Cavities & Gum Disease: Silence is NOT Golden!

January 2010

Each of us possesses a fantastic nerve network that creates instant communication between all parts of our body and our brain. This network of nerves is termed our NERVOUS SYSTEM, consisting of over a billion nerve branches in our body, and transmits information to and from our brain at over 250 miles per hour. Information traveling to our brain is about conditions occurring inside our body (such as breathing rate or heart rate) and environmental conditions outside our body (such as sunburn or a mosquito biting us) engaging our brain to react and send out signals to meet our body’s immediate needs.

From the soles of our feet to the top of our head every aspect of our body is loaded with nerves to provide us sensory feedback about our body. The body has an amazing ability to perceive something very miniscule, such as a splinter in our finger or a grain of sand in our eyes, which can become monumentally uncomfortable and greatly disrupt function to that area of our body. Ironically, in complete contrast, other parts of our body can have very severe problems, such as heart disease or cancer, and not interpret this at all.

A philosophical question remains. Why would the body magnify small problems with a major response and yet not interpret major problems at all? The nervous system ironically does not always compute information in a logical fashion. In other words, our nervous system and/or our brain can systematically interpret or misinterpret information about our bodies, whether big or small. A key notion about nerve physiology is that certain areas of the body are consistent about reporting problems while other areas of the body are not consistent.

The major focus of this article is applying this principle of nerve inconsistency to dentistry and understanding why cavities and gum disease don’t typically communicate to our brain with an early warning. Patients do not typically present to my office for dental emergencies until they have very large cavities that have spread into the nerve of a tooth or gum disease so advanced they are in jeopardy of losing many teeth and need a denture. Why do dental nerves do a bad job of reporting cavities and gum disease in our mouth?

Perhaps the answer is because teeth are designed for removal when they become severely infected by bacteria. Further, nerves in our bodies actually adapt to a chronic pain-related problem and this is body’s way of keeping us from long-term suffering from many physical ailments that include toothaches and gum disease. Therefore, one could conclude God designed our teeth to be somewhat easy to remove and since the gums are involved in the extraction process the nerves in both teeth and gums are very tolerant and adaptive to dental problems.

Our dental nerve response means that silence is NOT golden in dentistry. We develop dental decay and gum disease and will statistically not feel this at all. Knowing that dental nerves do not inform us about dental problems clearly means we should all be much more pro-active about going to the dentist twice a year to diagnose and treat dental problems early. Computer technology now allows an extremely accurate scientific break-through in cavity diagnosis. Eight out of ten people or 80% of the U.S. population currently have some level of gum disease. For these reasons, visit your dentist regularly for a thorough dental check-up.