What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the softening of your tooth enamel and damage to the structure of the tooth due to plaque bacteria. They break down sugar in your mouth subsequently leading to acid creation. Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, forms on your teeth due to foods and drinks containing excessive sugars. A dental cavity, also known as tooth decay is one of the most common dental disease.
How Do Cavities Form?
The bacteria in your mouth feed on food particles left amidst the teeth creating an acidic environment and dental plaque. The acids eat the tooth enamel and dentin speeding up tooth decay. If left untreated, the tooth cavity and the bacteria invade the tooth pulp causing sensitivity, pain and severe complications. Further, your nerves are exposed to bacteria causing pain, dental abscess indicating the infection has spread into the bone.
What Causes Decay in Teeth?
- Poor Oral Hygiene – Lack of proper brushing allows plaque build-up that attacks the tooth enamel.
- Plaque Formation – The plaque from your foods can overtime adhere to your teeth forming a buildup.
- Dry Mouth – A dry mouth due to little saliva, is a breeding ground for plaque and tooth bacteria build up.
- Eating & Drinking – Food particles from too many bad and sugary carbs in your diet are one of the main causes of tooth decay. They are difficult to remove even after brushing and cling onto your teeth risking a tooth cavity.
- Plaque Bacteria and Acid – The natural bacteria in your mouth digest the carbohydrates that linger on your teeth to form harmful acids.
- Medical Problems – Some cancers and their treatments may expose the head and neck to radiation developing a tooth cavity.
What are the Symptoms of Tooth Decay?
- Toothache that is either a continuous pain or an occasional sharp pain
- Tooth sensitivity giving rise to tenderness and mild or sharp pain in the tooth due to hot, cold, or sweet food and drinks
- Grey, brown or black staining on your teeth
- Bad breath
- An unpleasant taste in your mouth
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Pain when biting down
What are the Different Stages of Tooth Decay?
Stage 1: Initial Demineralization
When a tooth is exposed to acids produced by plaque bacteria, the enamel begins to lose essential minerals. This births a white spot on the teeth indicating tooth decay.
Stage 2: Enamel Decay
Untreated tooth decay leaves the enamel to break down further. The white spot on your tooth will darken to brownish color, forming dental caries in your teeth.
Stage 3: Dentin Decay
Tooth decay proceeds at a faster rate when it reaches the dentin since it is extra sensitive. When dentin is affected, its connection to the nerves increases tooth sensitivity beyond measure especially when having hot or cold foods or drinks.
Stage 4: Pulp Damage
During this stage, the pulp becomes irritated and swollen. The lack of space between the surrounding tissues to accommodate this swelling leads to pressure on the nerves and excessive pain.
Stage 5: Abscess
These cause severe pain radiating into the jaw, swelling of the gums, face or jaw, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in your neck.
Tooth Decay Treatment
Applied to your teeth in the form of a gel or varnish makes your enamel more resistant to the acids in your mouth, reversing a cavity in the early stages.
In dental fillings, the doctor uses a tool to clear away any areas of decay and then filling the hole with materials like resin, ceramic, dental amalgam, tooth-colored composite resins, or porcelain that is the same color as your tooth.
Custom-fitted dental crowns replace your tooth’s entire natural crown by drilling to remove the decay. Crowns may be made of gold, high-strength porcelain, resin, or metal fused porcelain.
A root canal can help when the decay reaches the pulp. A badly damaged or infected tooth is repaired while the diseased tooth pulp is removed. Medication clears any infection and the pulp is replaced with a filling and covered with a crown.
Tooth extractions or removals are the only treatment in severe cases, of tooth cavities. The gap allows your other teeth to shift so you can get a bridge or a dental implant.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay and Cavities?
- Brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily
- Eat nutritious, balanced meals
- Consider supplemental fluoride and dental sealants to strengthen your teeth.
- Schedule a visit to your dentist twice a year for teeth cleaning.
- Cut down sugary and starchy food and drinks
- Avoid smoking or alcohol
- Talk to your dentist in case of a persistently dry mouth
See your Dentist
As seen above, delaying treatment worsens tooth cavities beyond repair. So, wait no further. Schedule an appointment with your dentist at the earliest to save your teeth.
Dr. Anu Isaac, DMD, runs a successful dental practice in Salem, MA. Dr. Isaac strives for quality on a daily basis and this commitment to quality is reflected in her constant pursuit of advanced training. Her firm belief that even experts need to stay updated about what’s new in the dental field, enables her to provide every patient with optimal oral care. As the founder of Coral Dental Care, she is dedicated to creating healthy, beautiful smiles for her patients and also to educating dental and non-dental community with her engaging articles on all things related to oral health, recent dental innovations, and latest treatment modalities.