Has anyone ever died from tooth decay?

three unhealthy teeth

Today, few of us would consider a toothache potentially deadly. As recently as 200 years ago, it was a leading cause of death across the globe, according to the National Institutes of Health. In the days before antibiotics or modern dental procedures, a toothache could lead to an abscess, which could introduce bacterial infections to the bloodstream. 

An infection in the upper jaw could reach the brain in a relatively short period of time. In the 1600s, according to the historical documents recounted by the NIH, dental infections were the fifth or sixth leading cause of death for men, women, and children in London. 

Is tooth decay still potentially deadly?

Dental care has improved drastically since the age of wooden teeth. Today, dentists rely on advanced training and technology to treat tooth decay, but the treatments are only useful if patients seek care. 

The Journal of Endodontics found that, between 2000 and 2008, over 61,000 hospitalizations in the United States were tied to dental infections, specifically periapical abscesses (infection of the tooth’s root). 66 patients died from complications related to the infection. 

Causes of a Tooth Infection

Patients typically end up with advanced tooth infections due to inaction or lack of preventative care. This is one reason why your dentist advocates for twice-a-year dental cleanings and check-ups. Tooth decay results from the interaction of bacteria, plaque, tartar, and food particles. Decay is most likely to be concentrated deep in the crevices and grooves of your molars where tartar can build up. 

Tartar and plaque form a home where bacteria can feed off sugar that is naturally found in saliva. As the microbes eat, they release small amounts of acid that eventually demineralize and erode enamel. These small pits grow over time and eventually form cavities. Left untreated, as was often the case before modern dentistry, the tooth would continue to decay until the bacterial infection reached the inner pulp. Once the infection reached the sensitive bundle of nerves, blood vessels, and tissue, the infection would spread even more quickly. 

Treatment Options

Cavities can only be treated using professional dental treatments. If your tooth decay is caught early, a quick and painless treatment can eliminate the dental problem. Your dentist will use a small drill to remove decay, and tooth-colored fillings can be used to seamlessly fill in the are treated area to restore strength and structure to your tooth.

Once tooth decay reaches the inner portion of your tooth, root canal therapy will be required to treat the infection. This restorative treatment is more invasive, which is one reason why patients should stay ahead of dental decay by practicing good oral hygiene habits and visiting their dentist twice a year. The last option for treating tooth decay is tooth extraction. 

Stay Ahead of Tooth Decay

Ignoring that toothache could have serious consequences for your oral and bodily health. Tooth decay can and will spread if left untreated. Fortunately, treatment for cavities is often quick and pain-free. Dr. Rod Gleave and his dental team can recommend preventative treatments that can lower your risk for developing tooth decay. If you do have early or advanced decay, Dr. Gleave can restore your smile using minimally invasive treatments when possible. We even offer sedation dentistry options for patients who suffer from dental phobia. 

To schedule your next visit, call (801) 747-8531.

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