Tooth decay occurs when bacteria and acids damage the tooth’s enamel and can lead to cavities, pain, infection, and even tooth loss. While tooth decay can be prevented, once it starts it can only be stopped from progressing further. It can’t be reversed.
What causes tooth decay?
Your mouth contains several bacteria that help digest food. When these microbes combine with foods containing carbs (sugars and starches), they form a delicate, sticky film called plaque. Bacteria in plaque use these sugars to form acids, and these acids then start to destroy the minerals on your enamel.
Over time, plaque can solidify into tartar, causing damage to your teeth and gums and in some cases even cause gum diseases.
What are the signs and symptoms of tooth decay?
In the early stages of tooth decay, you may not have symptoms. As tooth decay progresses, however, it can cause:
How is tooth decay diagnosed?
Your dentist typically recognizes tooth decay by:
- Asking you about tooth sensitivity and toothaches
- Examining your mouth and teeth
- Testing your teeth with dental instruments to check sensitive areas
- Looking at dental X-rays, which can show the degree of cavity and decay
Your dentist can then determine which of the three kinds of cavities you have: smooth surface, pit and fissure, or root.
Can tooth decay be prevented?
Regular dental visits can help your dentist identify cavities and other dental conditions before they cause serious symptoms and lead to more significant issues.
The sooner you seek care, the better your chances at preventing its progression. If a cavity is treated before it begins to ache, you will likely not require broad treatment.
5 ways to fix tooth decay
Treatment of cavities depends on how serious they are and may include:
- Fluoride: If your cavity is in the early stages, a fluoride treatment can help reestablish your tooth's enamel. Professional fluoride treatments contain more fluoride than tap water and toothpaste and may be applied as a fluid, gel, froth, or stain that is brushed onto your teeth or put in a little plate that fits over your teeth.
- Fillings: Fillings, also called restorations, are the primary treatment of choice when decay has advanced past the early stage. Fillings are made of different materials, such as tooth-colored composite resins, porcelain, or blends that are a mix of a few materials.
- Crowns: For extensive decay or a weakened tooth, you may require a crown (custom-fitted covering that replaces your tooth's natural crown). Your dentist drills away all the decayed areas and leaves enough of the remainder of your tooth to guarantee a solid match. Crowns may be made of gold, high-strength porcelain, resin, porcelain infused with metal, or different materials.
- Root canals: When decay affects the inward material of your tooth (pulp), you may require a root canal to fix and save a severely harmed or contaminated tooth instead of removing it. The affected tooth pulp is taken out, medications are put into the root channel to clear any contamination, and the pulp is then replaced with a filling.
- Extractions: Sometimes teeth become so seriously decayed that they cannot be fixed and require extraction. Since having a tooth pulled can leave a hole that causes your adjacent teeth to shift, you may need to get an extension or a dental implant to replace the missing tooth.
WebMD. Preventing Tooth Decay. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/tooth-decay-prevention
American Dental Association. Decay. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/decay
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