Tooth decay is a problem for some very straightforward reasons:
- It causes seriously bad breath
- It leads to a great amount of pain that can make normal day-to-day functions difficult
- It can cost a lot of money to get it fixed
- It can lead to tooth loss
We were all (hopefully) taught how to brush our teeth from an early age. However, even as grown adults, most of us don’t brush as often as we should, nor as well.
But the problems of tooth decay can go far beyond the problems listed above. Some interesting new research has shown a possible link between tooth decay and serious health problems like strokes.
The Dental Decay Process
To fully understand how dental decay can lead to more serious health problems, it’s important to understand the dental decay process itself and what causes it.
Dental decay begins with plaque. That is the sticky, fuzzy substance that builds up on your teeth when you go too long without brushing. Usually skipping a single night will have you waking up with this stuff coating your teeth.
Plaque results when carbohydrates in your food combine with the bacteria that lives naturally in your mouth. This bacteria depends on carbohydrates to survive.
Plaque is acidic and filled with bacteria, so it will begin eating away at your teeth over time.
It starts with the enamel – the protective outer layer of the tooth (this can be replenished over time with better dental hygiene and diet). Once it eats through the enamel, it will begin working on the dentin – the hard, bony layer under the enamel. When this happens, a cavity forms.
If the cavity is not filled in with a dental filling, the plaque will begin to infect the tooth pulp – the soft, fleshy tissue at the center of the tooth. The tooth pulp is comprised of the tooth nerve and various blood vessels that supply it with life. That tooth nerve, as many of us have learned from bitter experience, is incredibly sensitive.
Infection of the tooth pulp is called “pulpitis”. The tooth pulp becomes swollen and inflamed, however, all of the swelling is suppressed by the surrounding dentin and forced downward onto the tooth nerve, cutting off the blood supply and eventually killing the tooth.
Over enough time, an abscess (an inflamed pocket of pus) will usually form near the gum line.
The Connection Between Tooth Decay & Stroke
Plaque is the main cause of tooth decay. It’s also the main cause of artery problems. Consider that plaque has a direct route from the teeth and gums into the bloodstream, where it can eventually make its way to the arteries in the brain.
Moreover, the type of bacteria most commonly found in plaque is Streptococcus mutans. It is also found in higher amounts in the saliva of patients who had just undergone hemorrhagic strokes.
Streptococcus mutans is also commonly associated with cerebral microbleeds (CMBs).
In light of these facts, we have reason to believe that dental decay can be linked to a very serious health problem.
Don’t forego your dental hygiene. If you are suffering from dental decay at any stage, contact your dentist. Not only is dental decay linked to stroke, research also shows a possible link to heart attack as well.