You can’t accurately diagnose, much less professionally treat, a fully-developed dental issue without the aid of a professional dentist. That’s one reason why attending routine dental checkups and cleanings is so important. However, knowing as much as you can about the most common issues and their early symptoms can help you keep better track of your dental health at home, and gauge when a visit to your dentist’s office may be necessary.
If you’ve ever had a cavity, then you’ve been affected by tooth decay. The infection occurs when the enamel around your teeth is compromised by bacteria-produced acids (which they metabolize every time you consume certain carbohydrates, like sugar). If bacteria make it past enamel, they’ll infect the tooth, leaving cavities, or holes, in their wake as they spread.
One of the first noticeable signs of a cavity is slight tooth sensitivity—a warning that your enamel might not be as strong as it should be. At this point, seeking professional treatment as soon as possible may be your best chance at preventing irreversible enamel erosion and tooth decay.
Clinically known as periodontal disease, gum disease also describes a bacterial infection, but affects the soft tissues that protect your teeth’s roots and the jawbone supporting them. Unlike cavities, gum disease doesn’t usually cause dental pain until its advanced stages. By the time you notice and seek treatment, enough damage may have been done to cause the loss of one or more teeth.
Your gums might not hurt, but as the early stage of the infection (called gingivitis) sets in, they’ll become red and swollen, and bleed when you brush and floss your teeth. If you notice blood mixed in with your saliva and toothpaste when you brush, or your gums look red and angry, then they may be at high risk of developing a destructive disease, and soon.