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The Hidden Dangers of Cavities: More Than Just Tooth Pain

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By , Doctor of Internal Medicine | MBBS, FCPS, MRCP

Last Updated on September 28th, 2023 / Published on September 4, 2023

The Hidden Dangers of Cavities: More Than Just Tooth Pain

Have you ever experienced a jolt of discomfort while savoring a hot cup of coffee or an icy cold dessert? You might brush it off as nothing, but it could be a warning sign of dental cavities.

Cavities aren’t just tiny holes in your tooth. They can mess with your whole body. They increase your risk of heart disease1 by 19%. If you’re over 65, this number jumps to 44%. In addition, for people with type-2 diabetes, untreated cavities raise the risk of dying 3.2 times.1

So, what’s in this article for you? We’ll delve into the hidden connections between oral health and your overall well-being. Stick around to find out how keeping your teeth healthy can be a game-changer for your entire body.

Unraveling the Mystery: What Is a Cavity?

A cavity is a hole in your tooth. How does it get there? Well, bacteria in your mouth love sugary foods. When you eat sweets, they turn that sugar into acid.

This acid mixes with your saliva and makes a sticky dental plaque layer.2 The plaque and acid combination is terrible for your tooth’s hard outer part,3 called enamel.

If you don’t brush your teeth, the tooth enamel gets weaker—eventually, a hole or cavity forms in your tooth.

The Unseen Symptoms: Recognizing the Early Signs of Cavities


How can you know you have cavities? The first step is to understand its symptoms.

Here are some symptoms of cavities:

  • Tooth Sensitivity
  • Intermittent or constant pain in your tooth
  • Pain or discomfort when chewing
  • Tooth discoloration (yellow, brown, black staining)
  • Bad breath or bad taste
  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Tender gums
  • Visible pits or holes in your teeth

What Happens to an Untreated Cavity: Risks You Can’t Ignore

A cavity is a path for bacteria to enter your tooth. Once inside, the bacteria dig deeper4 into a soft area full of nerves and blood vessels (called a pulp chamber). This digging can cause tooth infections and severe pain.

From here, the oral bacteria can move to your jaw and cheeks, creating painful pockets called abscesses.5 If they enter your blood, you could get a life-threatening bacterial infection called sepsis.6

The Link Between Oral Health Conditions and Cardiovascular Diseases

Can Untreated Cavities Affect Heart Health?

Your oral health and heart are more connected than you might think.7 Around 50.3% of people with heart conditions also have untreated dental cavities.8

How do Oral Cavities Cause Coronary Heart Disease?

When the bacteria from cavities get into your blood, they don’t just sit around. They travel, and some end up in your heart’s blood vessels (coronary vessels).

Over there, they cause inflammation. This isn’t a one-time thing. Instead, it’s the start of a chain reaction.

This inflammation causes plaque buildup in your blood vessels. As plaque forms, blood vessels get narrower. That’s how coronary heart disease can begin.

Are Forms of Gum Disease Also Linked to Cardiovascular Health? Decoding the Relationship

People with gum disease are three times more likely to have heart issues.9 Let’s break down why.

When bacteria from gum disease get into your blood, your body fights back. But in doing so, it causes an inflammatory response.10

This is where things get worse. Cholesterol starts to stick to the walls of your blood vessels. This leads to atherosclerotic plaque formation. In turn, this makes the blood vessels narrower, reducing blood flow.

As a result, your heart can’t get all the nutrients and oxygen it needs to work well.

Why Oral Health Matters for Your Whole Body

The Oral-Respiratory Disease Link

A healthy mouth and lungs are more connected than you think. Research11 shows that if you have oral health issues, you’re more likely to experience lung problems like COPD and pneumonia. How?

In two main ways12:

  • Sometimes, the normal bacteria in your mouth can accidentally end up in your lungs.
  • The specific bacteria that cause lung diseases can move into your mouth and later get breathed into your lungs.

Diabetes and Gum Disease

If you have diabetes, it means you have high blood sugar. That extra sugar messes with the blood flow to your gum,13 causing severe gum disease.

That’s not all: Having gum disease can make your diabetes worse. It causes inflammation,14 not just in your mouth but all over. This can bump your blood sugar levels up even higher.

So we’ve got a two-way problem: Poor oral hygiene can make diabetes worse, and diabetes can mess with your mouth in return.

