Is the taste of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee sometimes a painful experience for you? Does brushing or flossing make you wince occasionally? If so, you may have sensitive teeth.
Possible causes include:
Tooth decay (cavities)
Worn tooth enamel
Exposed tooth root
In healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns of your teeth—the part above the gum line. Under the gum line, a layer called cementum protects the tooth root. Underneath both the enamel and the cementum is dentin.
Dentin is less dense than enamel and cementum and contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). When dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum these tubules allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to reach the nerves and cells inside the tooth. Dentin may also be exposed when gums recede. The result can be hypersensitivity.
Sensitive teeth can be treated. The type of treatment will depend on what is causing the sensitivity. Your dentist may suggest one of a variety of treatments:
Desensitizing toothpaste. This contains compounds that help block the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, and usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced.
Fluoride gel. An in-office technique that strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations.
A crown, inlay, or bonding. These may be used to correct a flaw or decay that results in insensitivity.
Surgical gum graft. If gum tissue has been lost from the root, this will protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
Root canal. If sensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend this treatment to eliminate the problem.
Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing sensitive tooth pain. Ask our dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine or concerns about tooth sensitivity.
A tooth abscess also called an abscessed tooth, is right up there with root canals, subjects that we all need to be aware of to have a clear understanding of what to do if we have an abscess as well as how to avoid ever having a tooth abscess.
Anyone who has ever had an abscessed tooth would tell you that they would have done anything to avoid the pain of an abscess. In this first article on dental abscesses, let’s explore what causes abscesses and strategies you can apply to avoid ever having one.
What is an abscessed tooth?
An abscess simply is a ‘pocket’ of pus from an infection in the mouth. Have you ever had a splinter in your finger or foot that got infected? Do you recall the pus that accumulated around the splinter? That was your immune system showing up to fight the infection. Well, that’s essentially what an abscess is: a collection of pus that the immune system has created to mount a defense against infection.
There are two main types of abscesses in the mouth. A periodontal abscess originates in the gum pocket and is directly associated with advanced gum disease, also called periodontal disease. A periapical abscess is located at the tip of the root of a tooth. We’ll refer to these two main types of abscess simply as a gum abscess or tooth abscess.
Common signs of abscess
Signs and symptoms can vary widely depending on the type of abscess you’re dealing with. Where gum abscesses aren’t necessarily painful, the main sign of a tooth abscess is a very strong constant pain.
What causes an abscess?
All abscesses (with a couple of rare exceptions) are a result of a chronic infection.
If the infection originates in the gum pocket, then gum disease is the cause of the abscess.
If the infection is located at the tip of the root of the tooth, then the abscess is the result of an infection from within that tooth or the region surrounding that tooth.
In both cases, the immune system is dealing with an infection. However, different than the splinter example above, these infections are chronic.
Gum (periodontal) abscesses are from gum disease, an imbalance of disease-causing microbes that have colonized under the gum line.
Tooth (periapical) abscesses are primarily caused by a tooth becoming so decayed that the pulp becomes infected. They can also occur from a root canal gone bad. In both cases, the health of the tooth is severely compromised, a major battle is cooking, and the abscess is the ‘sign’ of trouble.
(Incidentally, the photo on this post is an x-ray where the abscess is on the root of a tooth that has already had a root canal performed on it. As you can see in the photo on the adjacent teeth, on a healthy tooth the root chamber is darker than the bony enamel and dentin.
However, on this root canal tooth, the root chamber is bright white showing how the root has been drilled out and filled with a material that the x-ray shows as white.)
How do I know which type of abscess I’m dealing with?
While this may get a bit graphic for some, the location where the abscess tries to drain the pus will give you a big clue whether you are dealing with a gum disease-based abscess or a tooth-based abscess.
You see, one of the ways our immune systems show up to fight an infection is by recruiting a lot of white blood cells to the infection site. Once the white blood cells do what they can, they die and accumulate at the infection site. We know this accumulation of dead white blood cells as pus.
Once the pressure builds up in the abscess, it tries to find a way out to relieve the pressure. Seeing where the abscess ‘vents’ is very helpful to determine which type of abscess you’re dealing with.
If the pus comes from within the gum pocket, this is a sure sign of a periodontal abscess and an unquestionable sign that you have periodontal disease.
If, however, the pus forms a boil on the side of the gum tissue and ruptures into the mouth (I know, it’s gross but important), then this is a strong sign that it’s a tooth abscess. Also, please note that it’s possible to have an infection and resulting abscess of both the periodontal pocket and the tooth root.
