Suffolk County

Cavities a worldwide problem with long-term effects

BOSTON — The World Health Organization estimates there are two billion untreated cavities globally — and that poor oral health remains a leading problem for rich countries and poor. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in four American adults has an untreated cavity — and, worse, that nearly 50 percent of those over the age of 30 may have gum disease.

That does not surprise Monica Anand, DMD, of Westwood Dentistry.

“Dentistry, like healthcare, is expensive. and if you do not have access to dental care and you cannot afford it then a lot of people are left untreated,” she said.

Leaving cavities untreated is risky.

“The truth is, it is an ongoing thing in your mouth,” Anand said. " It starts with a small cavity. It gets into the second layer of the tooth, the dentin. Then it gets into the pulp. That’s where the nerve supply and the blood supply is.”

From there, bacteria can travel to other parts of the body. Anand said several systemic diseases can be triggered or exacerbated by poor oral hygiene or untreated cavities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease and even cancer.

“If you had an infection that you could see on your hand, you would treat it,” she said. “But if there’s an ongoing bacterial infection in your mouth, you wouldn’t treat it? How does that work?”

Anand said she noticed a drop in patients because of the pandemic, early on, but things have rebounded. However, across the globe, COVID-19 caused lapses in dental care, with the WHO reporting oral health in 77 percent of countries either partially or severely impacted by the pandemic.

Anand said it’s understandable why some who haven’t seen a dentist in a while, continue to avoid doing so.

“Mostly it is the fear of being judged,” she said. “It is the fear of it being expensive when you’ve neglected it for so long. Sometimes it could be past experiences — you’re afraid to go back.”

But going back could mean preventing a small problem from becoming a much bigger one.

While it’s no substitute for regular dental examinations, Anand does recommend patients switch to alkaline water, which has a higher pH — because the bacteria that cause cavities thrive in acidic environments such as the mouth.

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