I just saw someone the other day for a dental emergency. The poor guy was in absolute misery with severe pulpitis in a tooth. He didn’t sleep at all the night before.
As a Toronto emergency dentist, I see this sort of situation happen all the time. People avoid going to the dentist when things don’t hurt. They only pick up the phone and start dialing when they reach a point their tooth pain outweighs their adversion to dentists.
In some ways, it's the dental pain calling us.
You see, pain is a great motivator when it comes to dental care. Anyone suffering with intense pain will do almost anything to get out of it. The pain becomes the master.
Once the pain is taken away and the dental crisis has passed, that’s when things get interesting. Some people will use that painful memory as a motivator to stay healthy and NEVER allow another dental crisis to happen. Others will just go back to drifting along... Ignoring their dental health until the next wave of pain hits.
As an emergency dentist, I don't chase pain so much as it chases me. Well, it's actually the people IN pain that do the chasing, because I offer the relief they desperately seek.
Believe it or not, pain is your friend. It sparks you to take action. Like taking your hand off a hot burner. Even the memory of pain can help you take action. That way you NEVER touch that hot burner again.
Here’s the dilemma. Pain is a great motivator, but a lousy indicator. The severity of your dental pain doesn’t always relate to severity of your dental problems. You can have severe conditions with little or no pain.
So don’t rely on pain to guide you. If you wait for things to hurt, you could end up in rough shape with a lot fewer teeth.
Another issue is that most dental problems are progressive in nature. Teeth don't self-heal the way other parts of your body do. That means small problems can lead to big nasty ones if left unattended.
Back to our friend with the bad toothache... We quickly got him scheduled the next day to remove his dying nerve. The plan was to have root canal therapy started on his aching tooth. I lined up some strong pain-killers in case he needed them to get by until the next day.
By the way, those horror stories about root canals are mostly myths. This kind of treatment usually offers huge relief of pain, not additional misery.
So guess what happened? This guy woke up the next day and his toothache stopped hurting. Good news, but he figured his problem was gone, and the rascal no-showed for his appointment.
Who needs a root canal if there’s no pain, right?
Sigh... From my experience, his problems have only just begun.
The nerve (pulp) of a tooth is an extremely sensitive part of your body. Lots of nerve endings.
Once the pulp of a tooth dies, all the nerve tissue dies with it and the pain disappears. The only part that still hurts is at the end of the affected root where the tooth attaches to the bone.
The reason why he woke up with hardly any pain is that his dying tooth finally bit the dust that night. While a dying tooth can hurt like the devil, a dead one might be barely noticeable. In fancier dental terms, symptoms dramatically improve once acute pulpitis transitions to pulp necrosis.
In a nutshell, just because his dental pain disappeared, doesn't mean his problem has.
Next crisis for this guy’s dead tooth will probably be a nasty infection. He’ll wake up one morning with a swollen face or a nasty boil on his gum. Infections like that can hit at any time, and they can do serious harm.
This guy belongs to a group I call Pain People. These are the ones that drift along grumbling about things but taking no corrective action until life finally brings on a serious dose of pain.
If the pain is eliminated, they might make vague promises of reforming, but always drift back into their slumbering ways.
Teeth happen to be a significant source of pain, and when dental health is neglected, consequences can soon arise.
In offering West Toronto emergency dental clinic services, we get calls from Pain People. The distinguishing feature I see with Pain People is poor oral hygiene. They don't make much effort to keep things clean.
Pain People will only call a dentist when they have a bad toothache. They end up having terrible teeth because all those little things are never taken care. They wait until pain FORCES the issue.
What are Pain People bound to get? They're destined for MORE pain, loss and aggravation. Much more than those who keep on the healthy path.
About the Author: Dr. Joe Bulger is an experienced emergency dentist and the owner-founder of Royal York Dental. A prestigious office serving West Toronto since 1950.
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