Common Dental Problems

Common Dental Problems

Oral care doesn’t just keep your teeth strong; it can have a significant effect on your general wellness, too. Nearly one in 10 people have some sign of poor dental health, and in some instances that number goes up to almost 100 percent. The most common oral diseases are:


The teeth and the tooth attachments may give rise to painful symptoms as a result of decay, abscess, gum (periodontal) disease or eruption problems. The pain may vary from an intermittent or fleeting sensitivity; sensitivity to hot and cold that may indicate the early onset of decay; to the most dreadful acute throbbing pain caused by advanced decay and a dental abscess. In this latter case it may be impossible even to touch the teeth together and eating may be difficult.


What Is It?
Dental caries is the scientific term for tooth decay or cavities. It is caused by specific types of bacteria. They produce acid that destroys the tooth’s enamel and the layer under it, the dentin.

Many different types of bacteria normally live in the human mouth. They build up on the teeth in a sticky film called plaque. The bacteria turn sugar and carbohydrates (starches) in the foods we eat into acids. The acids dissolve minerals in the hard enamel that covers the tooth’s crown (the part you can see). The enamel erodes or develops pits. They are too small to see at first but they get larger over time.

Acid also can seep through pores in the enamel. This is how decay begins in the softer dentin layer, the main body of the tooth. As the dentin and enamel break down, a cavity is created.

If the decay is not removed, bacteria will continue to grow and produce acid that eventually will get into the tooth’s inner layer. This contains the soft pulp and sensitive nerve fibres.

Early caries may not have any symptoms. Later, when the decay has eaten through the enamel, the teeth may be sensitive to sweet, hot or cold foods or drinks.

A dentist will look for caries at each visit. Your dentist will take X-rays of your teeth on a set schedule, and also if a problem is suspected. They can show newly forming decay, particularly between teeth. They also show the more advanced decay, including whether decay has reached the pulp and whether the tooth requires a root canal.

Expected Duration
Caries caught in the very early stages can be reversed. Caries that has destroyed enamel cannot be reversed. Most caries will continue to get worse and go deeper.

One way you can prevent cavities is by reducing the amount of plaque and bacteria in your mouth. The best way to do this is by brushing and flossing daily.

You can reduce the amount of tooth-damaging acid in your mouth by eating sugary or starchy foods less often during the day. 

Another way to reduce your risk of cavities is through the use of fluoride, which strengthens teeth. 

Caries is a process. Once caries gets worse and there is a break in the enamel, only the dentist can repair the tooth. Then the standard treatment for a cavity is to fill the tooth, the decayed material in the cavity is removed and the cavity is filled.

If a cavity is large, the remaining tooth may not be able to support enough filling material to repair it. In this case, the dentist will remove the decay and cover the tooth with a ceramic inlay, onlay or artificial crown.


Gingivitis means, quite literally inflammation of the gingivae or gums. Gum problems occur when there is an inflammation or infection of the support tissues of the teeth. There are two main forms of gum disease:

  1. Gingivitis is when the gums are affected superficially
  2. Periodontitis is when the deeper structures are affected.

Of the two conditions periodontitis is the more severe disease, although long standing gingivitis may in some cases lead to periodontitis.

If gingivitis is present, the gums will be red in colour rather than the usual healthy pink. They will also tend to be slightly puffy or swollen. Inflamed gums also bleed, usually when tooth brushing or biting into something hard such as an apple.

The dentist remove any deposits in your mouth (tartar or calculus) that may be helping the plaque to congregate. This tartar is plaque that has become hardened or mineralised by salts in the saliva. The process of removing these hard deposits is known as scaling and polishing.


Dental erosion is the loss of enamel and dentine from the tooth as a result of direct acid attack. It can be caused by excessive exposure to acid substances such as fruit juices and fizzy drinks. 

The source of acid that causes the erosion is either from an intrinsic source from within the body (eg acid from the stomach) or from an extrinsic source from outside the body (eg acidic foods, drinks or medicines). Regular check-ups at the dentist mean signs of erosion can be detected early. 

For those affected by erosion it is important to:

Limit acidic foods and drinks to meal times
Reduce the number of times during the day that acidic foods and drinks are consumed
Choose soft drinks which have no added sugar and have been shown to pose a negligible risk of tooth erosion
Finish meals with a small piece of cheese or a drink of milk
Delay brushing teeth immediately after having acidic foods or drinks.

It may be possible to improve the appearance of teeth that have been eroded with the use of adhesive filling materials, veneers or crowns. However, it is important that the cause of tooth erosion is identified first before this kind of dental treatment is undertaken.


Tooth sensitivity (also known as dentine hypersensitivity) often appears as a painful reaction to temperature changes, pressure, sweet and acidic food or drink. This reaction may be mild and tingling, or sharp and intense. People whose teeth are sensitive often feel pain when they eat or drink things which are very cold.

Triggers of tooth sensitivity and the severity will vary from person to person, although the most common are: –

Cold food and drinks (e.g. ice cream)
Over-enthusiastic or incorrect tooth brushing
Hot food and drinks (e.g. hot tea or coffee)
Sharp acidic foods (e.g. apples, oranges)

Tooth sensitivity can occur at any age. There are two general ways in which this sensitivity can develop:

Wearing or destruction of the hard, protective outer layer of the tooth crown called enamel. This may be related to:
Biting abnormalities or abnormal tooth grinding
Toothbrush abrasion, i.e. the wearing-away of enamel and/or recession of gums caused by over-enthusiastic or incorrect brushing
Dietary erosion – the destruction of enamel by acidic food and drink or by acid regurgitation from the stomach
Habit – nail biting or the placing of metal objects between the teeth
Attrition – the wearing away of enamel by tooth grinding.

Sensitivity and dental pain can also be experienced for a number of other reasons:

Chipped teeth
Fractured or cracked fillings
Dental decay (caries)
Deep fillings
Cracked teeth.


Bad breath (halitosis) is a common reason why many people visit a dentist. Everyone suffers from bad breath to some degree at some time – for example, when waking in the morning. In the great majority of cases, the causes of bad breath originate in the mouth; in a minority of cases the problem may originate elsewhere in the body such as the stomach or nasal passages.

The main causes of bad breath are:

Gum disease (periodontitis or gingivitis)
Broken fillings or tooth decay trapping food between the teeth
Secretions from the nose coating the back of the tongue.

It can be worsened by:

Food (e.g. garlic, onion or curry)
Alcoholic drinks
Certain drugs (e.g. some heart medications, and drugs which decrease saliva production)
Illnesses (e.g. diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, nasal infections, and sinusitis)
Gum disease. Gum disease is the most common cause of bad breath.

To avoid bad breath, regular six-monthly visits to a dental surgery are essential. 

Tongue cleaning removes the surface coating on the tongue. 

Mouth rinses and tooth pastes
Mouth rinses have been shown to be very effective at reducing bad breath. They remove the sulphur compounds from the mouth, thereby preventing them developing the ‘bad eggs’ smell. 

Improving your breath
Avoid food or drinks which produce strong smells, such as garlic and onions, especially uncooked. Eat regular meals. Rinse your mouth with water or sip water during the day, especially if you have a dry mouth.


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