It is a common misconception that when a tooth starts to hurt, it needs to be pulled. Some think that this just a normal part of the aging process. While teeth do suffer wear and tear like the rest of the body, tooth pulling should be the last resort. So how do you know if you need an extraction?
The Case for Keeping Your Own Teeth
We ideally want to keep our teeth our whole life. But as we age, we suffer from higher rates of gum disease, dental decay (especially at the gumline), oral cancer (from tobacco use), and mouth infections. Nerves also become smaller and less sensitive letting decay progress more before it is detected. In addition, saliva production decreases allowing bacteria in the mouth to flourish. Other health conditions, like diabetes, which can pop up later in life often lead to dental problems.
It can feel like you are fighting up uphill battle, but the American Dental Association (ADA) offers some guidelines to counter this process. Simple suggestions like brushing, flossing, getting regular check-ups, and drinking plenty of tap water can help you stay on top of your oral care. Eating a healthy diet and not consuming tobacco products also help.
If an extraction is necessary, be aware it can cause other problems. The neighboring teeth start to shift and move, altering your bite. It can also affect speech and eating as you learn to perform those activities without the same supporting structure in the mouth. In addition, one study found that tooth loss appears to be linked to physical and mental decline in older adults. If possible, ask your dentist for possible alternatives to extractions, like root canals or implants.
How Do I Know If I Need An Extraction?
There are some conditions that definitely warrant an extraction such as extensive damage to the tooth from decay, chipping/breaking, trauma, or cracks that run down to the root. Other times overcrowding from wisdom or other teeth indicate similar treatment. It is important not to self diagnose and possibly let a dental infection get out of hand. Emergency dentists can properly diagnose your problem and help.
If the tooth needs pulling, knowing what happens helps take away associated anxiety. After numbing the area, the dentist uses an instrument known as an elevator to wiggle your tooth back and forth. Next, forceps remove the tooth. It is a relatively fast and painless procedure.
Don’t forget to listen to the instructions for post-extraction care. Biting on gauze for 45 minutes immediately after helps a blood clot form in the socket. Try to eat soft foods the next few days to avoid disturbing the area and ending up with a dry socket. The site should completely heal in two weeks time.
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