Days before his scheduled fight against professional Irish boxer Jimmy McLarnin, Filipino flyweight boxer Pancho Villa had his wisdom tooth extracted. This resulted in an ulceration that caused his face to swell.
Still, the 1923 World Flyweight champ fought hard but ended up losing to his opponent. After the bout, he returned to the dentist only to discover an infection, which prompted the dentist to extract three more teeth.
On July 14, 1925, the celebrated Filipino boxer died at a hospital in San Francisco, “while undergoing an operation for an infection of the throat that developed from an infected tooth.” He was only 24.
At 63, German designer Hugo Boss also lost his life from a dental abscess.
Just like Villa and Boss, we, too, are guilty of putting off seemingly minor dental issues thinking “malayo sa bituka.” We assume the damage to be minor (as it is distant from our vital organs) and so, we ignore the nagging symptoms and delay treatment—until it’s too late..
Why you shouldn’t take oral health for granted
A tooth infection—caused by tooth decay, injury, or previous dental procedures—happens when bacteria enter the nerve or soft tissue of the tooth. As the infection progresses, a pocket of pus—dental abscess—builds up around the affected tooth.
So how can someone die from a dental abscess or infection?
Once an abscess has formed, the patient begins to experience swelling and intermittent throbbing pain around the affected tooth. This is a warning sign that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“A tooth infection can spread to other tissues in the body,” explained Dr. Audrey Eve Rufino, dental administrator, Medicard Phils. “That’s why the severity and timing of treatment are important. When left untreated, the infection can spread to other tissues in the body and lead to potentially life-threatening complications like sepsis. It can cause organ failure and eventually death.”
Another life-threatening complication is Ludwig’s angina, a serious bacterial infection that affects the floor of the mouth, underneath the tongue, which took the life of boxer Pancho Villa.
“When a dental abscess remains untreated, it may spread to the jaw, neck, and brain,” warned Dr. Rufino. “And if care isn’t received, these serious complications may arise.”
According to Dr. Rufino, a 17-year-old female patient consulted her for dental caries.
“Her dentition was so bad. I had to take all her teeth out and replace them with prosthesis. What saddens me is that I could have saved her dentition if she sought medical help early on,” she said.
Needless to say, toothaches shouldn’t be ignored. Pain and sensitivity can be caused by many factors—a cavity, abscess, broken tooth, damaged filling, or grinding your teeth. Only your dentist can determine what’s behind the pain, treat the underlying issue, and help you save not just your pearly whites, but also your life.
When a dental abscess remains untreated, it may spread to the jaw, neck, and brain. And if care isn’t received, these serious complications may arise.
Tooth decay, gum diseases still prevalent among Pinoys
Thank goodness for advances in medicine and dental hygiene, death from a tooth infection is rare nowadays.
However, tooth decay and gum diseases are still prevalent among Filipinos. For most of us, “dental health is limited to simple brushing routines with regular toothpaste.”
“Statistics show that almost 85% of Filipinos suffer from oral diseases and dental caries or tooth decay,” shared Dr. Rufino. “Both school-aged kids and geriatric patients are vulnerable.”
Poverty is also a major factor as dental services aren’t cheap. In fact, families in lower-income households even use alternative methods to clean their teeth such as saltwater gargles and brushing with salt and baking soda.
“Poor dental education is also one of the reasons why school-aged kids suffer from dental caries,” noted Dr. Rufino.
This prompted the Department of Health to release DepEd No. 041 or the Guidelines on the Implementation of School Dental Health Care Program. This includes the distribution of dental care supplies to children from kindergarten to grade 6, and applying fluoride varnish to all kindergarten and grade 3 pupils.
“The government has a lot of oral health programs in place like giving free dental consultation and services across our communities,” Dr. Rufino added.
There’s also Republic Act 11223 or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, which aims to provide affordable, quality, and comprehensive health services to encourage Filipinos to take advantage of oral health services.
Sadly, these aren’t enough to encourage our kababayans to see their dentists as services are still considered expensive.
Early prevention is better than cure
By regularly brushing our teeth, maintaining a low-in-sugar diet, and regular visits to the dentist, we can help reduce the risk of dental decay and gum disease.
“A regular checkup really makes all the difference,” said Dr. Rufino. “Proper brushing of teeth and tongue, flossing, and drinking water are the basic dental hygiene everybody needs to know.”
Dental emergencies are no joke. Dental infections not only affect your oral health, but can also jeopardize your overall health and wellbeing—if left untreated.
And that, folks, is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the tooth!