Common Problems

Tooth Decay/Abscessed Tooth

ssmile4Caries, or tooth decay, is a preventable disease. A cavity, when left untreated, can move deeper and deeper into the tooth and will eventually reach the hollow center portion of the tooth called the pulp chamber. The main nerve and blood vessels for the tooth reside in this area. Once the cavity reaches the nerve it will kill the nerve and blood vessel that nourishes the tooth. At this point the inside of the tooth is infected and filled with pus. The infection will then spread down the root and seed itself in the surrounding bone. The infection will continue to destroy the surrounding bone and will form an abscess. This is usually a very painful, and potentially life threatening condition. Swelling may or may not be present. Ultimately, the infection from the abscess can enter the blood stream and result in septicemia which can be fatal. This rarely occurs because people are treated with antibiotics. However, prior to the invention of antibiotics, abscessed teeth were frequently among the top five causes of death in the US. Unfortunately, it does still occasionally happen. In 2007 there was a case in the news of a nine year old in Maryland that died of an abscessed tooth.

When your teeth and gums are consistently exposed to large amounts of starches and sugars, acids may form that begin to eat away at tooth enamel. Sugar-rich foods such as candy, cookies, soft drinks and even fruit juices leave deposits on your teeth. Those deposits bond with the bacteria that normally survive in your mouth and form plaque. The combination of deposits and plaque forms acids that can damage the mineral structure of teeth, with tooth decay resulting.

Sensitive Teeth/Toothache

There can be many causes for sensitive teeth and/or toothaches.

  • Receding gums/ exposed root surfaces
  • Worn enamel
  • Tooth decay
  • Infection
  • Recently placed deep filling
  • Abfractions (flaking away of enamel at the gum line)
  • Cracked or fractured tooth
  • Grinding or clenching of the teeth at night while sleeping
  • Cavity/Tooth decay

Your dentist can identify the cause of your sensitive tooth or teeth and provide you with treatment options. Sometimes it is as simple as directing you to use a specially formulated toothpaste. But sometimes it could mean you need a root canal or extraction. However, occasionally there is no identifiable cause or pathology for sensitive teeth. In this case, some relief can usually be achieved by using a desensitizing toothpaste or a fluoride mouth rinse or both. It can take up to six weeks of regular use to notice results.

Gum Disease

Gum, or periodontal, disease can cause inflammation, tooth loss and bone damage. Gum disease begins with a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. Gums in the early stage of disease, or gingivitis, can bleed easily and become red and swollen. As the disease progresses to periodontitis, teeth may fall out or need to be removed by a dentist. Gum disease is highly preventable and can usually be avoided by daily brushing and flossing and regular dental check-ups and cleanings. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gum tissue around the teeth. If your gums bleed when you floss or brush you probably have gingivitis. This is a reversible condition and no permanent damage has been done. However, if x-rays and probing reveal that you also have lost bone around your teeth, you have periodontal disease. Only your dentist can determine if you have gingivitis or periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can lead to the eventual loss of all of your teeth and it can occur rapidly and at almost any age. It must be treated aggressively by both the dentist and the patient to get it under control. Sometimes there is a genetic component to this disease. If one or both of your parents have lost their teeth due to periodontitis you may also be at increased risk. On a medical note, several recent studies seem to indicate a link between the inflammation present in periodontal disease and the inflammation present in some cardiovascular disease.

Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Bad breath can have a number of causes. If you are long overdue for a dental cleaning the deposits on, and in between, your teeth can contribute to bad breath. Failure to brush your tongue can lead to a buildup of bacteria on the top surface of your tongue and contribute to bad breath. Abscessed or infected teeth or gums can certainly produce a foul odor. Improper brushing and flossing as well as diet can be another cause.

Tonsils and pockets in the back of your throat can also be a common source of odors. If your dentist suspects that the source of your bad breath is coming from your throat he may refer you to an ENT physician/surgeon for an evaluation.

Canker Sores/Cold Sores

Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are small sores inside the mouth that often recur. Generally lasting one to two weeks, the canker sore has a white or gray base surrounded by a red border. There is no medicine that will make an aphthous ulcer go away faster but there are topical medicines to relieve the symptoms. We usually have free samples of this medicine to give out once the dentist determines that you are suffering from an aphthous ulcer.

Cold sores are a result of a herpetic viral infection. There is currently no cure for the herpes virus and once you have it you may be prone to periodic cold sore breakouts for the rest of your life. Cold sores generally occur on the outside of the mouth on the border of the lips. They are usually fairly painful and can spread onto other parts of your skin if the vesicles are popped. It is a highly contagious condition. Prior to vesicle eruption, there is usually a tingling sensation in the affected area that lasts for a day or two signaling that a breakout is about to occur. This is called the prodromal stage. There are number of prescription medications that, if taken during the prodromal stage, can significantly reduce the duration of the breakout and is some cases prevent the breakout all together. There are both topical and oral medications for this and your dentist can prescribe them to you. Stress and sun exposure can cause breakouts to occur in people that are already prone to cold sores.

Orthodontic Problems

A bite that does not meet properly (a malocclusion) can be inherited, or some types may be acquired. Some causes of malocclusion include missing or extra teeth, crowded teeth or misaligned jaws. Accidents, developmental issues and habits such as finger or thumb sucking over an extended period of time may cause malocclusions. These problems are best treated by a specialist called an orthodontist. Hayfield Dental Care does have a full time orthodontist on staff and consultations for adults or children are at no charge. The orthodontic part of our practice is called Kingstowne Orthodontics and we share the same office. You can learn more about orthodontics and braces by visiting their website

Yellowed Or Stained Teeth

As we age our teeth accumulate stain. This will occur even with regular brushing and regular dental cleanings. Tobacco use can create significant yellowing of teeth. Certain liquids can create a lot more staining than others. Drinks like coffee, cola, tea, red wine and hot chocolate can rapidly cause an increase in yellow staining on the teeth. Many foods also contribute to the accumulation of stain on the teeth. In fact it is safe to say that it would be impossible to avoid all of the foods that cause stain. The good news is that yellow and brown stains can be easily removed with many of the various bleaching products that are on the market. Generally, the professional strength products sold by your dentist will be the most effective and will provide you with the quickest and most consistent results. Gray stains and stains caused by some certain antibiotic use during childhood are the most difficult to correct. Some cannot be corrected with bleaching products alone. You dentist can discuss you options with you and determine if you are a good candidate for tooth whitening. For more information on tooth whitening options, see our page on tooth whitening or schedule a consultation with one of our dentists. You cannot bleach your teeth if you have any active areas of decay or infection. Also, if you have any white fillings, these will not change color during the bleaching process and they may end up looking darker as your tooth becomes lighter. Again, your dentist can advise you if this is an issue.

Hayfield Dental Care

  • Hayfield Dental Care - 7574 Telegraph Rd., Alexandria, VA 22315 Phone: 703-971-2220

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