For several weeks, Dr. Kevin Winters has been answering questions on KJRH 2, and we’ve noticed one unfortunate trend in the questions we get. Many, many people frame their questions around the issue of pain. Either they’re only looking for treatment because they have pain, or they think they shouldn’t get treatment because they don’t hurt.
This is not the right way to approach your dental care. Pain is a terrible indicator of your need for treatment, and here’s why.
Some Conditions Won’t Cause Pain
Probably the most important reason not to let pain be your guide to treatment is that many serious dental conditions don’t cause pain.
Gum disease is one of these conditions. Gum disease is not only a threat to your teeth, it’s a threat to your life. It’s been associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, pregnancy complications, and several forms of cancer. But you may never experience pain from your gum disease. Your gums may turn red. They may swell up. They may bleed. But they may not hurt. If you do experience pain, it’s more likely to be from exposure of your tooth roots or food sticking in your teeth.
An infected tooth is a very serious dental condition. Bacteria are inside your tooth, killing the tooth, and potentially spreading into your bone, other teeth, your sinuses, and–rarely–your brain. Typically, it’s associated with excruciating pain–this is what root canal therapy is supposed to treat, and the procedure is much less unpleasant than the infection itself. But sometimes people get an infected tooth that doesn’t hurt.
Sometimes the Pain Is Far from the Cause
You also can’t trust your pain to tell you where the problem is. Pain caused by your teeth or jaw can actually be felt far from the source of pain. This is especially common in temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). Pain from TMJ can be felt as headaches, neck pain, or back pain. It’s also commonly felt as ear pain or other ear symptoms like tinnitus or vertigo.
Or maybe you feel pain far from the source because the nerves at the source are dead, as can happen with an infected tooth. Pain might then be triggered further up along the nerve.
And then there’s the phenomenon of referred pain, where your brain misinterprets the source of pain because it’s coming from an unusual place.
Of course, this all works the other way, too–many toothaches are caused by something other than your teeth. The point is, you can’t trust pain to tell you where the problem is.
The Pain May Come Too Late
And then there are conditions that will cause pain, but it’s already too late for us to give you the best treatment. That’s actually the way it is with most toothaches–they don’t start hurting until decay has seriously damaged your tooth. You might have temperature or pressure sensitivity at first, but by the time you have lasting tooth pain, it’s likely that you do have an infected tooth.
And it’s the same with gum disease. If you experience sensitivity because your roots are exposed, your teeth are already in danger. We may be able to save them–or we may not.
Don’t Be Guided by Pain
Responding to pain is a negative, unhealthy approach to your dental care. If you’re only responding to pain, you’ll likely have less functional, less attractive, and less healthy teeth.
And, here’s the thing, you’ll probably pay more for it, too. Reactive dental care is expensive. Preventive dental care is much less expensive, and it can free up your budget to consider cosmetic dentistry.
If you are looking for a Tulsa dentist who can help you take a proactive approach to dentistry so you can love your smile and not just care for your teeth, please call (918) 528-3330 today for an appointment at Winters Dental Excellence.