Has anyone ever died from tooth decay?

a picture of three sad faced decayed teeth in the gums

Today, few people would consider a toothache potentially deadly, but that does not mean the toothache should be ignored. Ignoring that toothache could have serious consequences for a person’s oral and bodily health. Tooth decay can and will spread if left untreated by a trusted dentist in Salt Lake City, UT.


The History Of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay has been around for as long as humans have existed. In the past, depending on what culture a person was from, there were common myths that a decaying tooth was caused due to an evil tooth-eating worm or because of bad deeds done.

In the 1600s, according to the historical documents recounted by the NIH, dental infections were the fifth or sixth leading cause of death for men, women, and children in London.

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.

Up until the 1970’s, tooth decay was considered untreatable. Of course, things are different today as tooth decay has come to be understood through science. Because more is known about tooth and oral health, people have been able to successfully ward off tooth decay using good oral hygiene practices.

Causes of Tooth Infection

There are different causes of tooth infection. The most common causes for tooth decay are:


Bacteria is the largest cause of tooth infection. Bacterial build-up along the sides of teeth and in the gums can cause infections in the tooth leading to tooth decay.

Gingival Abscess:

Gingival abscess is the dental term for an infection that forms from a foreign object becoming lodged in or near the tooth. This could be any number of things such as food, floss, or other small objects.

Periodontal Disease:

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is another reason why teeth may decay. Gum disease will slowly cause the teeth to loosen which allows for a higher possibility of infection, tooth decay, or even teeth falling out.

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. In short, tooth decay is far less deadly now than it was in the past!

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 dentists advocate 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 the 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 a patient’s tooth decay is caught early, quick and painless treatments can eliminate the dental problem. A dentist will use a small drill to remove decay, and tooth-colored fillings can be used to seamlessly fill in the area to restore strength and structure to the patient’s tooth.

Once tooth decay reaches the inner portion of the 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

Fortunately, treatment for cavities is often quick and pain-free. Contact Dr. Rod Gleave and our dental team in our Rod Gleave DMD office to schedule an appointment today!

Dr. Gleave can recommend preventative treatments that can lower your risk of developing tooth decay. If you do have early or advanced decay, Dr. Gleave can restore your smile using minimally invasive treatments when possible. We offer sedation dentistry options for patients who suffer from dental phobia.

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