Believe it or not, the most common chronic disease on the planet isn’t diabetes mellitus or hypertension – that honour goes to an oral condition known as dental caries or better known as tooth decay.
The burden least spoken
Despite being largely preventable, nearly 100% of all adults worldwide has it, albeit at varying severity. Children are the population with the highest risk of severe dental caries which inevitably requires treatment. Globally, around 60 to 90% of children are affected by this condition worldwide and more than 600 million suffer from Early Childhood Caries (ECC).
In Malaysia, the Ministry of Health reported that a staggering 9 out of 10 Malaysian adults have experienced periodontal disease and dental caries at some point in their lives. Local data corroborates the more severe nature of the disease in children as 40 to 75% of schoolchildren in the country has been found to have dental caries. Not only that, 76% of five-year-olds are already affected by caries in eight to ten of their milk teeth.
Despite these overwhelming figures, awareness on dental caries and oral health in general remains frustratingly low amongst Malaysians. Many will only seek dental care only when problems have occured and treatments are required. In the case of tooth decay, it is just not worth it to wait for treatment to be indicated.
Prevention really is better than cure
From annoying symptoms to costly treatment, the importance of preventing dental caries cannot be stressed enough. If left undeterred, plaque bacteria will continue to break down sugars in the mouth and produce high amount of acids. These acids will then soften your tooth enamel, leading to erosion and the formation of a hole (cavity). Without further intervention, these cavities can grow larger and deeper to expose the underlying layer (dentin) and cause what is known as root cavity. When this happens, the nerve in the pulp cavity becomes exposed and the infamous, nuisance tooth decay pain can occur. Besides that, the continuous cavitation can result in the further breakage of teeth, abscess formation around infected tooth (which may lead to systemic issues such as sepsis), functional interruptions such as chewing problem, and even psychological issues related to low self-esteem (due to poor dental aesthetics).
In Malaysia, available treatments include crown installment, tooth fillings, tooth extraction and root canalisation. These treatments are not only costly, they also come with repercussions of their own especially with regards to tooth extraction. According to Prof. Dr. Rahimah Abdul Kadir, Chairman of Malaysia chapter for the global Alliance for A Cavity Free Future (ACF), nearly all of the items used in the treatment of cavities are imported. While this ensures our standard of care remains high, it also makes them costly.
“Once tooth extraction has been done at a much younger age, this influences the development of the jaw and stimulates the eruption of other teeth which leads to crowding and malocclusions,” said Prof. Dr. Rahimah.
Augmenting current arsenals against dental caries
While pain is a classical feature, small cavities usually do not cause pain in the beginning. This can make it hard for patients to realise that they have a problem waiting to blow. This is where awareness on regular dental appointment and adequate dental care is important as it can help to prevent irreversible complications and costly treatments. As mentioned earlier, the current best strategy to fight caries is to prevent it. Preventive measures include brushing your teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste, using mouth rinse regularly as well as modifying high sugar diet.
A collective effort must be taken to create awareness on oral care and subsequently bring down the incidence of cavities especially amongst children in Malaysia. This is in line with ACFF’s goal of achieving a cavity-free future for every child born after 2026. Colgate-Palmolive has been an important partner to collaborate with ACFF in achieving this goal. According to Tanya Teng, Associate Director of Colgate-Palmolive South ASEAN Hub, Colgate is adding a new technology to their cavity protection line-ups, known as ‘Amino Power’.
“This innovation involves the incorporation of arginine (a type of amino acids naturally occurring in the saliva) to bring down the acid level in the mouth. Unlike previous formulation, arginine is an organic material that can help to naturally boost pre-existing defences mechanism in the mouth,” said Tanya.
There’s a pressing need for greater awareness on dental caries in Malaysia. Taking good care of your teeth is an important part of maintaining your overall health and wellness. Beyond aesthetics, there are serious health risks of letting caries to permeate in your mouth. Ensure that you get the right information on the use of the right toothpaste and other dentifrices. Practise good oral hygiene in the house and introduce a low sugar diet for your children. Lastly, schedule a routine check-ups with the dentist both for you and your children.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.