Even Tiny Spaces Between Our Teeth Can Cause Serious Damage

Help! I just started to get food caught between my teeth!

This is an issue that comes up many times during the week. I hear it from patients and I hear reports from our talented hygienists when they give me a report on the status of a patient. In fact, I just heard it this morning as I met a patient on the street and he complained of this also. Food impaction in the mouth is a result of spaces between our teeth. So before we talk about whether or not catching food is a concern, let’s discuss spacing in between teeth.

Our teeth work best when they are all neatly in a row.

In an ideal world, every tooth in your mouth would be lined up like little soldiers in a row. Each one next to its neighbor with no overlapping or crowding. They should touch each other in a firm way. Not too much pressure and not too little pressure. The reason that this arrangement is ideal as a self-protection mechanism. Let me explain.

The main purpose of our teeth, aside from flashing a dazzling smile, is to chew and properly break up food for digestion. The digestive process begins in the mouth with tearing, grinding, and chemical breakdown via our saliva. Not all foods are cooperative and simply go down our esophagus. When the teeth are all aligned and touching each other they create a path for the food to actually slide off into our cheeks and not stay on our teeth. This helps to break down the food further as it can be brought back around and chewed a second or third time. All of this makes the food easier to swallow and reduces the work that your stomach has to do. Teeth are protecting themselves when they touch, as food does not get stuck on them. Proper alignment of your teeth is really a self-preservation tool for them.

Different types of spaces require different types of solutions.

Now, let’s return to the issues caused by spaces. In our not so perfect world, people can develop spaces between our teeth. Sometimes we lose a tooth and have a big space. Other times we have a cavity and develop a small space. Last, but not least, our teeth may drift or move a little creating a tiny space.

Okay, so what does all that mean. If we lose a tooth and have a large space, we all know that we have to fill the space and replace the tooth. If not, nasty things can happen to the teeth around the space and even in other areas of the mouth. Our second “space” example is when we develop decay in between teeth. These spaces will become painful as the cavity progresses and can really destroy a tooth. This pain will drive us to get the cavity remedied before it goes too far. Typically a filling will take care of this issue.

The most dangerous spaces are those that occur as teeth shift and drift. These tiny spaces become a place for food impaction. Food gets stuck in between these little spaces and sits against the tooth and gum for long periods of time. The food attracts bacteria. These bacteria then feed on the food and produce acid. This acid is what causes a tooth to decay. Many times this decay, or cavity as it is often referred to, will progress unbeknown to anyone. It shows up under the gum and moves into the tooth. All of sudden we have a toothache and are looking at a root canal or complete tooth removal. Not only do spaces prevent our mouth from working at optimum efficiency in the digestive department, but the spaces are a cause for a lot of dental work and pain – hence the patient complaints.

When it comes to spaces between our teeth, even regular brushing and flossing are not enough.

Some patients believe that they can keep these tiny spaces clean. This is very difficult to do and a challenge, even for the most meticulous of patients who brush properly and floss thoroughly as recommended. We usually can not see the food particles that are caught between our teeth as they are wedged very low on the tooth near the gum. To see this in one’s own mouth is nearly impossible. This is why a dentist is needed to close these spaces between our teeth properly. There are a variety of ways to do this and each situation is different.

So the next time you become aware of these spaces or the dentist asks you if you ever notice food packing in a certain place, your radar should go off and inquire as to how the issue can be remedied. If you notice one of these areas that were not a problem before, give me a call and I will do my best to suggest a treatment for you. Patients can reach me at 440-951-7856 and I look forward to talking to you about this or any other dental concerns you may have.

Jeffrey Gross, DDS, FAGD is an Ohio licensed general dentist and is on the staff of Case Western Reserve School of Dental Medicine.

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