As a dentist, a common statement I hear when people are assessing the condition of their own teeth is: “things are fine, nothing hurts.” This is often a reason people postpone or neglect seeing the dentist for a regular check-up and cleaning – sometimes for years. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for a patient with a broken tooth or filling to point out that “the breakage occurred sometime ago, but now it has started hurting, so it seemed like a good time to come and get it looked at.”

The (main) problem with using pain as an indicator of when it is time to see the dentist is that pain usually means that the problem is in an advanced stage. A good analogy would be using the engine light in your car to determine when it is time to change the oil. Usually by the time it illuminates, the engine has some level of permanent damage.

If you start experiencing cold sensitivity, pain on biting, or general aching, it may mean that the nerve of the tooth is now involved. It is quite commom for a person to have a cavity that is clearly into the nerve of the tooth or well below the gum line, but who experinces no discomfort whatsoever. Unfortnately, these situations almost always require treatment that is more involved than simply placing a new filling in the tooth.

Often root canal treatment (removal of the affected nerve) or gum surgery is required in addition to the restoration to fix the now advanced cavity.

Typically, gum problems (gingivitis and periodontal disease) are almost always painless. Yo can be losing the supporting gums and bone which hold your teeth to your jaw resulting in tooth loss, without ever experiencing pain. In fact perodontal disease is a major cause of tooth loss in people over 30.

Regular dental visits that include annual x-rays are often all that is needed to prevent problems in their earliest stages when minimal treatment may be all that is required. So too, if you are aware of trouble (i.e. an increase in sensitivity, achiness, or a tooth or filling that has broken), seeking a professional evaluation immediately may lessen the scope of the treament needed to restore the tooth.

If it has been more than 6-12 months since your last check-up cleaning, or if you think you may have a problem, it would be a good time to consider a visit to your dentist. With advances in modern dentistry check-ups, cleanings and treatment can be carried out virtually pain-free. Additionally, with regular preventative visits to your dentist not only can you all but prevent sometimes inconvenient or painful emergencies, but can also ensure that your teeth look great, feel good and last a long time. For those interested in improving their already healthy smile, there are a variety of pain-free, minimally invasive, cosmetic procedures that will have your smile looking great.