Dental health problems can range from relatively minor issues such as sensitivity to tooth loss. While preventative care and regular check-ups can help to keep most oral health issues in check, it’s not uncommon to experience at least one of these issues in our lifetime. Oral health issues can affect the mind and body in unexpected ways and have a number of different causes.

For example, if a person has neglected their dental health due to ongoing mental and emotional struggles, their immune system may become compromised due to oral bacteria and inflammation, creating an ongoing cycle of poor overall health. 

How Does Dental Health Affect Overall Health?

The mouth is home to some 700 species of microbiomes, and much like our gut health, the “good” bacteria work to keep disease-causing bacteria at bay. However, when our oral health is compromised, high levels of “bad” bacteria can lower the body’s natural defenses, leading to inflammation and  making us susceptible to other health issues, such as:

  • Respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive issues due to inflammation and bacteria
  • Pregnancy and birth complications (some research suggests a link between periodontitis and premature birth and/or low birth weight).

Certain medical conditions can also affect your dental health:

  • Bone health issues, which can weaken the bone structure of the jaw (some medicines used to treat osteoporosis have been known to weaken jaw structure)
  • Cognitive health issues (such as Alzheimer’s) which affect working memory and lead to oral health neglect
  • When the immune system is already under threat due to conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, this increases the risk of oral health problems.

Barriers to Treatment

For those struggling with their health and well-being, poor oral health can be a source of embarrassment and even shame. However, the fact is that we’re only human: even with preventative care, good health isn’t always guaranteed, and there may be times we need help. 

Financial constraints can create barriers to accessing dental care and exacerbate existing health issues. To assist with this, the US Department of Health and Human Services lists a range of ways to access low-cost dental care. It’s also worth asking your dentist in the first instance if you are struggling, as they may be able to help with things like budgeting and payment plans to help cover the cost of care. 

How Your Dentist Can Help

A dental practice offering services at low prices might seem like a good deal, but unscrupulous and unqualified practitioners can be costly to your health. Before you book an appointment, it’s generally a good idea to check the American Dental Association (ADA) to see whether the practice has a membership. A qualified, experienced dentist can help address any oral health issues you may be experiencing to help ease pain and stop the condition from worsening. These may include:

Cosmetic Issues

Issues such as discoloration and misaligned teeth may not be considered a medical issue and may not be covered by insurance, however, your dentist may be able to offer dental plans to help cover the cost of treatments such as tooth whitening and orthodontic treatments such as braces.

Impacted teeth

When a tooth cannot emerge (usually due to overcrowding), this is called an impacted tooth. This can lead to health issues like pain, impeded jaw function, and halitosis and can be treated as a medical issue using eruption aids or extraction methods.

Tooth Sensitivity 

Enamel helps protect nerve endings in the teeth. When this becomes damaged, it exposes these nerve endings, leading to pain, especially when the teeth come into contact with very hot or cold food. Typically, dentists can assist with this by offering fillings, sealants, and hygiene products formulated for sensitive teeth.

Gum Problems

A build-up of plaque between and around the teeth can cause infection and inflammation in the gums, and if left untreated may lead to periodontitis. This can cause gums to recede, bleed and make chewing painful. It can also cause tooth loss. Treatment for this includes antibiotics, and deep cleaning to remove tartar. 

Tooth Decay

When unhealthy oral bacteria is left to build up, this can create a tacky film of plaque on the surface of the tooth (this ranges from clear to yellow). This can be worsened by sugar, which changes into acids that erode tooth enamel and cause plaque to develop. 

Cavities and Tooth Erosion

In some cases, this can lead to cavities, which dentists treat with fillings, but to prevent the pain of tooth decay in the first place, they are also likely to recommend a regular oral health regimen and reducing sugar in your diet.

Enamel Erosion

A high level of dietary acids can also lead to enamel erosion. People experiencing dry mouth are also more susceptible to this as they lack the saliva needed to flush away the acids in food and drink. While this damage is permanent, a dentist can help by advising on dietary changes in addition to bonding the teeth using resin or applying crowns or a veneer. 

Tooth Grinding

Bruxism is often a reaction to stress and anxiety. Amongst other health issues such as face, neck, and shoulder pain, bruxism can also lead to tooth erosion and jaw pain, which may indicate TMD or temporomandibular disorder (TMD). In addition to seeking professional mental help to manage the root cause, it’s important to get regular dental checks.

Chipped or Cracked Teeth

In some cases, bruxism can result in chipped or cracked teeth. This can also occur due to biting down on hard foods or from sudden injury. To treat this a dentist usually inspect the teeth for cracks using a dental dye. They then may use crowns, bonding, perform a root canal surgery or remove the tooth altogether depending on how serious the damage is.

Tooth Loss

While periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss, it can also be caused by physical injury, cavities, certain illnesses (such as hypertension), smoking, and malnutrition. In some cases, it may be possible to reattach existing teeth if they have been knocked out due to injury. 

Where this is not possible, there are a number of options including removable dentures (partial or full), or a fixed dental bridge (a prosthetic used to replace one or more teeth in the same area). A third option is to get dental implants, which are mounted to titanium implants in the mouth. 

If you are based in the Contra Costa Valley and considering dental implants, Willow Dental Care currently offers a free assessment on All On 4 dental implants Concord, California to help treat problems associated with jaw structure and tooth loss.