Picture this: Seated Dinner in an elegant restaurant. The tinkle of glasses, subdued laughter, the rustle of silk. The atmosphere is perfect. The lady in the smart cocktail dress is looking a bit distracted. Her eyes are searching for something that should have been on the table. She finds it at last; a toothpick, fashionably nestled in a silver container. She reaches out her well manicured hand and then covering her mouth politely she starts to pick her teeth……

A business lunch: an important deal has been concluded. Relief is written large on the faces of both parties and it’s time for the celebrations to begin. The seven-course meal includes salad, succulent chicken tandoori and much more. The meal over, Mr. Successful is restless. Something is stuck between his teeth, and he can’t get it out. He can’t think of anything else either... not his colleague, the food or the just concluded deal.

What seems a harmless action, at most, a not-so polite thing to do especially in company, could mean a lot more. You would have seen this a countless times, someone picking his teeth. The toothpick has been around for ages. It is a pretty useful tool, which does what it says. It picks teeth. A rescue tool to remove food. When something gets stuck between your teeth you have an overwhelming desire to remove it. So what, you may say. Now, read on...

Teeth are placed in a row with their convex surfaces touching and designed such that any food that you chew gets deflected away from the biting surface. As we get older, though the gums start receding, gaps still act as self cleaning areas, which ward off particles of food. When the natural design and configuration of the teeth is lost, food accumulation becomes a problem. Thus your need for a toothpick could well be a sign of a more deep seated problem.

Causes

The most common cause is a cavity between two teeth. Very often, dental decay attacks the areas between teeth to create a cave-like defect. The top might feel intact but the decay progresses gradually. One of the earliest signs is the problem of food getting lodged, especially those of a fibrous nature.

Gum disease, where a gap occurs because of bacteria collection between the gum and tooth, called a periodontal pocket is another common cause of food impaction. As the disease progresses teeth drift apart, to widen these gaps. Once food starts accumulating here, bacterial activity is intense and there is quick breakdown of the fibres that hold your tooth in place and the bone that support it. This is often accompanied by bleeding.

Frequently, chipped and broken down teeth left unattended end up attracting food particles. At other times, a faulty filling or poorly shaped tooth caps or artificial teeth can cause the accumulation of food particles and bacterial invasion with destruction of teeth. Bad breath often accompanies the situation.

The earliest warning of a decay occurring between teeth could be during a regular check-up. The clinical examination pinpoints the area and the x-ray confirms the findings. When there is a dental decay the area shows up as a dark spot on the walls of the tooth, as it progresses, it could endanger the nerve of your tooth. Constant lodging of food in the area only hastens the destruction of natural tooth structure. Left alone, you could develop a severe toothache.

At other times, spaces occur due to drifting teeth from an unstable biting pattern or from mild to advanced gum disease.

Some people have grinding and clenching habits. Others have excessive wear of the teeth due to their biting pattern. For still others, ageing results in severe attrition and wearing down of teeth. All these problems cause change in the form and contacts between teeth causing painful food impaction.

Now you have seen the causes.

Effects

What about the effects? Food trapped between teeth, when left behind, takes a long time to breakdown and be digested since they are of a fibrous nature. When degradation takes place, inevitably breakdown of tissue occurs and bacteria start building up. These can make their way into your system and affect heart valves, joints and skin among others.

The solution

Six monthly dental checkups are the best way to ensure that there are no cavities, gaps and food traps. Any small cavity can be immediately corrected by a filling, especially in the early stages. Larger gaps may need to be analysed. Gum disease has to be treated and eliminated, followed by space closing options like cast fillings and crowns. Severely worn out teeth may also need crowns. Gaps can also be corrected by orthodontic braces when indicated.

Closing these spaces insures a healthy mouth, free of disease and fresh breath. Food trapped can cause rancid odour. A happy meal with friends and family is the promise that awareness bring you. Scrupulous oral hygiene and the use of floss and interdental brushes will ensure healthy teeth that will last you a life time.

So next time, remember, if you need that toothpick, you need the dentist!

email: dr.acharyav@gmail.com

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