Did You Know Tooth Decay Can Be Deadly?

By Dr. Christopher Li, DDS

August 9, 2022


You may think as a parent that cavities and tooth decay are a normal part of your child’s growing-up years and they will grow out of it. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Many parents aren’t aware that their child’s dental health could also put their overall health at risk. Toothache and tooth decay can be deadly for children when left untreated. Here’s what you need to know, and why regular dental care is so important.

Periapical Abscess

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Poor dental hygiene and a lack of regular dental checkups put your child at risk for something called a periapical abscess. This type of infection starts with a simple cavity. While we certainly don’t want to scare you, it is vitally important you understand that if your child has a cavity that is left untreated, they are at risk for developing a tooth abscess or a more serious periapical abscess. This type of infected tooth decay can be deadly.

As hard as it is to believe that a cavity could lead to death, as many as 61,000 people end up in hospital with periapical abscess, with about 66 of those people dying as a result of their infections. Severe tooth decay can lead to over 830,000 emergency room visits — visits that could be avoided with proper dental care and regular dental checkups.

When Baby Teeth Get Infected, Tooth Decay Can Be Deadly

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Some parents may feel their children don’t need dental checkups until their permanent teeth start coming in. Big mistake. Baby teeth are just as prone to tooth decay as permanent teeth, and can lead to just as much damage if left untreated — a cavity in a baby tooth can also lead to a serious periapical abscess just as it can in adult teeth. ‍If your child’s primary (baby) tooth is damaged by decay, their tooth requires immediate attention with tooth decay treatment.

When cavities are not treated, the decay continues to move further and deeper into the tooth. If allowed to reach the dental pulp or nerve of the tooth, not only will your child experience severe pain, but they are also at risk of oral infection. In this case, a root canal is required.

No, Cavities Are Not “Normal”

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The fact that cavities are common does not mean it’s “normal” to get them. Cavities must be treated, even when it is a cavity in a primary tooth. The longer you delay treatment, the more severe the cavity becomes, the more pain it causes, and the more costly it becomes to treat.

Dental Infection Spreads Quickly

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When your child does not see the dentist regularly you are putting their teeth and general health at great risk. The reason cavities need to be treated seriously is that when they become infected, the infection can reach not just the pulp and nerve, but also the bloodstream. Once this happens the infection can spread quickly to their organs and the brain. This is why cavities are potentially very dangerous, and why tooth decay can be deadly.

Prevention Is Easy

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You can help avoid infections including serious periapical abscesses by taking easy preventative measures. It all begins with instilling proper oral hygiene habits at the appearance of your child’s first tooth. A visit to the dentist following the eruption of that first baby tooth sets the stage for a path to lifelong oral health. It is the best way to ensure your child receives dental care and you receive instruction on how to provide a strong and effective at-home dental care regime for your child.

We track your child’s progression following their primary teeth development while ensuring issues don’t develop that can interfere with proper adult teeth eruption. We will also spot tooth decay early and can provide a filling if necessary, as well as identify the need for beneficial preventative treatments like sealants. ‍For example, 32% of children aged 6-11 have had one or more sealants to help protect their teeth from tooth decay.

Dental Sealants Can Help

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Dental sealants provide a protective covering for the chewing surfaces of back teeth. This is a very common dental treatment recommended for children who are extra prone to tooth decay. In Canada, the average child between 6-11 has had 2.88 teeth sealed. In older kids aged 12-19, this gets higher at 3.51 teeth, representing about 51% of adolescents.

Important Statistics‍ About The Dental Health Of Canadians

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To get a better understanding of the importance of good dental health, here are some Canadian statistics: ‍

  • Approximately 2.26 million school days are missed every year due to dental sick days
  • 57% of 6–11-year-olds currently have a cavity or filling
  • 59% of 12–19-year-olds currently have a cavity or filling
  • Children aged 6-11 have on average 5 teeth with tooth decay
  • Adolescents aged 12–19 have on average 2.5 teeth with tooth decay

It’s also very important to understand the connection between poor oral health as a child and dental issues in adulthood:

  • 96% of adults have a history of cavities
  • 6% of adult Canadians have lost all their natural teeth
  • 21% of adults with teeth have experienced gum issues
  • 12% of Canadians avoid foods that cause pain or problems with their teeth or ongoing pain in their mouth

Considering 34% of Canadians between the ages of 6-79 have teeth requiring dental treatment, providing proper dental care for your child should always be a priority.

We hope this helps explain how tooth decay, even in baby teeth, presents a serious risk for your child if not treated right away. Even though their baby teeth will eventually fall out, infection from tooth decay can travel through the bloodstream to affect their vital organs which can lead to death. Your best course of action is to prevent tooth decay altogether with a strong oral health regime starting from the appearance of their very first tooth.

To start your child off on the right foot for lifelong oral health, call today to schedule an appointment at 416-232-2033 or click here to request an appointment.

Dr. Christopher Li, DDS

About the author

Dr. Christopher Li; Dr. Chris, as he is affectionately known, is a licensed dentist with over 20 years of experience. His caring personality makes even the most tentative person at ease. Patients are constantly commenting about how Dr. Chris is incredible at delivering pain-free freezing, and how he has an amazing chair-side manner.

Dr. Chris and his team have built an exceptional dental clinic serving The Queensway, Etobicoke, Toronto and surrounding areas.

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