- Last Updated: 09 November 2015 09 November 2015
Common causes of tooth decay, dental problems, and oral pain
Saliva is essential for oral health. Once patients lose their saliva, they are at risk of losing their teeth. The effect of persistent dryness in the mouth may not always be understood by healthcare providers. Some, simply lacking knowledge in how to properly care for dry mouth, have given patients very poor advice. It is so important, but often very difficult, for patients to receive expert assistance at the early stages of their dental and oral complications. Many arrive at the Tufts Dry Mouth Clinic with teeth so eroded or broken that only jagged pieces protrude from the gums—the alarming discovery is many of these patients had extensive dental work, but it was no longer working. Dr. Papas tried to explained how this could happen.
Saliva is what keeps the enamel of teeth hard. Low amount of saliva production or loss of saliva leaves tooth enamel much more vulnerable to a wide range of dental problems. It is the weakening and erosion of tooth enamel which leads to many devastating complications.
The following list is a summary of the recognized as well as lesser known causes of tooth decay, deterioration, and erosion:
• Acid in foods and beverages can affect teeth by accelerating demineralization of teeth (i.e., removing vital minerals). Frequency of consumption also matters—it is better to drink an acidic beverage all at once, rather than to keep sipping on it.
• Acid reflux, found in at least half of Sjögren's patients, can cause stomach acids to backflow into the mouth, eat away at enamel, and even get at the pulp. Indications of acid backflow are soreness at the back of the throat, shiny amalgams, or signs of the enamel becoming eaten away around the amalgam. This acid can sometimes be so severe that it has completely worn away a person's teeth.
• Brushing too hard can wear the teeth down (referred to as toothbrush abrasion) and brushing immediately after consuming acidic foods or drinks can make matters worse, by stripping away enamel.
• Dryness cause teeth to dry out; when teeth dry out, they are much more likely to crack. Dryness can be the result of an underlying disease, like Sjögren's, or as a side effect from many drugs. Every effort needs to be made towards restoring moisture to the mouth.
• Failed dental work, even in patients who have undergone a lot of dental work, is greatly due to inadequate preventative care. Work done on teeth that are already weakened or in an unhealthy condition or in a mouth with chronic dryness will simply not hold!
• Fillings falling out of teeth often happens in teeth that are not hard enough. In most cases, it is not the filling but the teeth which have changed or deteriorated. This problem points back to causes of failed dental work. Getting a root canal or getting a tooth crowned does not eliminate future problems nor the need to continue protective therapy. In fact, teeth that have been worked on require even more attention and ongoing fluoride treatments or preventative measures. A tiny gap can easily develop along the edge of a crown and allow debris or bacteria to seep in.
• Inflammation can occur in salivary glands as well as in the gingival margins of the teeth. In Sjögren's, it usually does not go below the gum line, like in periodontal disease.
• Thick saliva; the watery part of saliva is the first to go in Sjögren's. Advanced dryness caused by the lack of saliva or damaged glands in Sjögren's can be so profound that a wooden tongue depressor will remain stuck on a patient's tongue.
• Tooth Decay, particularly in Sjögren's, often occurs at the gum line, especially as gums start to recede. The root is much more sensitive to decay than the crown of the tooth. When there is a lot of tooth decay along the gum line, the tooth can shear right off.
• Triggers of oral pain, sensitivity, and burning sensations
- Candidiasis: As saliva decreases, the development of candidiasis increases. A significant percentage (60%) of Sjögren's patients have candidiasis, especially the erythematous variant. This will present as red, irritated oral tissues and a red, raw tongue. It causes a lot of soreness and sensitivity inside the mouth. It can also develop as cracks at the corners of the mouth.
- Burning tongue/burning mouth: The lack of lubrication in the mouth can make the tongue become dry and rough due to friction against teeth and causes burning sensations. An interesting finding is that women have more taste buds than men. This difference may point to early means of survival that women were born with as they were the ones to determine if plants or foods were safe to eat by tasting them for their bitterness. When nerve endings on all of these extra taste buds become dry, irritated or inflamed, the patient will experience a burning mouth.