Remembering the Risks: Cavities, Gum Problems, and Dementia

Taking care of your gums is essential, not just for your teeth. Some bacteria15 that cause gum disease are also linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s how: These bacteria can create a harmful protein found in Alzheimer’s patients.

The problem goes further: Gum inflammation can affect your whole body. This inflammatory response16 can weaken the natural barrier that protects your brain. In turn, this lets in cells that cause more damage.

Scientists are still studying this, but keeping your gums healthy could also benefit your brain.

Preventive Measures and Treatments

The Power of Regular Dental Health Check-ups: Catching Threats Early

Regular dental visits17 are more than about keeping your teeth clean. They help protect you from some severe health problems. These include oral infections, some types of cancer, and even heart issues and diabetes.

An Oral Hygiene Routine: Your First Line of Defense

Here’s how to take good care of your mouth and your body:

  • Brush your teeth when you wake up18 and before you go to bed.
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride to make your teeth strong.
  • Pick a toothbrush with soft bristles so you don’t hurt your gums.
  • Brush every part of each tooth surface for at least 2 minutes.
  • Floss every day.
  • Use a mouthwash that fights germs19 or has fluoride.
  • Remember to clean your tongue, either with a tongue scraper or your toothbrush.
  • Get a new toothbrush every few months, especially if it looks worn out.

Seeking Dental Care: Addressing Cavities and Signs of Gum Disease Proactively

You should see a dentist urgently if you have bad gum problems (such as periodontal disease),20 preferably within a day or two.

Why? Because oral disease can quickly move to other parts of your body. So it’s risky to wait.

Your Burning Questions Answered

How Often Should You See Your Dentist?

People with good oral health21 need to see the dentist only once every 12 to 24 months.

However, others with signs of oral disease should seek immediate dental attention.

What are the Early Signs of Periodontal Disease?

Cavities Gum diseases
Tooth sensitivity Bleeding gums
Tooth pain Pus formation
Tooth decay or discoloration Receding gums
Pain when chewing Bad breath
Visible holes/pits in teeth or decayed tooth Loose teeth, partial tooth loss, or complete tooth loss


Are there any Lifestyle or Dietary Changes that can Prevent these Dental Diseases?

Oral care isn’t just about avoiding cavities. It’s also about keeping your whole body healthy. Here’s a simple plan you can follow:

  • Brush, Floss, Rinse: Clean your teeth every day. Use a brush, floss, and mouthwash.
  • Follow a Healthy Diet: Avoid sugary snacks like candy and soda. Eat foods like vegetables, whole grains, and meat instead.
  • Drink Water: Water helps clean your mouth. It washes away the bacteria and acid that can hurt your teeth.
  • Get Your Vitamins: Foods like milk have things your teeth need, like Vitamin D and calcium.
  • Don’t Snack All Day: Try to eat only at mealtime. That way, your teeth get less exposure to sugars and acids.
  • Watch Out for Stains: Some foods and drinks, like coffee, can make your teeth yellow. Try not to have them too much.
  • No Smoking: Smoking is terrible for your mouth and your whole body.
  • Visit the Dentist: Make sure to get your teeth checked by a dentist regularly.

Takeaway: Beyond the Cavity – A Holistic Look at Health

Maintaining dental hygiene isn’t just good for your mouth. Even though cavities might not seem like a big deal, ignoring them can cause problems for your whole body. For example, your chances of heart issues and diabetes go up.

Here’s another thing: Cavities might mess up how you eat and feel about yourself. So, remember, good oral hygiene habits are vital to staying healthy.


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Written By
Azrung Fayaz

Doctor of Internal Medicine | MBBS, FCPS, MRCP
Written By

Doctor of Internal Medicine | MBBS, FCPS, MRCP
Azrung Fayaz is a Board-certified physician with 5+ years of experience working with trusted healthcare companies worldwide, such as Bicycle Health, Nectar Allergy, and NOVI Health.  He has authored more than 200+ articles and 10 international publications. His areas of expertise inlcude Health & Wellness, Weight loss, Nutrition, Mental Health, Joint Disease, Addiction (Opioid/Alcohol), Health-Tech, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy.

The content provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Read More.

Join our community of health and wellness enthusiasts today !!

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