Dr. Karl has been practicing in the field of dentistry for 31 years. He graduated from NYU Dental School in 1981, and completed a general practice residency program at Monmouth Medical Center the following year. The F.A.G.D. (Fellow, Academy of General Dentistry) honor was awarded to him in 1986. Prior to dental school,... more
Most people have experienced a "toothache" at one time or another. Have you ever wondered why some aches seem to go away and others do not? How can you determine when it is wise to seek professional help, versus waiting to see if the pain goes away as quickly as it came? The answer to these questions are neither simple nor necessarily obvious. Since the topic is so broad, it needs to be covered with multiple discussions so as to not overload our minds with too much information at one time.
Let's begin with a relatively simple situation. Decay in a tooth can be one source of potential pain. Decay is caused by a sugar attack against the enamel of the tooth. Once the process begins, it usually cannot be stopped. There are incidences when very small decayed areas can be remineralized, but this is not predictable with regards to success.
Symptoms of decay have a broad range of possibilities. Some people will report having sensitivity to temperatures. Others may have pain to sweet foods or drinks. Still others may not be able to chew without feeling something. It is also important to think about how long the sensitivity or pain actually lingers. It matters if the pain lasts for seconds, minutes, or hours in order to help make a proper diagnosis. Some decay on teeth can be seen on an X-ray; others are not so obvious.
It is important to try to determine what triggers your pain. Is it hot or cold food and drinks? Is it biting into harder chewy substances? The more accurate information you can provide to your health care provider, the better opportunity he or she has of making an accurate diagnosis. The symptoms that were just mentioned may also be the same symptoms of other sources of pain.
It is very difficult for the average person to self-diagnose their problem and identify the true source and cause of their pain. One fact for certain is that if your pain is being caused by decay in a tooth, that decay process will only continue and cause more destruction and damage as time moves forward. If the pain is triggered by decay, the remedy of a relatively simple filling or restoration may be further complicated by root canal therapy if left untreated. No one knows how quickly a small area of decay will take to burrow towards the nerve of your tooth, thus requiring root canal therapy in addition to a larger restoration.
The lesson to be learned here is to seek medical or dental care as soon as possible when pain is the issue. You are much more likely to keep control of personal pains if they are correctly diagnosed and treated. This also prevents the pain from becoming chronic, usually requiring even more treatment and taking longer to resolve.
Follow future articles that will show that some of the very same symptoms that a decayed tooth can elicit, can also be caused by entirely different issue. If you don't have confidence in the diagnostic abilities of your health care provider, then take the time and effort to seek a second, or even a third, opinion.
Good luck to you, and I hope that any and all pain is kept to a minimum.