When it comes to the modern world of dentistry, there is some good news – research shows that the number of teeth older Australians are retaining into old age seems to be increasing. However, the issue of oral health is not all smiles, because unfortunately as the time frame increases, so does the likelihood of a range of dental problems occurring. So what are the more common dental problems adults can experience?
1. Dental caries or cavities
Dental cavities occur when plaque forms on our teeth and then we eat or drink foods containing sugars. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that dissolve tooth enamel, and over time, cavitated lesions (or holes) are formed. Dental caries, if left untreated, can often result in discomfort, pain, tooth sensitivity and the increased likelihood of further treatment being required such as tooth extraction or even root canal therapy.
2. Periodontitis or gum disease
Another one of the more common dental issues is periodontitis, which is also known as gum disease. Periodontitis is the inflammation of bone and dental tissue caused by bacteria, and it can affect connective tissue (the gum and ligaments) and the bone that supports a tooth. It occurs when ‘pockets’ or gaps form between a tooth and the surrounding gum, and in severe cases, patients can experience the extensive loss of tissue and bone, which can then cause teeth to become loose or fall out.
3. Toothache and jaw pain
Toothache is another common issue in adults, which generally refers to pain in and around teeth and jaws, and if left untreated, can cause dental caries and dental decay (and unfortunately, further pain). Toothache can also occur as a result of receding gums, a cracked teeth, loose or broken fillings or a periapical abscess, which is a collection of pus at the end of a tooth that is usually caused by an infection that’s spread from a tooth to the surrounding tissues.
When it comes to toothache, it is important that the underlying cause is identified and treated, as although it’s not a medically diagnosed symptom, there are a range of health and social impacts that result that can impact on an individual’s quality of life.
4. Stained and discoloured teeth
Tooth discolouration, which can be caused by stains on the surface of a tooth or by changes occurring inside the tooth, is a common problem that effects adults. There are three basic types – extrinsic discolouration occurs when the outer layer (or enamel) of a tooth is stained, which can be caused by smoking and by foods including wine, coffee, tea and acidic foods. Intrinsic discolouration occurs when the inner structure of a tooth (the dentin) darkens or has a yellow tint, and it cause be caused by a range of things including tooth trauma. The third reason for discoloured teeth is due to age and is generally a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic factors.
5. Bruxism or teeth grinding
One of the other common dental issues that adults can experience is teeth grinding or bruxism, the effects of which can often be most pronounced with age. Many people grind their teeth when they are asleep as a result of genetics, psychological factors such as stress, or external factors like smoking or drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks before bed.
Bruxism can result in headaches, tooth sensitivity, aching teeth and jaw and ear pain, and in the long term lead to dental problems including tooth decay, cracked tooth enamel, broken fillings and damage to existing crowns or bridges.
6. Crooked or misaligned teeth
Gaps between teeth, crooked, misaligned or overcrowded teeth, or having an under- or overbite can cause a variety of common dental issues from eating difficulties and jaw pain to low self-esteem and cosmetic concerns. However, unlike in the past where some procedures were targeted only at younger mouths, these days a variety of orthodontic procedures can be performed successfully on adult patients as well.
Treatment options include the fitting of traditional metal braces, ‘incognito’ or invisible braces, aligners or tooth moulds, or porcelain veneers, which can be applied to permanently fix crooked teeth or address spots of discolouration, particularly on front teeth.