Sometimes a person can have an abscess (aka strong pain associated with a region in the mouth) and not have any ‘external’ signs of an abscess through the expression of pus from the infection site. These abscesses are particularly problematic as the increasing pressure of the abscess doesn’t have anywhere ‘outside’ to go, so the pus ruptures into internal tissues.
Why abscesses are not to be ignored
It’s a chronic infection. At the risk of being a bit dramatic, chronic infections are the ‘stuff’ that living beings die from. The extreme pain associated with an abscess is there to shout ‘Pay attention to this area! We’ve got trouble over here!’.
If left untreated, an abscess originating from gum disease will continue to destroy the jaw bone that anchors the teeth in the mouth and causes tooth loss as well as provides a chronic source of ‘thug bugs’ that directly undermine the health of the whole being.
If a tooth abscess is left untreated, the infection will build and spread into the surrounding region, destroying any tissue (bone, muscle, doesn’t matter) in its path as it seeks a way to release the building pressure. Depending on the location of the abscess, it can even directly cause loss of vision, facial paralysis, and yes, even death.
While these mostly localized issues are big enough, recent research very clearly points the finger at chronic oral infections as being a major source of systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation is the underlying cause that drives heart disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and many other ‘big hitters’ in our global culture.
An abscess is one of those situations where a trip to your helpful dentist would be a really wise choice.
How to avoid ever having an abscess
While this subject of how to avoid having an abscess is bigger than we can cover in one article, let’s get you headed in the right direction right now.
We suggest addressing any oral health issue from a ‘two prong’ approach.
On one hand, we must address this issue ‘at the site’ of the infection. On the other hand, if we want to stop the risk of an abscess for good, we must strengthen our ‘whole system’ immune response.
After all, only if we raise the health of our whole system can we expect our immune system to be able to effectively stop chronic infections.
To explain why system-wide immune support is foundational, let’s use the analogy of a city fire department. If a city has a building on fire, the fire department shows up in a hurry and applies the full force of their firefighting capabilities to put out the fire. This is how we want our immune system to function.
What happens, however, if the city has 10, 50, or 100 fires burning all at once? The fire department can’t respond to all the emergencies, right? They just don’t have the resources to address all the fires sufficiently.
So, they determine which fires are more critical to get under control and which fires can be allowed to burn.
Another option the fire department has is to spread their forces thin and just try to control all the fires from getting bigger. But spread out too thinly, they lack the resources to be able to mount a strong enough defense to put out any of the fires. So they all smolder and slowly burn.
This analogy parallels what happens in our bodies every day. If we don’t do the right things to support greater whole being immunity, we are simply going to stretch our immune systems too thin and some fires (infections) are going to keep burning and not be addressed.
Ok, enough theory. Let’s get you some high ‘bang for the buck’ actions you can take to make a massive positive change to your oral health…
Oil pulling is super helpful for addressing oral health challenges because it supports both the ‘in the mouth’ needs and ‘system-wide’ immune function. We question whether oil pulling will single-handedly heal an abscess, but regular oil pulling is a great adjunct therapy to help create greater oral health. While sesame oil is traditionally used, we like to use coconut oil because of its flavor and its antimicrobial properties.
If you aren’t familiar with oil pulling, here’s an article that explains how to practice oil pulling as well as how oil pulling benefits our oral health and whole-body wellness.
2.Address the infection in the mouth head on
There is much you can do to help knock down an oral infection. If it’s a periodontal abscess, you can directly and significantly reduce the infection yourself. Check out our HealThy Mouth System for more information on how you can make huge changes in your oral health very quickly.
Through the use of natural antimicrobials combined with specific strategies to help mitigate the imbalance of thug bugs in the mouth, it’s amazing how quickly the body heals itself (yes, even from advanced gum disease).
Another option is to vigorously swish with salt water for several minutes. Vigorous swishing like oil pulling will activate the immune system in the area while the salt works to fight the infection. Just dissolve some salt in water and you have a powerful, inexpensive home remedy to support the healing process.
3.Support systemic immune response
The good news is taking immediate positive actions will make a huge change quickly. Eat foods that help support greater oral health. Reduce or eliminate foods that undermine your oral health. Make sure you take time to laugh and play. Even simple steps like taking more vitamin C can help.
Any of these steps will provide your ‘fire department’ with more resources to mount a better, stronger immune response.
This week we’d like to step back and take a broad view to find what may be the primary undermining factor that keeps each of us from living our fullest life possible with an optimized immune expression.
After all, without an immune system humming along in good rhythm, chronic infections like gum disease can continue to grow and undermine the health of our entire body.
