An Overview of Tooth Pathology

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Similar to other body systems, specific pathology parameters exist for the teeth, outlining whether conditions are developmental, hereditary or microbial in nature. Understanding tooth pathology may help patients better understand their own dental health and the dental health of their children.

What Is Tooth Pathology?

To understand tooth pathology, you must first be familiar the layers of the teeth. A tooth is made up of three tissues: enamel (outer layer of the crown) or cementum (the outer layer of the root); dentin (the middle layer, under the enamel or cementum); and pulp (the central core of the tooth where the blood and nerve supplies live).

Merriam-Webster defines pathology as the study of diseases, and of the body's ensuing structural or functional deviations from the norm. Tooth pathology is a division of oral pathology that studies congenital or acquired diseases involving the teeth. These diseases are marked by abnormalities involving the enamel, cementum, dentin or pulp.

Congenital Diseases of the Teeth

Congenital diseases, also known as birth defects, occur at or before birth. Congenital anomalies may be hereditary, environmental or the result of risk factors. According to the World Health Organization, about 50 percent of congenital diseases have no known, specific cause.

There are several congenital conditions that affect the tissues of the tooth. A study published in Inside Dentistry reports two of these conditions are hypoplasia and hypocalcification, where pits or malformations in the enamel surface affect the strength of the enamel covering the tooth.

Certain stains or tooth discolorations can also be attributed to congenital defects. Patients can also have defects where too many teeth form (supernumerary teeth) or too few teeth form (congenitally missing teeth). Teeth can be congenitally rotated, affecting tooth positioning and functional bite (malocclusion).

Congenital diseases of the teeth vary greatly, and it is often necessary to see an oral care professional to differentiate between various possible conditions.

Acquired Diseases of the Teeth

Some tooth conditions result from infections or diseases that are acquired throughout life. These conditions may involve microbial pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses or fungi. Local or generalized tooth infections, metabolic disease, endocrine disorders and dental fluorosis are all examples of acquired conditions.

Visit your dentist every six months for routine checkups, and schedule your child's first dental appointment when their first tooth erupts. Dental professionals are well-versed in tooth pathology and can let you know if your teeth are healthy or whether they need special attention.

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Common Conditions During ADULTHOOD

As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.