Small things #1: Tooth torment

Posted: June 25, 2010 in Medical wonders
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
A Mona Lisa smile?

One of these teeth has dental caries. Can you spot which one?

Memo to self: Teeth not as small and insignificant as they look! Last week, after a horrible toothache, I discovered that I have a rotten case of dental caries – aka tooth decay. Although you can’t see much from the outside, apparently one of my teeth has a big cavity and has to be pulled out. While I wait for somebody (anybody?!) to fetch the pliers, the pain is just excruciating. It feels a lot like somebody has driven a knitting needle through my cheek, which is making life utterly miserable. To make things worse, it seems the minute you say ‘teeth’, people start to tell you horror stories. From barbaric dentists to chronic infections, I’ve now heard so many tales of dental suffering and woe that it’s got me thinking. Why isn’t dental health covered by Medicare? And more importantly, how can something SO small in relation to the rest of our bodies cause such big trouble? Well, it turns out that overall well-being can be profoundly affected by dental health. Some types of decay, like the sort I have got, can be very hard to spot and can become quite advanced before anybody realises. Often you need x-rays to reveal what’s going on – and the tell-tale signs are dark patches inside the teeth. Out of interest, I got my dentist to send me the x-ray of my mouth. Can you pick which tooth is giving me all this trouble? First person to email me with the answer wins a prize! I’ve also had a cracking headache for 6 weeks and I wondered if this is connected to the tooth decay. It turns out that it is. As you might expect, the face, mouth and jaws are incredibly rich in nerve endings. There’s a major nerve that serves the mouth and jaw (the Trigeminal nerve) and also the front part of the head. This nerve is also stimulated when you eat really cold things, leading to the phenomenon of ‘Ice Cream Headache’! Not having had a cavity before, I wondered what had caused this one. Was it something I ate, such as the afore-mentioned icecream? Turns out the answer is Yes! It seems that cavities often form in places where food becomes trapped – in between teeth or in the ridges and troughs on top of the tooth. Here acid-producing bacteria can multiply, and these thrive particularly well when we consume a diet rich in sugars. Since prehistoric times, the incidence of tooth decay has increased with the introduction of more sugar into our diets. Interestingly, tooth decay leapt with both the introduction of agrarian (grain-based) diets centuries ago, and also with the invention of fizzy drinks in the 19th century. I don’t really eat or drink a lot of sweet foods but I do eat ‘natural’ sugars found in bread, fruit, wine, dairy products and honey. Over time all of these have probably contributed to my current plight. Which isn’t much of a consolation but at least I haven’t got teeth like some of these people So, little teeth can cause big problems. Like the one in my head right now. The good news is that this small bit of research has happily distracted me from the pain for, oh, at least 30 minutes! If you too need a distraction (or just something to get your teeth stuck into), you can read more here: Medline encyclopedia Dental Dude blog MedicineNet article on toothache And my particular favourite by a very good looking surgeon: Dr Kam’s dental blog In my next blog post, I’ll be watching TV with a small dog called Hamish. Fangs for visiting! Sorry, couldn’t resist…

  1. Ringo says:

    Is it the upper left tooth on the image?

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