All About Tooth Decay: Signs, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
If you have tooth decay, you may experience pain or excessive sensitivity while eating or drinking certain things.
If you experience symptoms of tooth decay, you may want to contact your dentist as soon as possible.
This article explains what tooth decay is, what it can feel like, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, is the process in which the exterior layer of your tooth wears away.
Bacteria target the enamel, which is the hard outer layer of the tooth, and cause its destruction. This is called a cavity.
Tooth decay can affect everyone. Children and adolescents are generally more at risk.
It is also more common in people who consume sugar regularly, particularly in the form of sweet, sticky foods that you may consume between mealtimes.
You may not experience any symptoms of tooth decay at first. Your dentist may spot a new cavity forming during a checkup or while looking at X-rays.
If you have tooth decay, you may experience the following symptoms:
- tooth sensitivity to sweet, hot, or cold foods
- white or brown stains on the tooth’s surface
- a hole in your tooth
- an abscess, which is a type of infection (a pocket of pus) that can cause fever, swelling, and pain
Is tooth decay serious?
Tooth decay treated during its early stages is not serious.
Your dentist may need to extract the affected tooth.
If you feel discomfort or present any signs of tooth decay, you should contact your dentist to book an appointment.
It is important to treat your tooth as soon as possible to prevent the progression of the decay.
The three major causes of tooth decay are:
- poor oral hygiene
- eating a lot of foods with high sugar content
Plaque covers the enamel of your teeth, and it starts forming about 20 minutes after a person eats food. Bacteria, saliva, and food particles compose plaque.
When you eat, bacteria break down food and the sugar present in it. This process creates acids that stick to your teeth.
If you do not clean your teeth after you eat, the acid will target the enamel coating of your tooth and start destroying it. This process enables bacteria to pass the hard outer protection of your tooth and gives them the opportunity to affect the inner part of it.
According to the severity of the tooth decay, there are several possible ways to treat it. These include:
- fluoride treatments
- a root canal
During the early stages of the decay, a fluoride treatment can help the tooth repair itself.
If the tooth decay arrives at the stage of a cavity, the dentist can fix the problem by cleaning the decayed tooth tissue and filling the cavity with a filling material to restore your tooth’s shape.
If the tooth decay has affected the pulp, which is the inner part of your tooth, the dentist may need to perform a root canal. They will remove all of the decay and the affected pulp, clean and seal the root of the tooth, and install a temporary filling.
You may need to visit your dentist a second time to replace the temporary filling with a permanent one or a crown, depending on the location of the tooth.
In the most serious cases, your dentist may need to pull your tooth. This may be the case if they cannot fix the pulp damage or if too much of the tooth structure has been destroyed.
In these cases, your dentist may suggest that you get an implant or a bridge to replace the missing tooth. This can help prevent the movement of the now narrower teeth after the change of your bite.
Can you fix tooth decay permanently?
If you have tooth decay, you can fix it by visiting your dentist. They can treat it and stop it.
There are also many tips and lifestyle habits that can help you prevent tooth decay from developing in the first place.
There are several ways to prevent tooth decay, including:
- brushing your teeth using a fluoride toothpaste twice per day
- avoiding sugary snacks between meals
- avoiding sugary drinks before bedtime
- limiting the consumption of fizzy drinks
- drinking tap water, which contains fluoride
- staying hydrated
- chewing sugar-free chewing gum after meals to increase saliva
- using dental sealants
The keys to preventing tooth decay are:
- eating and drinking healthy foods and beverages
- keeping yourself hydrated, as saliva is very important for your mouth’s general health
- maintaining good oral hygiene to prevent the spread of bacteria and plaque in your mouth
It is possible to diagnose tooth decay during a dental checkup.
Your dentist may notice the presence of some white spots on your teeth. This usually indicates that some decay has started but that it is still in the early stages.
The dentist may also see some darker or black spots that are signs of tooth decay in a more advanced stage.
X-rays can also help during the diagnosis of tooth decay. They help your dentist judge the internal health and integrity of the tooth.
Tooth decay usually occurs as a result of poor oral hygiene alongside excessive sugar consumption.
Bacteria create acid while they break down food. This acid targets the outer layer of your tooth and creates holes through which bacteria can infiltrate and affect the inner part of your tooth.
You may not experience any symptoms of tooth decay. However, your dentist can diagnose it during a checkup or by consulting X-rays.
It is a good habit to brush your teeth after you eat a meal to prevent bacteria from creating acid and to keep your mouth healthy. It is also best to restrict the amount of sugar you consume.
If tooth decay occurs, it is possible to stop it and treat it. Depending on the seriousness of the decay, your dentist may need to extract your tooth if they cannot repair the damage in other ways.