs to address.

Any type of mouth pain.

Any type of pain must be discussed with a dentist, Bell said. It doesn't matter if it's tooth or gum pain, or it happens while chewing, brushing, or doing nothing else.

“Pain could mean a cavity, it could mean a cavity that's so large that it's a root canal, or it could mean the tooth is infected,” Bell said, for example. It may also indicate gum disease or tooth irritation caused by vigorous brushing. “Whenever you're in pain, you want to be seen,” she said.

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Ignoring dental problems is never a good idea—such problems tend to get worse, not better.

Sensitivity to temperature.

Noblett says you should be aware if your teeth are sensitive to temperature, especially cold temperatures.

“I think all of us are a little bit sensitive when you first take a bite of ice cream and you feel a big jolt, but then you get used to it…and that's normal,” Noblett said. But if you still experience pain, echoes, or throbbing after swallowing, that's concerning.

“This is a good indication that the pulp tissue of one or more teeth is inflamed, and the cause of the inflammation could be decay… or it could be from a crack in the tooth,” he said.

Swelling, abscess, or new lump.

“Swelling or abscess needs immediate treatment,” Bell says.

New tissue growth or lumpy areas should also be taken seriously. “This can happen on the cheeks, on the tongue, around the floor of the mouth…any type of special phenomenon,” Bell explained.

Additionally, sores that don't heal are another red flag, she said.

“Areas of tissue growth or lumps can be signs of oral cancer, and I always say that, I'd rather you come to me for no reason than not come to me because you have something,” Bell said. Better safe than sorry.

This shouldn't alarm you; most lumps or tissue growths are not oral cancer, she points out. It could also be a blocked salivary duct or just irritation. Either way, you'll want to treat it.

Grind or clench your teeth at night.

Grinding or clenching your teeth at night may not be as easy to explain as some of the other problems mentioned above, but Noblett says it's an important issue to track. This habit can cause your teeth to dry out and change the way your upper and lower teeth connect.

If you sleep next to your partner, they may tell you if they grind your teeth at night. Or, you can look for signs like headaches or changes in the way your teeth bite in the morning, Noblett says.

Bottom line: If you feel like there's anything wrong with your oral health, don't ignore it.

“I tell my patients not to ignore any problem,” Bell said. “The real reason behind it is the perception of the problem and the perception of pain…every patient is different.” What may feel like sensitivity to cold to one person may not be the same as sensitivity to cold to another. Said it might feel like pain.

Since everyone sees things differently, it's important to report any new discomfort or concern to your dentist so they can understand what's going on. Bell adds that if you do notice that pesky toothache suddenly disappears, your body may simply be getting used to the pain or the nerves may be dying.

“So be sure to come to us because dental problems won't go away on their own, they will only get worse,” she said.

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