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Does A Tooth Worm Really Exist?

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

It’s said that ‘the early bird gets the worm.’ What about your tooth? Or, more specifically, your toothache? Some folks thought an actual “tooth worm” ate away at your tooth from the inside causing a toothache. While the dentin tubules within a diseased pulp may look eerily similar to a worm — no slimy, burrowing invertebrates cause toothaches.

What Are Dentin Tubules

If you view the diseased hollow tubes within the dentin of teeth using a microscope, they appear to be ‘worm-like,’ according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Dentin tubules’ job is actually pretty important — as they conduct sensitivity to heat or cold from the surface of the tooth to the nerve. However, there can be some pain and discomfort when the tubules are exposed. Sure, they look like worms when under a microscope. But again, they are not.

What’s The Real Cause of Dental Disease

If it’s not worms in your teeth and gums, then what’s causing your toothaches? Well, most often, it's the bacteria in plaque causing tooth decay to form play the role of the villain. Plaque forms when there’s a buildup of bacteria on the teeth. It can lead to cavities and gum disease like gingivitis. Gum disease, chronic periodontitis, affects nearly 50% of Americans over the age of 30, according to the ADA

How Do You Treat Dental Caries

While there is no fictional worm causing your toothache or cavity — there are, however, some treatment options to help restore your tooth and/or teeth. Your dentist can:

  • Clean out and fill the tooth with a restoration
  • Prevent the dental pulp from dying after being exposed via a pulp capping
  • Perform a root canal if the nerve has been affected

If your tooth is severely decayed, your dentist will most likely extract and replace it with an implant or bridge. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

How Do You Maintain A Healthy Mouth

While you don’t need to worry about a worm — you do need to work at keeping your mouth healthy and clean. How? There are a few simple ways. You should:

  • Brush twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash
  • See your dentist every six months for a checkup
  • Have your damaged teeth examined and treated as soon as possible

We’ve come a long way with the help of science and modern dental medicine. So practice good oral hygiene and leave the worms for the birds.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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