We often talk about how we approach gum disease from a ‘two prong’ approach…
addressing the issue ‘locally’ via ‘in the mouth’ strategies and
addressing the issue ‘broadly’ via ‘system-wide immune support’ strategies
While in the mouth strategies like oil pulling, conscious flossing, and what order you brush, floss and swish are important, today let’s turn our attention toward an often overlooked foundation…
A strong, resilient, vital, and balanced immune response.
Without a strong ‘whole body’ strategy in place, any strategies we apply in the mouth will only provide temporary benefits. If we want to reach that ‘place’ where we are no longer ’suitable hosts’ for the opportunistic thug bugs implicated with gum disease, we must address oral health from a system-wide approach too.
Interestingly, since our approach is very strongly rooted in holistic principles (aka that the body/being is one system and we cannot treat the parts individually) even many of the ‘in the mouth’ strategies we suggest also benefit our immune response.
The Primary Pillar to Optimal Health
While much of the health internet (including us) tend to point out that nutrition plays a foundational role in living an optimally vital life, we find that health psychology is even more central to expressing optimal health.
You’ve probably experienced some stress around trying to eat well.
Questions like wondering if the foods you choose for you and your family are best for you all can provoke stressful thoughts. If we habitually stress out that our diet isn’t perfect, we’re still causing stress (inflammation) in the system which will undermine our ability to be optimally healthy.
And, as we all know, stressing about food is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things we can stress about, right?
The bottom line, we must manage our stress levels and cultivate healthy psychology as a daily habit, or we are going to fall short of our potential genetic expression of health and vitality.
Not surprisingly, the scientific literature is awash in studies proving that stress makes gum disease and periodontal disease worse.
Yes, stress indeed helps us grow. That’s the way the principle of ‘Use it or Lose it’ works. We have to stress a muscle to make it stronger, challenge our memory to keep it sharp, and regularly stretch if we want to maintain flexibility.
The stress we’re referring to here however is the chronic stress (that is very manageable by the way) that’s born from how we respond to life.
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters…
The Greek philosopher Epictetus stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
It’s not what happens to each of us. It’s how we react to what happens to us that determines whether we freak out and cause damage to our health or can let the changing winds of life pass by without taking up arms about what just happened.
I’m sure you’ve had the experience of being in such a great mood that when something that would have normally gotten under your skin happened, because of your great mood, you were able to laugh it off. That’s the power of a healthy relationship with stress. That’s the central importance of our ability to manage stress healthily to optimally express our genetic capacity of health and vitality.
But what about all the other times when we’re not already in the ‘good graces’ of an awesome mood?
What can we do to manage our reaction to life?
It turns out that there’s quite a lot we can do.
Count your blessings.
We all know how good we feel when we ‘wake up and remember that we don’t have to stress out. Stopping to count the blessings in our lives is a very powerful way to shift from a place of stress to a peaceful place.
Making a habit of counting our blessings not only supports our oral health but is such a gift to anyone who witnesses that intentional cultivation of a life well-lived. Not only do we give to ourselves with the habit of counting our blessings, but our habit ripples out waves of peace, calm, and good feelings into the lives of others around us.
When angry, take 3 breaths.
The physiological benefits of deep breathing span every single system in our bodies.
However, it doesn’t count to quickly snort 3 breaths so you can ‘get them over with’ and maintain the stressed-out state! Pause, turn your attention within, and take three conscious breaths.
If you want to supercharge your stress shifting attitude, try silently repeating to yourself ‘This too shall pass’ while taking those breaths.
Mentally step back from the stressful situation.
A good friend and mentor of ours taught us many years ago to mentally step back from the current whatever we’re choosing to be all stressed about and see how in the grand scheme, it’s a rather insignificant situation we’re choosing to stress over.
Taking a mental step back helps to reframe the situation and provide the very beneficial ‘distance’ to be able to put the stress into its rightful ‘insignificant’ place.
So, while most of our writing is on the details of how to navigate to greater oral health, let’s remember to keep in perspective the primary factors that either contribute to or undermine our ability to optimize our immune response.
How about you? What do you do to manage your stress levels? What would you like to do more regularly to better support yourself? How have you found that managing your stress more effectively has helped you live a healthier, happier life?
And, if you have active periodontal disease and you’d like to learn about a kit that can help you address periodontal disease-causing microbes from the comfort of your own home, you can read about our HealThy Mouth System here.
We hope this helps you along your path to optimal oral (and whole being) health!
At some point in the journey each of us takes toward optimal oral health, we wake up to realize that we have to take better care of our teeth and gums. Unfortunately, at this point, most of us simply increase what we are doing, assuming for example, “I must not be brushing my teeth enough”.
