Billions Worldwide Suffer From Major Tooth Decay

Deciduous (baby) teeth are lost and replaced by permanent teeth – erupting around six years of age, forcibly shedding the temporary tooth. The mouth undergoes a transitional period of mixed dentition until the final deciduous tooth is lost, which can happen as late as 12. After that, you’re stuck with the teeth you have until the day you die.

Unlike sharks, we do not have an ever-revolving set of teeth. Once lost, humans must endure wearing oral prosthodontics that mimic actual teeth – implants, partials, and dentures – which can be fairly expensive.

Several lifestyle and genetic factors can impact our overall oral health – smoking, alcohol and drug use, excessive consumption of soda and sweets, poor diet, lack of regular hygiene, and general health. Overtime these can create dental caries (cavities), which if left untreated can result in the loss of teeth, as well as collaterally contribute to a host of illnesses, infections, and disease.

A tooth is in a constant state of demineralization and re-mineralization. There are four main criteria required for caries formation: a tooth surface (enamel or dentin), bacteria, fermentable carbohydrates, and time.

Tooth decay disease is essentially caused by specific types of bacteria that produce acid in the presence of fermentable carbohydrates such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose – found in items like fruit juices and soda.

The mineral content of teeth is sensitive to fluctuations in acidity from the production of lactic acid. When the oral pH at the surface of the tooth drops below 5.5, demineralization proceeds faster than re-mineralization. Thus there is a net loss of mineral structure on the tooth’s surface, allowing decay to ensue.

Depending on the extent of tooth destruction, various treatments can be used to restore teeth to proper form, function, and aesthetics, but there is no known method to regenerate large amounts of tooth structure.

Dental health organizations advocate preventive measures of regular oral hygiene – flossing and brushing regularly – and dietary modifications – limiting sweets and drinking plenty of water. Taking the aforementioned precautions can inhibit the development of cavities.

Decay is not a painless process – creating excruciating discomfort – effecting one’s ability to eat and sleep properly. Severe tooth loss has been linked to other health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

For those of you who irresponsibly assume rotten baby teeth cannot affect the development of permanent teeth in your child’s mouth, the decay can persist beyond the deciduous tooth, into the gums, and consume the underlying tooth waiting to erupt. Take precautions and take action on maintaining your child’s good oral health, brushing all surfaces of their teeth, not just the front, even if they only have one or two to start with. The gums and tongue shouldn’t be neglected either.

The new report, “Global Burden of Oral Conditions 1990-2010: A Systematic Analysis,” led by Professor Wagner Marcenes, with colleagues at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of Queensland, Australia – and published in the Journal of Dental Research – has determined billions of people across the globe are suffering from major untreated dental problems.

Professor Marcenes, of the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary, coordinated an international research team, investigating oral health as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study. They found a significant portion of the global population had untreated tooth decay or cavities in their permanent teeth. It was the most prevalent of all 291 major diseases and injuries assessed in the study – affecting nearly 35 percent of the world’s population.

“This total does not even include small cavities or mild gum diseases, so we are facing serious problems in the population’s oral health,” stated Professor Marcenes. According to the report, oral conditions accounted for an average health loss of 224 years per 100,000 people – years lived with disability (YLDs) – more than 25 out of 28 categories of cancer.

Also, the global burden of oral conditions is shifting from severe tooth loss towards severe periodontitis and untreated caries – the largest increases seen in Eastern (52 percent), Central (51 percent) and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania (48 percent).

The findings of the research highlight an urgent organized response to oral health problems on an epic scale.

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