What is the Domino Effect Involving Your Teeth?

April 2009

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

In nature, for every action there is a reaction. This is Newton’s Third Law of Motion. A force is a push or a pull upon an object that results from its interaction with another object. In summary, forces result from inter-actions!

In life, for every action there is often a reaction as well, and this is especially true in dentistry. I like to refer to this phenomenon as the domino effect, which interrelates the actions we take or otherwise avoid to our dental health.

Healthy mouths statistically remain healthy because of implementing good habits and avoiding bad habits. People with healthy mouths have routine daily habits, which includes good oral hygiene and a healthy diet. They thoroughly brush and floss at least two times daily to remove harmful plaque that contributes to tooth decay and gum disease. Their routine also incorporates regular dental check-ups, so if problem areas do arise, they are promptly diagnosed and corrected. People with healthy mouths do not typically eat a lot of candy or drink a lot of sodas, and if they do, they are diligent about brushing soon after. People with healthy mouths are pro-active about their dental health and have created clear guidelines, which they strictly adhere to and maintain. Their dental health is an achieved result and not based upon luck.

Unhealthy mouths result from not implementing good habits and adopting bad habits. People with unhealthy mouths possess tooth decay and or gum disease because they often eat candy, drink soda, smoke, have irregular brushing and flossing habits, and they do not keep routine professional dental check-ups. They will seek out dental help when they are in pain. Therefore, not only do their bad habits produce dental problems, but also their infrequent dental check-ups promote delayed diagnosis and more severe problems.

Many people feel they have bad teeth because their parents did. “My mom and dad lost all their teeth by the time they were 30 and they had full dentures” is a common statement. Genetics is a factor in dentistry, but there is virtually no basis for anyone to lose their teeth in this day and time, despite their parent’s history. Good habits with regular dental check-ups permits anyone to keep their teeth throughout their entire life.

Below are several scenarios illustrating the Domino Effects we have seen involving patients in the last several days.

Scenario #1. An infant is put to bed every night with a bottle of juice or milk.
The infant develops “bottle caries”; decay of baby teeth that especially affect the upper front teeth. The teeth become brown and have cavities that may be confused by the parent as staining. The parent brushes the teeth but maintains the bad habit. The baby begins to cry frequently, which may be confused with colic. Babies are typically not brought to the dentist.

A man had a lower tooth extracted between located between several other teeth many years ago.

Scenario #2. A man in his 40’s brushes twice daily and smokes 1 pack of cigarettes per day, has severe pain in his gums and they start to bleed when he brushes. He has not been to the dentist in four years. In addition to the heavy black tar and nicotine stains on the inside of his lower front teeth, his gums have become red and swollen and begun to pull away from his teeth allowing food debris to collect down into the pockets that have opened up around the teeth. This man has developed periodontal disease and has formed pus down in the gum pockets causing bad breath and bone loss that may ultimately progress to lost teeth.

Scenario #3. A woman is at lunch and while eating feels her tooth break. She is 65 years old, brushes regularly, flosses occasionally, and considers herself to have good dental homecare. She has not been to the dentist in six years. She is concerned about her broken tooth, but since it does not hurt, dismisses the tooth fracture as not important enough to visit a dentist. In several months, the tooth begins to hurt. The dentist tells her advanced decay has spread so deep in the tooth that it needs to be extracted. This all began years prior with a large filling that ultimately caused small tooth fractures around the filling and allowed bacteria to enter into the tooth. This could have been easily detected with x-rays and regular dental visits, and permitted more ideal treatment.

Healthy mouths result from good homecare, preventive and routine dental care, all coupled with healthy eating and drinking. “Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you” is a funny old saying that has merit. If you ignore your teeth, the domino effect is always lurking in the background to amplify simple problems into complex problems. The best thing you can do for yourself is to make a dental appointment today and have a comprehensive dental examination. Avoid big problems later by catching your dental problems early through routine care. If your in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s, don’t ignore your teeth, because they make life better.