Tooth decay can happen to anyone, but with proper dental hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, you can keep it under control. Decay leads to cavities. When people let decay and cavities run amok, bad things can happen. Left alone, cavities can eventually require crowns, root canal, or even losing teeth. Here, dentists weigh in on some of their worst tooth decay stories.
Some of these tooth decay are merely embarrassing. Others can put your life at risk.
1. No One Wants These Leftovers
This one falls into the “embarrassment” category of tooth decay stories. Dentists and hygienists are routinely faced with finding little, buried treasures in people’s mouths. One hygienist made a joke with a patient about the broccoli he had for lunch. The patient was puzzled because he hadn’t had broccoli that day. He finally remembered that he ate some in a bowl of soup—more than a week before!
In another incident, a dentist spotted a filling that didn’t look quite right on a patient’s molar. Upon a closer look, she realized it was part of a foil candy wrapper. The patient sheepishly admitted that he hadn’t had candy in a while so it must have been there several days.
2. We’re Going to Need a Bigger Breath Mint!
We’ve all experienced the bad smell of a trash can filled with spoiled food. Food that’s stuck between teeth is no different. Most dentists have had patients who never floss. Their mouths are filled with bits of old, rotting food. Left there long enough, the food is a breeding ground for cavity-causing decay.
If teeth have rotted down to the root because of decay, the smell of rotting gum tissue is even worse. If the patient finally makes it to the dentist’s chair, the dentist will clean his teeth to assess the situation. Once they begin flossing, the odors can be overwhelming. We know dentists and hygienists who have been so nauseated they need to leave the room.
3. No Teeth Left to Treat
What would happen if you got a cavity and never had it fixed? What starts out as plaque will spread over time and if left untreated will result in teeth literally crumbling away. When it comes to tooth decay stories, these are some of the saddest for dentists.
One dentist we talked to saw a patient with nothing but small blackened nubs where their teeth should be. Decay will eat all the way through the enamel, devour the dentin, and attack and shrivel up the roots. And once it happens to one tooth, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads to the ones around it. At this point, there’s often nothing that can be done but extraction and dentures.
4. Rinse and Spit—While You Still Can!
An abscess happens when tooth decay gets so bad that an infection gets into the root of the tooth. The gum around the area can become sore, red, and swollen with fluid. Sometimes, in the process of taking care of the decayed tooth, dentists have to lance the abscess tissue to release the pressure. In some cases, pus has flooded into the patient’s mouth—talk about an unpleasant experience!
And abscesses aren’t just painful and gross. They can lead to medical problems with serious consequences. Left untreated, an abscess can spread its infection to the jaw or sinus cavities. In some of the worst cases, parts of the jaw bone need to be removed and reconstructed.
5. Time for a Jackhammer?
Harmful buildup is not just for teeth. Dentures need to be cleaned and cared for thoroughly too. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. One dentist told us about a patient with partial dentures who came in for a teeth cleaning. They couldn’t remove the dentures from the patient’s mouth.
Not only was the patient not removing their dentures to clean them, they weren’t taking care of their remaining teeth either. The neglect of brushing and flossing allowed build-up on and between the teeth. His partial dentures were “cemented” into his mouth by the buildup. The dentist had to first tackle all of the buildup on the teeth. Once they removed it, they were finally able to take out the dentures.
6. A Bridge No One Should Build
Just like the above story about dentures, letting plaque buildup on teeth can cause severe problems. In some cases, the buildup can form what’s known as a calculus bridge. A calculus bridge, or tartar, is a form of hardened plaque that grows at or above the gumline. It forms a line of hard material that fuses the teeth into one solid piece.
Dentists tell of some severe cases where the calculus bridge is the only thing holding the teeth in place. The decay has destroyed the roots of the teeth. The dentist has to take extreme measures known as debridement to remove the calculus. But since it is the only thing supporting the teeth, more problems arise once it’s gone. Without the calculus bridge, teeth have been known to immediately fall out.
7. Harvest Time
Finally, if this story won’t get you brushing and flossing, nothing will. During treatment of a patient with a very deep cavity, the dentist found something that looked like a tiny green stem with a leaf attached. Pulling it out, he discovered it was attached to a small seed. It was the seed of a guava fruit—germinating and sprouting right in the patient’s tooth!
Don’t Be Part of the Story
Although some of these tooth decay stories are extreme, they are not as rare as you might think. Proper dental hygiene and regular dental checkups aren’t just good for your teeth and gums but for your general health too. You don’t want a dentist telling your tooth decay story at his next dinner party!
For more interesting facts, read 22 Important and Surprising Dental Health Stats.
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