Dental decay occurs when food particles mix with saliva and bacteria, and a sticky film called plaque adheres to the teeth. If plaque is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, excess plaque hardens and forms tartar.
The accumulation of tartar and plaque leads to gum inflammation and dental decay. Dental decay is usually referred to as a cavity and can lead to a dental abscess, or infection if left untreated.
Dental decay signs depend on their location and extension. Pain doesn’t always appear during its first stages, so its progression is sometimes unnoticeable. Visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings can help prevent decay from occurring. If symptoms do show up, they may include the following:
- Sudden toothache
- Tooth sensitivity
- Pain when drinking hot or cold beverages
- Tooth stains
- Visible holes in your tooth
- Bad breath
- Unpleasant taste in your mouth
Tooth decay is caused when the accumulated plaque on the surface of teeth erodes away the enamel. Plaque accumulation is normal but can be exacerbated by multiple factors, such as:
- Having a sugary diet (eating soda and candies)
- Brushing inadequately (too harsh or not enough frequency)
- Not flossing regularly
The following factors can increase the risk of developing dental decay:
- Location: Molars and premolars are prone to developing cavities due to their ridged texture and location.
- Age: Babies and children are at higher risk of developing dental decay due to unsupervised flossing or brushing. Older adults are also prone to cavities since teeth wear and gum recession makes teeth harder to clean and more vulnerable to decay over time.
- Worn fillings, crowns, or bridges: Fillings, crowns, and bridges that have started to break down over time can be a focal point for plaque accumulation.
- Reflux: Stomach acid (reflux) can cause tooth enamel to wear down over time.
- Eating disorders: Eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia can cause tooth erosion from stomach acid.
- Bedtime feeding in babies: Young children are more prone to develop dental issues when their teeth are not cleaned after bedtime feeding or if they are given a bottle or a sugary snack to take to bed.
During your consultation, your dentist will review your medical history and condition. Then, they will check the state of your gums and teeth, focusing on where decay is suspected.
After the cavities are identified, your dentist will discuss the treatments available to you to fix the dental decay. The sooner you seek help, the better your chances of halting dental decay progression. Depending on how advanced your dental decay is, the ideal treatment could be one or more of the following options.
Fluoride treatment helps remineralize enamel and slows bacterial acid production. Fluoride is naturally found in water but can also be applied to your teeth through mineralized toothpaste, gel, foam, varnish, and over-the-counter mouth rinses. It can also be taken as liquid or tablet supplements.
A dental filling treats holes or cavities in teeth. After the decayed tissue is removed, the area is cleaned, and the gap is filled. Different materials like resin, silver amalgam, gold, or ceramic may be used to fill the gap.
A dental crown is a tooth-shaped cap covering a worn-out or broken tooth. It aims to protect and restore the tooth’s shape, size, and strength. The dental crown is cemented into place and guards the visible area up to the gum line.
When the nerves and soft tissue or pulp of the tooth become infected by bacteria, a root canal is performed. Removing the decayed tissue of your tooth will help maintain its structure and prevent its loss.
Once the area has been carefully cleaned and disinfected, your dentist will fill and seal the tooth with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. The tooth is then restored with a crown or filling for protection.
A tooth extraction involves completely pulling a severely damaged or decayed tooth from its socket. Your dentist may recommend this procedure when dental decay can’t be fixed with fillings or crown attachments.
Untreated dental decay could lead to severe complications, even in children. These issues may include the following:
Maintaining a dental health routine can help prevent cavities, tooth loss, and bad breath. Some of Dr. Sunitsch's recommendations to achieve this are:
- Brush your teeth twice daily using the proper technique.
- Brush your tongue.
- Floss twice a day.
- Avoid sugary snacks.
- Brush your mouth after drinking coffee or smoking to prevent staining.
- Use fluoride toothpaste.
- Apply dental sealants to children’s teeth.