What is the commonest disease in the world ? This is a question quite tricky, not easy to answer and the answer is not obesity, heart disease or diabetes. It is dental caries. Tooth decay or caries occurs in a staggering 98 per cent of the world’s population. Age is no bar for dental caries and cavities can occur in childhood in the deciduous (milk) teeth as well. In adults cavities usually appear in the early twenties.
Unfortunately, cavities or dental caries is not symptomatic in the early stages. There may only be pots in teeth that are detected during a regular dental check-up, which is generally not many taken seriously, a very sad thing. The diagnosis may be established at that time by probing the enamel surface or with an X-ray. As the cavity progresses, there may be pain or tooth sensitivity while eating or drinking sweet, hot or cold items. Discolored pits may form which finally leads to pus formation around a tooth.
Caries develop because teeth are often not cleaned properly, particularly at the back of the mouth. Food debris, food particles and dead cells build up in the form of dental plaque. Bacteria, which are normally present in the mouth, starts growing and flourish in this nutritious medium. And the enamel of the tooth gets damaged.
Poorly calcified teeth are more susceptible to caries. Decalcification occurs when the pH of the mouth falls below 5.5 (pH of 7 is neutral, pH below 7 is acidic and above 7 is alkaline). Cola drinks and sweetened acidic fruit juices can lower the pH of the mouth, making way for caries. Contrary to popular belief, toffee and caramelized sweets are less likely to cause cavities than hard foods like potato chips. This is because saliva washes away sugars, but the chips tend to stick stubbornly to the teeth.
Caries tends to occur in families. The mother may harbor the caries producing bacteria in their mouth. They have close contact with their children and often taste the food or bite off a portion of it before feeding it to their children and spread the infection. Some children have mouth full of discolored, cavity-filled milk teeth. This may be part of the bottle mouth syndrome. Such children are often lulled to sleep with a bottle of milk in their mouth and the milk remains inside the mouth all the night and cause much harm to the health of the teeth.
The elderly people are prone to caries because of age related recession of the gums and subsequent exposure of the root surfaces to harmful bacteria and chemicals, and also due to decreased salivation. Poor dental hygiene with plaque formation and caries causes pain, difficulty in eating and bad breath ( called halitosis). It also predisposes people to coronary artery disease and heart attacks. If a person has untreated caries for long duration, there is a 25 per cent higher risk of the first heart attack being fatal. The bacteria that live in these decayed teeth may be aspirated at night during sleep and can cause bronchitis and abscesses in the lungs. Prostheses (artificial body parts) are now fitted everywhere. Stents are placed in blood vessels heart valves, knees and hips can be replaced. Dangerous life threatening infections can occur in these artificial parts by bacteria from dental caries.