Even if cavities don’t always hurt, the decay can spread to other teeth and lead to severe pain, infection, and tooth loss if left untreated. It is therefore important to address cavities as soon as possible.
10 reasons why cavities are a serious problem
- Pain and sensitivity: Cavities can grow larger over time, destroying tooth enamel permanently. This can cause tooth sensitivity, especially when brushing your teeth or drinking hot or cold food. If left untreated even at an early stage, cavities can eventually cause nerve damage, leading to intense pain in the jaw and over the face.
- Tooth loss: When large cavities get infected, they can reach the inner pulp of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels and can cause tooth loss. Since each tooth supports the teeth around it, tooth loss can cause adjacent teeth to become loose. Tooth decay can also spread to adjacent teeth and lead to more cavities.
- Gum disease: Infection can spread to the gums and lead to gum disease. This can cause bleeding gums and sensitivity when brushing or eating hot or cold foods.
- Bone loss: Tooth loss and advanced periodontitis (inflammation of the gums) can cause bone loss from the jaw or the cheekbones. In the first year after losing a tooth, 25% of the surrounding bone is lost, and it will continue to wear away over time. If left untreated, jawbone loss can cause complications with the remaining teeth, resulting in collapse or distortion of facial features and difficulty chewing.
- Bone abscess: With an untreated cavity and resulting enamel loss, there is a potential entry point for bacteria to infect the pulp of the tooth. This infection can spread from the root of the tooth to the bones supporting the tooth and result in an abscess.. An abscess is a thin, infected fluid-filled sac that appears over the gum tissue, roof of the mouth, or lips and can be painful. Periodontal abscess is a result of an infection in the space between the tooth and gum. Periapical abscess occurs inside the tooth when the nerve is dead or dying, and it shows at the tip of the root. It then spreads to the surrounding bone. This can even lead to jawbone necrosis.
- Brain abscess: In severe cases, a dental abscess can spread to the brain via lymphatics, leading to a brain abscess which is potentially life-threatening. Brain abscess may present with high fever and epilepsy and requires emergency treatment.
- Anemia: Some studies report that chronic inflammation from pulpitis (dental pulp swelling) and chronic dental abscesses affect a child’s growth due to high levels of inflammatory cytokines, such as IL1. This can affect erythropoiesis (red blood cell formation) and cause anemia.
- Halitosis: Cavities caused by bacterial infection that affects the surrounding soft tissue leads to bad breath.
- Aesthetic concerns: Teeth with cavities are darker and discolored, and tooth loss due to untreated cavities can appear unattractive.
- Quality of life: Although not all untreated cavities affect general health, they can negatively impact your eating, sleeping, and overall quality of life.
What causes cavities?
Cavities are caused by a combination of factories, including:
- Dry mouth
- Frequent snacking
- Acidic foods
- Sugary drinks
- Mouth bacteria
- Poor oral hygiene
- Overbrushing, which can wear away enamel
If you suddenly develop several new cavities, stress could be a triggering factor. Dry mouth is a side effect of stress, which can make your teeth more prone to decay due to the loss of protective saliva. Saliva plays an important role in neutralizing acid in foods and helping your teeth repair itself.
Cavities can also spread from one tooth to an adjacent tooth or even from lower teeth to upper teeth. Although cavities aren’t contagious, bacteria that cause tooth decay can transfer to others through kissing or sharing cups and toothbrushes.
How to prevent cavities
- Brush twice a day: Brush your teeth thoroughly and gently twice a day for at least 3 minutes at a time.
- Floss daily: Flossing regularly is crucial for cleaning between teeth where your brush cannot reach.
- Replace your toothbrush: Replace your toothbrush every 3 months.
- Gargle after eating: Gargling helps wash away the food particles stuck in your teeth.
- Drink a lot of water: Since a dry mouth can promote cavity formation, stay well hydrated throughout the day.
- Avoid sugar and acids: Avoid sugary foods that can cause acidic formation inside the mouth. Avoid carbonated drinks and acidic foods.
- Schedule regular dental visits: Dental check-ups should be done at least twice a year or more often if needed. Getting annual teeth scaling to clear plaque or tartar buildup can help prevent cavities from forming
- Fluoride application: Some people are genetically predisposed to cavities. Your doctor may recommend using 2.26% fluoride varnish, 1.23% fluoride gel, prescription-strength 0.5% fluoride gel, or 0.09% fluoride mouth rinse.
- Sealants: If your dentist sees fissures on the tooth during a regular cleaning, they may choose to apply a sealant that can inhibit the progression of lesions.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Sheiham, A. Dental caries affect body weight, growth and quality of life in pre-school children. Br Dent J 201, 625–626 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.bdj.4814259
WM. Wrigley Jr. Company. Saliva — your mouth's most powerful natural defense against decay. https://www.adha.org/resources-docs/7168_Saliva_Stimulation_Patient_Pamphlet.pdf
Smiles for Life Oral Health. Caries Risk Transmission from Mother to Child. https://www.smilesforlifeoralhealth.org/topic/caries-risk-transmission-from-mother-to-child/
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