What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay, also called cavities or dental caries, occurs when damage is done to the enamel and results in small holes in the tooth. It is one of the most common dental problems worldwide and can worsen if left untreated.
Anyone with teeth can get a cavity, but it is more common in teenagers and adults, but children and infants are also susceptible to them. There are several factors that contribute to tooth decay, but the leading causes are consuming sugary drinks and food and poor dental hygiene.
There are ways to treat cavities and prevent new ones, which we will get into in this post. But if you’re concerned about your and your child’s teeth, contact your dentist today.
Types of Cavities
Types of tooth decay include:
- Smooth surface cavity: This slow-progressing cavity occurs on the smooth surface of the teeth. It dissolves tooth enamel and is common among young adults.
- Pit and fissure cavity: This type of tooth decay occurs on the tooth’s chewing surface. It can start during adolescence and is fast growing.
- Root cavity: As people get older, their gums recede, exposing the tooth root to bacteria and acids from plaque. Root decay is difficult to treat.
Causes of Tooth Decay
As mentioned earlier, there are multiple factors resulting in tooth decay, namely a diet high in sugar and inadequate dental hygiene because they cause a build-up of dental plaque. Here is a breakdown of the causes of tooth decay:
- Bacteria start feeding: Soon after you eat sugary or starchy food and drink, bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugar, converting these carbohydrates into acids.
- Plaque forms: The acid and bacteria combine with food particles and saliva to form plaque. This sticky substance coats your teeth. Plaque that hardens into tartar, becomes a shield for bacteria and is harder to remove from teeth with just brushing alone.
- Decay continues: The acids in plaque dissolve tooth enamel, creating tiny holes that can grow large enough for acid to seep down into the inner layer (dentin) and cause tooth sensitivity. Eventually, leaving the root exposed to further tooth decay and plenty of chances for infection.
Anyone is at risk of getting cavities, but some people are more predisposed than others. A family history of cavities, snacking between meals, eating disorders, or receding gums pose greater risk factors for tooth decay.
Symptoms of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is generally painless in the early stages, so it is hard to detect yourself. Tooth pain can depend on the severity and location -like if the decay is in the dentin (middle layer of the tooth) or the root. Some signs of tooth decay are:
- Toothache that happens without any cause
- Tooth sensitivity
- Tiny holes in your teeth
- Weakened bite pressure due to pain
- Black or white staining on the surface of a tooth
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums
Treatments for Tooth Decay
Depending on the extent of your tooth decay, dentists can offer a variety of treatments that will best suit you.
Early stages of decay can benefit from remineralisation. This is when fluoride is introduced via prescription toothpaste or/and dental treatments to repair your enamel. A fluoride mouth rinse may also be prescribed if your dentist thinks it’s necessary. Your dentist may recommend brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after every meal for a certain time period.
Teeth Fillings may also be an option as your dentist will take out the decayed material and fill in the hole in your tooth. The fillings are usually made from silver, gold, or composite resin.
For more severe tooth decay, a root canal may be performed. A tooth root specialist (endodontist) will remove the pulp that contains the nerve endings that were causing the pain. If root canal treatment isn’t an option, the decaying tooth may have to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant.
Tooth Decay Prevention
Regular brushing and flossing can keep plaque at bay, but there are a few more tactics that may help with preventing tooth decay.
- Dental sealants: These are a plastic coating that is applied to the chewing surface of back teeth (molars). It prevents food bits from getting stuck in the grooves of the teeth, therefore protecting your enamel from plaque buildup. They can last for years but will need to be replaced.
- Change your diet: Avoiding a diet high in sugar and eating more healthily can reduce the negative impact on your teeth. If you need to have something sweet, opt to add sweeteners instead of sugar. Also changing the frequency of your meals can reduce the number of bacteria creating acids that can ruin your enamel.
- Schedule regular dentist checkups: Regular visits can ensure proper teeth cleaning and oral exams can identify any problems. Your dentist can also recommend a dental routine to prevent any problems.