The problem occurs when we take action without first questioning whether what we’ve been taught by conventional wisdom’ is true or health-giving. It’s a common slippery slope because we want to make a change (we’ve awakened to the fact that we need to do something now) we rush headlong into doing more of the same.
However, without stopping to examine the fact that much of the damage in our mouths has come from conventional wisdom, we risk increasing the problem rather than finding the path to optimal oral health. We call this acting-before-thinking strategy the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ approach.
And so when we turn our attention to a common question we receive here at OraWellness, we see a very similar situation.
“Should I brush my teeth after every meal?”
Given the cultural misunderstandings we’ve all been taught, the logic of this question makes sense.
After all, we’ve been taught that bugs in the mouth are the (only) cause of decay, these bugs eat fermentable carbohydrates from the food we eat, and brushing removes the thug bugs and their food. While this is a partial truth (as you know, there are other more primary causes of tooth decay), does this mean that we should brush after every meal?
The problem with brushing after meals…
In a study published in the International Dental Journal titled “Can tooth brushing damage your health? Effects on oral and dental tissues” the authors state, “The toothbrush alone appears to not affect enamel and very little on dentine… Wear of enamel and dentine can be dramatically increased if tooth brushing follows an erosive challenge.”
So, what exactly is an ‘erosive challenge’?
To answer this, let’s go back to conventional wisdom. Even though we are taught that bugs in the mouth cause decay, we aren’t taught why this happens. The reason why bugs contribute to decay is that they secrete acids as part of their metabolic process and that acidic waste slowly dissolves tooth enamel.
This process is called ‘acid dissolution’.
Remember high school chemistry? Acids dissolve other compounds. In the case of our mouths, acids take apart (demineralize) the surface layer of our teeth. Before this scares you, realize that our bodies have a wonderful ability to remineralize this surface ‘acid dissolution of the enamel through contact with our saliva which we’ll detail shortly.
However, let’s be clear that acids cause ‘an erosive challenge’ to our teeth.
Going back to the study we quoted above, if we brush our teeth after an erosive challenge, wear of enamel and dentine can be dramatically increased (Just so you know we’re not over-sensationalizing this subject, the authors used the wording ‘dramatically increased’)
What does this have to do with brushing after meals?
The rub here is that most meals have some acidic component to them. Even if you aren’t drinking a ‘conventional soda’ (which is terrible for your teeth and the rest of your body by the way), we still have plenty of acid in most meals to cause an erosive challenge.
Common acidic foods and drinks that can challenge our enamel:
Here are some common acidic foods and drinks that can provoke an ‘erosion challenge’.
soda (Coke, Pepsi, etc)
‘healthy’ soda (kombucha, water kefir, etc)
anything sweet (sugar, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup)
salad dressing (vinegar is very acidic)
citrus (lemon, lime, etc)
fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, etc)
To be clear, naturally acidic foods are good for us (even sweet foods in very moderate amounts). They stimulate digestion helping us get more nutrients from what we eat as well as support a more balanced pH in our bodies. (Most of us tend toward an acidic internal environment, so having more naturally acidic foods helps our internal chemistry be more alkaline). This is the logic behind putting a squeeze of lemon in your water or having a side of fermented veggies with a meal.
You can feel the change in tooth surface…
If you tune into the feel of your teeth with your tongue, you can feel a roughness after eating or particularly after drinking something acidic. Then, after a bit of time, that surface roughness ‘goes away’ (is remineralized).
Since one of our primary aims with OraWellness is to help heal the disconnect most of us have with our mouths, here’s a free tool to help you get to know what’s going on in your mouth.
So, when it comes to eating and brushing, the game is to wait at least 20 minutes after eating before brushing.
You see, once acids in foods/drinks cause an erosive challenge, it takes a bit of time for the enamel that was weakened to harden back up. The last thing we want to do is unconsciously go scrub our teeth when the enamel is weakest as this has been proven to remove enamel from our teeth.
However, we can speed up the body’s ability to recover from acids in the mouth.
So how can we best support optimal remineralization after a meal?
The best ‘after a meal’ strategy we have found is to take a small mouthful of water and swish it around the mouth for several seconds after finishing a meal (unlike oil pulling, it’s fine to swallow the sip of water after the swish). This water bath helps to remove acids from the food/drink from the surface of our teeth to help stop the ‘erosive challenge’ while not physically scrubbing the softened enamel surface.
So, if you are brushing after meals and thinking that you are doing good, please pause, question the logic, and swish a sip of water instead!