Can a cavity kill you? Generally speaking, death is a highly unlikely outcome of a tooth cavity, but in some severe cases, it is a possibility. That is why we all need to understand what are cavities and how serious they are.
Even though most of us have probably never heard about any case of a death caused by a cavity or a toothache, there are few reported cases wherein people died due to a bad cavity. To put it precisely, a cavity can add to our overall mortality risk if left untreated. For you to understand it better, let us learn more about cavities and how they can result in death.
What Is a Cavity?
Cavities, or dental caries in medical terms, are a hole in the teeth that appear after a long decaying process, or due to other factors. A bacterium called Streptococcus usually causes it, but it can also be caused by the acid the food produces in our mouth as it can soften the teeth enamel, which is the protective layer of the teeth as well as one of the strongest body parts.
For example, when you eat sugary food, it is broken down in our mouth and secretes acid in the process. These acids soften and in time, break the enamel, creating a hole in the teeth. These holes then become an easy route for bacteria into the nerves surrounding our teeth. This is the reason why children are often told not to eat too many sweets.
This is also why cavities are often an alternative word for tooth decay, and our lifestyle and eating habits mostly influence it. The worst kind of lifestyle and oral hygiene, the faster the tooth decay and formation of cavities. In some cases, heredity is also a key factor behind cavities.
Doesn’t look too dangerous till now, right? You must be wondering how can a hole in the teeth kill us?
Can a Cavity Kill You?
According to a USA senator, John Cortes, during a recent House of Health Innovation Subcommittee meeting, “Yes, a cavity can kill you.” And guess what? He is right since there are several reported cases wherein people died due to a toothache or bad cavities. Even though the cases are sporadic, death due to a cavity can happen.
In one such case, a 26-year-old father died in California back in 2017, while in another case, a boy from Maryland dies due to similar dental problems. In countries where dental care is not very easily available, such cases are even more common.
It may be surprising for many, but during the 16th century, cavities or a toothache was the 6th most common cause of death. However, thanks to the advancement in medical science and modern methods used by dentists, it is extremely unlikely to happen to many people now.
This is exactly why several dentist associations like ADA often warns people that ignoring a toothache and infected cavities can potentially result in death. Several other top dentists also agree that a bad cavity, if it turns into a severe infection, can cause death.
Is Your Cavity Life Threatening?
Since half of the people who are 30 years old are living with cavities, and this percentage increases as people grow old, the chances are, most of you who are reading this now are also living with cavities. Don’t worry though if you have one since not all cavities are life-threatening.
It is actually a condition called tooth abscess, which happens when you leave your cavities untreated, that we need to be aware of. It is the most severe dental condition but fortunately, a very rare one as well. However, with a negative change in our lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits, the dental condition is becoming more and more common.
As we discussed above, a cavity is formed when there is a hole in the teeth. This hole allows harmful bacteria to reach to the teeth nerve or the dental pulp. In time, bacteria overwhelm the nerves, causing severe throbbing pain that often spread to the other areas in our mouth as well as to our bone.
So how do you know if you are suffering from tooth abscess? Well, first, you will feel very severe pain in your cavities, and then, the whole area will swell, and you will find it extremely difficult for you to eat anything.
How Do You Deal with a Bad Cavity and Tooth Abscess?
Even tooth abscess is not life-threatening if it is treated in time, but if you left it untreated for too long, the infection would start spreading since bacteria can travel into your bloodstream. In some rare cases, the infection in your cavity reaches your brain, and this is when it becomes life-threatening.
If a bad cavity with infection is not treated in time, it allows the infection to progress and results in sepsis. The tooth abscess also gets bigger and bigger, and in some cases, when it reaches the brain, it can reach the size of the golf ball. When this happens, people are at risk of brain trauma, coma, brain injury, loss of memory, and death.
How do you get rid of cavities or tooth abscess? Most dentists prefer to perform a root canal after draining the tooth. In case the tooth is too overwhelmed with bacteria, your dentist can also advise you to get your tooth removed. Since bacteria are the cause of infection, you also have to take antibiotics until the tooth abscess is removed completely.
The Final Words
Can a cavity kill you? In theory, yes, a bad tooth abscess can kill you when the infection from the infected cavity reaches your brain or gets into the bloodstream. The next question is “How many times this happens?” Well, almost zero in developed countries where medical treatment and advanced dental procedures are readily available.
This doesn’t mean though that you should not care about your cavities. Once you feel you have a cavity, visit your dentist as soon as possible, especially since a death due to a cavity can only happen if you leave it untreated for a long time and let the infection spread.