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“I’ll fix it later, it is not painful now”.

At some point in your life, you might have encountered a broken tooth or been informed by the dentist that you have a dental cavity and you then thought to yourself, ”It’s ok, we’ll fix it later since it is not painful now”. I will try to explain in the blog session today why this can be detrimental to your health. There are multiple reasons and explanation behind this but for today, I will be using the most common example as the explanation.

Within every tooth in our mouth, lies a nerve in the centre of it. This nerve is connected to the rest of your body from the base of the root tips. Basically, each tooth root tip has a tiny hole to allow the nerve within the tooth to connect to your body. Despite the tooth being hard and inorganic on the outside (the enamel), the centre is soft and alive.

When a tooth is damaged of broken, the outside layer is usually lost and the inner layer of the tooth (dentine) is exposed. In some people, they will start to feel pain or discomfort and this gets worse if something cold or sweet touches that area. In a way, this is a good thing as you body is trying to tell you that something is not right and you need to do something about it. However, in other cases, you might not feel anything at all.

Ever wondered why? There are several reasons:
1) The damage is not close to the nerve yet. The cavity or broken area is still confined around the outer area of the tooth and there is still a thick layer between the inner tooth surface to your nerve.
2) The inner layer of your tooth forms a defence mechanism against this damage. This inner layer that surrounds the soft nerve in the centre hardens up and thickens trying its best to protect the nerve.
3) The nerve of the tooth is dead. Having a dead nerve, you will not feel pain as it is not going to send any messages to your brain that there is a problem there.
Regardless of the reasons stated above, it is always best to get these problematic teeth fixed as soon as possible. Here’s why:

As dentists, each time we fix a cavity, it involves removing the bacteria and decay from the tooth with the dental drill. Even though removing the decay and bacteria is beneficial to the tooth, it still puts stress onto the tooth nerve. The closer we are to the nerve, the higher the risk of the nerve not being able to recover and causing you pain later on. Therefore, early detection and early management of damaged areas gives your nerve the best chance of recovery. Base on this bit of information, I presume I don’t have to elaborate why it is crucial to have the tooth fixed when the cavity has gone to the point of causing your inner tooth layer to thicken and harden up since the damage by the cavity by then the damage is obviously even more significant.

What if the nerve is dead then and you don’t feel pain. Doesn’t it sound fine since there is not pain? Unfortunately that is also wrong. A dead nerve will rot and the rotting material will be a breeding ground for bacteria which can then lead to a dental infection or abscess. These teeth need to be managed as soon as possible before an infection is involved. Severe infections can lead to swelling and can potentially be life threatening. To further surprise you, there are even infections that don’t cause pain. As before, this is also not good as infections place stress onto your body physiologically and it also results in the bone around the area liquefying and broken down.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many other scientific reasons and explanation as to why you might not feel pain when your tooth has been damaged but the points covered above constitute to more than half of the cases I as a dentist see regularly.

Hope this helps to give you an insight on what happens within your tooth if you ever know there is a dental problem that is not causing pain.