Do you know one of the most common – and commonly misunderstood problems? A good old-fashioned toothache. This dental event often reportedly occurs out of the blue; no warning, just intense pain. This is the primary misunderstanding about tooth pain. The truth is, that a sudden toothache, unless related to an injury, probably didn’t sprout up overnight. There is a general pattern that is followed, and it’s a relatively long and winding road.
The Path of Bacteria
Most toothaches can be traced back to the activity of oral bacteria. These microorganisms are always present in the mouth, so need to be managed on a regular basis; and by regular basis, we mean twice a day, every day, and a little more. When bacteria are unmanaged, the following process occurs:
- A tooth (or teeth) is robbed of minerals. Demineralization itself is not a problem; we lose minerals when we chew. However, enamel continually rebuilds under good oral care. If demineralization continues in a local area on a tooth, the diminished buffer between nerves and external stimulation typically leads to sensitivity. If treated at this stage, topical fluoride, sealant application, or a small filling may resolve the issue.
- Full cavity status. Once a full cavity has developed, that means there is the minimal thickness in the local area of demineralization. The less thickness in enamel, the less protection is available to the innermost parts of the tooth. Nerves become more irritated and may send warning signals as heightened sensitivity or even “zingers” when touched by hot, cold, sugar, or other substances. A filling is needed to restore proper function to the tooth.
- Dentin decay. The soft dentin tissue that lies beneath enamel is very vulnerable to damage. That is why it is covered with the hardest substance in the body. When dentin is reached by bacteria and their acidity, pain may become more of a mild ache. Some people do feel more intense pain at this point in the damage process and seek treatment. This may involve removal of decayed enamel and dentin, and either a larger filling or a full dental crown.
- Pulp infection. There are several layers of our teeth. At the center is the pulp chamber. The pulp tissue that resides here is made up of blood vessels and nerves. Therefore, when inflammation reaches this centermost part of the tooth, pain is hard to ignore. Most often, when pulp tissue has been damaged, root canal therapy is needed.