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The Silent Dental Disease

WHAT DO MOST PEOPLE THINK OF when going to the dentist in terms of problems with their teeth? Number one I would say, is tooth decay.

Coming in at a close second is periodontal or “gum” disease issues. People have become more educated about the link to gum disease and overall health and as a result more are now aware of the dangers of periodontal disease and the threat it poses. This was not always the case as there was a time not that long ago when it was common that not every dentist would even check the health of your gums! Thankfully those days are (mostly) gone.

But did you know there is a third dental disease that is the silent killer to the health of your teeth every bit as much as cavities and gum disease and can contribute to those diseases by making them even worse? I am talking about “Occlusal Disease.” “Huh,” you say? In layman’s terms Occlusal Disease refers to how our teeth fit together and how they work (or don’t work) with our jaw joints and the muscles we chew with–in short how our teeth fit together. Did you know that there is a precise way our teeth should fit together? The problem with Occlusal Disease is that unlike tooth decay and gum disease it is very insidious in nature, often taking more time (even years) to do it’s damage and very rarely acutely painful. It can cause tooth damage and loss every bit as much as tooth decay and gum disease. How our teeth fit together and how they are aligned are vitally important to their health and is more than just having a pretty smile. It’s about long term stability too.

Here Are Some Examples

Let’s look at some simple examples to illustrate occlusal disease and the problems of misaligned and missing teeth. I have two fence posts solidly embedded in the ground. Each hour I come out with a hammer and hit the posts. One post I hit squarely on the top of the post while the other I hit from an angle from the side, which post will get loose first?

Or I make bricks that I hit each day with a 100 lb. force. One group consists of a single brick I hit with the force while the other group consists of three bricks that collectively absorb the force. Which will last longer? Which will show signs of cracking first?

Or consider that I make two sets of gear wheels that fit together. If one set fits together perfectly while the other is slightly offset, which gears will wear out first? What if I also force one set of gears together harder?

Be Aware Of Signs And Symptoms

What are some of the signs and symptoms of Occusal disease (bite issues) that can lead to problems and tooth loss? They include:

  • Minor chipping of teeth-particularly the front teeth
  • Teeth that look “flat” or worn or teeth that have wear facets
  • Recession of the gums and notches that form on the side of teeth
  • Loose teeth or teeth that seem to have shifted position over time
  • Popping or clicking in the jaw joint
  • Pain or discomfort on biting on certain teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Teeth or fillings that constantly break
  • Teeth that were removed because they broke (not accident related)
  • Headaches

Most of these signs people are not aware of until they become symptoms. Below are some examples of what can happen to occluded teeth over time.


Early Intervention Is Key

I see so many people in the prime of their life–in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s–that still lead productive lives who lose teeth and start to have major dental problems because none of these issues were addressed in earlier years. It’s often an unpleasant surprise. People don’t suddenly wake up one day and have these issues… they are the culmination of years of being ignored. In the past dentists meaning well would often say, “You brush too hard,” when asked about some of these concerns and I often still hear patients tell me that. How does one brush a tooth too hard while the teeth on either side are perfectly intact?

Properly aligned teeth are way more than just being about cosmetics and having a pretty smile!


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