Dental decay often refers to dental cavities or caries.
These are created when the bacteria in your mouth produce acids which break down your teeth. This can lead to a small hole in a tooth, called a cavity. If tooth decay is left untreated, it can result in pain, infection, and even tooth loss.
People of all ages can get tooth decay once they have teeth—from childhood through the senior years.
The stages of tooth decay
- Plaque forms. Dental plaque is a clear sticky film that coats your teeth. Plaque occurs when you have eaten lots of sugars and starches without adequately cleaning your teeth. When sugars and starches are not sufficiently cleaned off your teeth, bacteria quickly begin feeding on them and form plaque. Plaque that stays on your teeth can harden under or above your gum line which will then become tartar. Tartar makes plaque more difficult to remove and creates a shield for the bacteria.
- Plaque attacks. Your tooth has hard, outer enamel on its surface, once you have plaque on your teeth, the acids will work to remove the minerals in the outer enamel. This erosion causes tiny openings or holes in the enamel — This is the first stage of cavities. Once areas of enamel begin to deteriorate, the bacteria and acid have access to the next layer of your teeth, known as dentin. This layer is softer than enamel and is significantly less resistant to acid.
- Further Destruction. As tooth decay develops, the bacteria and acid continue to make their way through your teeth, moving next to the inner tooth known as the pulp. The pulp of your tooth contains nerves and blood vessels. Once the pulp is affected by decay, it will become swollen and irritated from the bacteria. Since there is no place for the swelling to expand inside of a tooth, the nerve becomes pressed which results in pain.
If you are suffering from tooth decay, your dentist will be able to help you. The method used to treat your decay will be dependent on how far along the tooth decay has become.
If your decay is in the early stages, you will likely receive a simply filling. Your dentist will clean and remove the decayed surface and seal your tooth with a filling.
Decay that has reached the later stages may need some more rigorous treatment such as a crown. This is where a dentist will remove the decayed and deteriorated surface of your tooth and fit a cap (crown) over your tooth.
Decay that has reached the later stages can pose a few complications. If the decay has reached the pulp of your tooth, your dentist will likely recommend root canal. Root canal is a treatment which can save a tooth that is badly damaged by decay. The procedure involves removing the damaged area of the tooth (the pulp), cleaning and disinfecting it and then filling and sealing it.
In extreme cases, if your tooth is beyond saving, your dentist may recommend extracting the tooth. But don’t stress, there are plenty of methods out there that can replace a tooth that has been extracted! Click here to read more.
Preventing tooth decay
Though there are many effective ways to treat tooth decay, prevention is indeed better than cure! Preventing dental decay is relatively easy and uncomplicated. It simply involves a dedication to maintaining good oral health. This dedication includes:
Regular check-ups with your dentist: If you are prone to tooth decay, making a regular appointment with your dentist will help to stop any signs of decay in its tracks before the situation escalates. Discuss with your dentist how often you should come in for a check-up. Usually, the rule of thumb is once every 6 months; however, if you are prone to decay, you may need to make time for more regular visits.
Clean your teeth: a simple once over with your toothbrush will do very little to remove plaque and decay-causing bacteria. Use the Rule of Twos: brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes at a time twice a day. Finish off your brushing routine with flossing as this will remove the plaque from in between your teeth.
Choose healthy food: reducing the amount of starches and sugars in your diet will help to decrease the plaque build-up on your teeth. A diet rich in protein and vegetables can have a positive impact on your dental health.
To speak to a dentist about treating tooth decay, book a consultation with us today.