21 April 2019
Poor dental care can lead to more serious health problems. Photo: Bloomberg
Poor dental care can lead to more serious health problems. Photo: Bloomberg

Why you should take tooth decay seriously

Mr Lau, my new acquaintance, has been a health conscious person in recent years, practicing kung fu and following a balanced diet.

The activities have revitalized him and even helped him get away with tooth decay, he said.

But some weeks ago, the tooth decay made a nasty return. An X-ray examination showed a 1.8-centimeter-wide shadow around the apex of the root of a canine tooth in his upper jaw, which was later confirmed as a radicular cyst.

A radicular cyst is the most common tooth derived cyst, which originates from a root infection after caries.

When tooth decay spreads into pulp, the patient would feel severe pain. However, the pain would wear off when the decay is left untreated and turns into a necrotic pulp.

It was exactly the case with Lau who thought that his tooth problem had gone by itself without the need of treatment.

The reality is that the inflection spreads from the pulp to the apex of the root of the tooth, resulting in the formation of a cyst.

Radicular cyst could be symptomless at the beginning. It’s possible that a patient would take notice of it only at a much later stage after it causes pain due to infection, and/or swelling in the gum.

To cure a radicular cyst, it would normally require surgical treatment of cyst enucleation, where the affected tooth is extracted or preserved by root canal treatment with apicocetomy, for complete removal of the infected tissues.

As for apicoectomy, it is a surgical procedure in which the very tip of the tooth’s root is removed and sealed.

Lau’s story helps me remind patients that early intervention and treatment is the best course of action in case of tooth decay.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 8.

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Fellow of the College of Dental Surgeons of Hong Kong (Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery)

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