Most small injuries will heal on their own. A small bruise will be absorbed by the body and normally vanish without a trace. A small cut will likewise heal, leaving only a thin white line, if any mark remains.
But when it comes to your teeth, your body doesn’t really have a good mechanism for healing your teeth, so when you get a small injury to your tooth, it actually gets worse and worse with time, and eventually can lead to the complete loss of your tooth if not treated.
Small Cracks under Stress
If you develop small cracks in your teeth, they might not seem like a major problem, but they can be.
Your teeth are designed to flex under the pressure of your bite. When this happens, the small crack in your tooth widens. When pressure is released, the crack closes again, but now it’s a little larger.
Another problem is that the small cracks may seem tiny to you, but to microscopic bacteria, the crack is a huge break in the defenses of your teeth. Even when closed, the crack can shelter bacteria, protecting them from your saliva, which is toxic to them, and your toothbrush and floss that is trying to remove them. Inside the crack, the bacteria will eat sugars, excrete acid, and produce new bacteria. The acid eats away at your teeth, making room for more bacteria, which will penetrate deeper and deeper into your tooth until they reach the tooth pulp or nerve. When this occurs, the result is an infected tooth, also called an abscessed tooth, which requires a root canal to treat. In other cases, we may have to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant.
When the Treatment Is the Problem
Fillings are used to help protect your teeth from decay. When your teeth are damaged by bacteria, the damaged area is removed, and a filling is placed. In the past, this was usually metal amalgam (silver) fillings.
Metal amalgam fillings can actually promote decay, though. They aren’t bonded to your tooth, so it’s possible that there’s a margin around the filling that is just enough to trap food and shelter oral bacteria–remember, to microscopic bacteria, even tiny spaces are huge. And, once they find a little shelter, they can begin to cause decay around the edges of your fillings.
Metal amalgam fillings can make this even worse through a process known as percolation. When a metal amalgam filling is exposed to cold beverages, it shrinks, which creates a space around the filling, which allows for more penetration by oral bacteria and acidic substances. This creates spaces around the filling for bacteria to grow.
When a metal amalgam filling is exposed to a hot beverage, it expands. This squeezes the bacteria and liquid out, but it also causes the filling to push up against the enamel of your tooth, creating tiny stress cracks, which in turn can shelter oral bacteria and contribute to decay.
It’s even worse when damage occurs around the filling. The black filling conceals the existence of decay around and under it.
Decay around a filling may eventually reach the tooth pulp as well, leading to an abscessed tooth.
Avoiding Serious Problems
To detect and treat minor tooth problems before they become serious, make your regular checkup and hygiene visits. Consider replacing amalgam fillings, which can conceal decay and damage. And, of course, tell your dentist if you suspect a problem.
If you are looking for a San Diego dentist to help protect and repair your teeth, please call today for an appointment at Strober Dental.