Untreated cavities lead to two rounds of pain: initial pain and recurring pain. However, if you can put up with it long enough, the pain goes away because the nerve eventually dies. You might then believe your body has fixed the problem, but months or years after the initial pain, another pain strikes with a vengeance.
Ignoring tooth pain can lead to serious consequences.
Once a month I turn on my pager and assume my on-call duties as a dental resident. For one week, I jump down the dental emergency rabbit hole and see where it takes me. As you can imagine, more than a few memories, interesting patient interactions and learning experiences have crossed my path.
Dental Emergencies Reveal Real Issues and Fears
Dental emergencies are pretty much what you would expect: tooth pain from untreated cavities, swelling from a dental abscess (infection), sporting accidents, chipped and broken teeth from jawbreakers to nuts to ice. Unfortunately, on the more serious side, I also see falls, car accidents, physical altercations and domestic abuse.
You quickly find some dental emergencies require you to be much more than a dentist.
However, the most common dental emergency we see is a patient who has reported to the emergency department with facial swelling from a dental abscess, usually from untreated cavities or a history of trauma. For those who grew up always going to the dentist, it’s easy to judge and ask, “Why did you wait so long?”
I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve done it, especially starting out in dental school.
However, countless patient interactions later, you begin to see another perspective when people tell you:
I was laid off.
I have a alcohol/drug addiction.
I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
I am unable to access dental care.
I can’t afford to have a dentist treat me and my children.
I have had bad experiences at the dentist.
I don’t go to any doctor unless I absolutely have to.
My tooth hurt a year ago, but the pain went away.
I’m terrified of needles.
You quickly find dental emergencies involve real people, with real issues and real fears.
Avoiding the dentist because you’re not sure you can afford care? Mercy Dental Services can help. Learn more.
Untreated Tooth Pain Can Lead to Serious Consequences
While their reasons vary, patients with dental emergencies usually have one common denominator: tooth pain. It’s a unique pain, usually described as the worst pain our patients have ever experienced.
I’ve had women tell me, “I’ve had six babies, some natural and some with a C-section and it doesn’t even compare to what I feel now!”
Untreated cavities mostly lead to two rounds of pain, what I like to call initial pain and recurring pain. Initially, with a cavity, the tooth becomes sensitive to sweets and maybe hot or cold. If untreated, the cavity can reach the tooth’s nerve, eventually leading to an intolerance to cold (even just speaking or feeling the wind), spontaneous pain throughout the day and especially waking oneself up at night.
However, if you can put up with it long enough the pain goes away because the nerve eventually dies (termed pulpal necrosis). Many patients believe that since the pain went away, their body has fixed the problem. Months or years after their initial tooth pain, another pain strikes with a vengeance; it’s a recurring pain. This pain is from a fully formed dental abscess and is typically the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Patients often present to the emergency department or Mercy Dental Services with profound swelling, which can include their lower eyelid, cheek, lip, throat or neck. Antibiotics may help prevent the spread of the infection, but only a tooth extraction or root canal can get rid of the source of the infection, the necrotic pulp tissue. Furthermore, these procedures must be done in a dental office.
In rare cases, a dental abscess can be fatal. The infection can spread to blood stream and vital organs or swelling cross over the midline of the neck and restrict one’s ability to breathe.
Therefore, tooth pain can become a very serious issue with very serious consequences if left untreated, especially with children. Prevention and regular dental check ups are the best way to avoid gruesome days, restless nights, visits to the emergency department and more frequent visits to your local dentist.
However, sometimes life happens, as do dental emergencies. When they do, we’ll be there.
Do you live in the Canton, Ohio, area and need affordable dental care? Learn more about Mercy Dental Services.