Most people hate taking a trip to the dentist, but in spite of this inherent dislike of the dental profession, dental issues sometimes crop up and need to be addressed. What are the most common dental issues, and what do you need to do to deal with them?

  1. Tooth Decay and Cavities

Tooth decay and cavities are probably the most common type of dental issue, or at least the one most people are familiar with. We’ve had it driven into our heads since grade school that you need to brush and floss your teeth to prevent cavities and tooth decay.

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that eat away at the enamel of your teeth, creating holes or cavities. These can be completely painless, or in extreme cases where the cavity reaches the tooth’s nerve, extremely painful.

Preventing tooth decay is contingent on your oral health care routine — the better you brush and floss, the lower your chance of developing tooth decay. Good oral health might not prevent cavities from forming 100 percent of the time, though, and if they do form, the only thing you can do to take care of them is to have them repaired or filled by a dentist. If you leave cavities untreated, they can become painful, or even develop into a tooth infection or abscess. We’ll discuss those in more detail in a moment.

  1. Tooth Sensitivity

Teeth that are sensitive to heat or cold can make eating or drinking miserable. Even taking in a breath of cold air can hurt sensitive teeth! You might need a trip to the dentist to officially diagnose sensitive teeth, but most of us can tell when our teeth are responding negatively to temperature.

This sensitivity can have several causes, from a receding gum line that exposes the tooth’s root to thinning enamel caused by tooth decay or even excessive whitening.

Depending on the cause of your tooth sensitivity, you may be able to treat it with desensitizing toothpaste at home. Your dentist may also be able to use a bonding agent to protect sensitive areas, or prescribe a fluoride treatment to improve and strengthen your tooth enamel.

Limiting your intake of acidic foods and drinks can also help improve your tooth sensitivity by reducing damage to your tooth enamel.

  1. Gum Disease

Gum disease is caused by a bacterial infection in the gums. It’s a fairly common condition — more than half of adults have gum disease at some stage, and anyone can develop gum disease. Like tooth decay, a good oral care routine can help reduce your chances of developing gum disease.

If your gums bleed while brushing or flossing, schedule an appointment with your dentist. They will be able to assess what stage of gum disease you’re experiencing. If you act soon enough, you can often reverse gum disease in its early stages by improving your oral hygiene routine, while later stages may require more aggressive treatment or even a prescription for antibiotics.

  1. Tooth Infection or Abscess

Tooth infections, or abscesses, are probably the most painful dental problem you will ever experience. These happen when the root of the tooth becomes infected. Deep cavities can lead to these infections, as can cracked or damaged teeth. Wisdom teeth can also become abscessed if they come in incorrectly, and cause problems with other nearby teeth.

There are two ways to treat an abscessed or infected tooth. The first is to have your dentist perform a root canal. He or she will drill a hole in the tooth and remove the infected root tissue and pulp. The dentist will then seal your tooth to prevent more bacteria from getting into the remaining tooth.

The other treatment method is to remove the entire tooth. An abscessed tooth may require treatment with antibiotics before it can be safely removed.

  1. Thinning Enamel

Tooth enamel is the shield that protects your teeth from food and bacteria in your mouth. As you get older, your tooth enamel naturally starts to thin. Other environmental factors — like acidic foods, teeth whitening and poor dental hygiene — can also contribute to thinning tooth enamel. Places where the enamel is thinner will also stain much more easily.

Once the enamel is gone, there’s not much you can do to restore it. Your dentist can use enamel bonding to strengthen your teeth to a certain point, but the best thing you can do is to reduce your intake of acidic drinks and possibly brush with a softer toothbrush to reduce the wear and tear on your tooth enamel.

Dental problems aren’t fun for anyone, but some of the most common ones can be addressed with better dental hygiene or just a trip to the dentist. If you’re an adult, it’s worth the time to take care of your teeth — they’re the only set you’re going to get, and getting them fixed is expensive.