Don’t Wait for Pain to See Your Dentist

May 13, 2024, Sam Rounsavell

little asian girl presses hand to cheek, suffers from pain in tooth. When I do assessments in the schools, at our children’s clinic, at nursing homes, or in our adult clinic, I often see patients who have cavities and gum disease that they did not know they had. People can have cavities and gum disease long before experiencing pain and discomfort. Once a person feels pain or their permanent (adult) tooth is mobile, the disease process is much more complicated to treat. Often, people will go to the emergency room for dental pain. However, the doctors there can only prescribe antibiotics and pain medications, neither of which take care of the problem but are just a temporary fix.

Boy in a dentist chair points to the pain in his mouth while talking to a black, female dentist.Many people do not see their dental provider regularly, sometimes due to the cost, other times because of fear, and other times because they do not have any symptoms, but if people see their dental provider regularly, then they can catch things earlier when it is much easier to treat. It is a lot like high blood pressure. Many people have no idea their blood pressure is high unless they go to their healthcare provider and check it. Here in Oregon, all children have access to dental care through the Oregon Health Plan. Community health workers and health navigators can help connect your child with this insurance if you need assistance.

Little girl suffering from toothache at homeOnce there is pain, the tooth decay has likely gone into the tooth’s nerve, and this is when it is recommended to have a root canal or even have the tooth extracted (removed). Unfortunately, I have seen 12-year-olds needing an extraction or removal of their adult teeth, which is upsetting, to say the least. I want to prevent this as we do not get a third set of teeth, and removing them over time can make it more difficult to chew nutritional foods. When teeth are removed, other teeth will likely shift position in the mouth, affecting how the teeth fit together. When teeth shift, it can cause teeth to wear down more than usual. It also can make it more difficult to chew on one side. This is important because chewing helps clean the teeth, and the side without chewing will have much more plaque and tartar than the chewing side. And it can make it more likely to have problems with the TMJ when things shift.

Asian boy smiling as he sits in a dental chair in dental clinic

When teeth are removed, over time, the bone where that tooth was will shrink, and this means the face will change shape and can have a more sunken appearance. People who lose all their teeth can have dentures made, but dentures can be difficult to fit well. When all of the teeth are gone, even more bone shrinks, and the dentures can get loose over time. When the dentures cover the roof of the mouth, some of the ability to taste will be gone. Chewing some foods will also be more difficult, so having dentures is not as great as people think. I know this because I have seen what people go through.

Prevention is the best medicine, and regular dental visits catch things early. This makes any treatment less invasive because when it is caught early, it is likely going to be a smaller filling and easier for the patient. I have seen way too many kids with cavities that no one knew they had. It is my hope to help parents and caregivers understand the importance of early dental visits and not wait for pain.