Tooth decay refers to the gradual loss of material from the tooth. It occurs because of a complex range of interacting factors, notably a person’s diet and their dental care routine. It can impact the appearance of the teeth and can lead to pain and discomfort and even infected dental nerve, especially when it results in a cavity in the tooth.
Everyone’s mouth contains bacteria and if a person’s diet is high in sugar, then the bacteria is able to thrive. Bacteria collects the plaque that builds up on our teeth. By consuming sugar for energy, the bacteria produces a waste product of acid that can eat away at the surface of the tooth.
Tooth decay may be noticeable as a discoloured section of the tooth, for example an overly white or black area. However, it may not even be visible from the outside of the tooth – until other symptoms start to appear. Signs and symptoms of tooth decay include:
- Painful teeth or toothache – with less mineral to protect the centre of the tooth, it is easier for outside influences like pressure from biting or liquid from drinking to irritate the centre of the tooth. This pain may also occur at random. It also commonly occurs when eating or drinking hot or cold food and drink.
- Stained teeth – black or white, or even brown stains are common.
- Swelling – in the gums and the face and can be associated with gingivitis and gum disease.
Advice from your dentist on preventing tooth decay
We would all rather avoid getting tooth decay at all. As can be judged from the above list of symptoms, tooth decay is not a pleasant disease of the teeth to encounter. It can be painful, unsightly, and pave the way to more serious issues such as a dental abscess.
See below for some tips on preventing decay from occurring in the first place:
- Visit your dentist regularly and establish a six-monthly check-up This is important for a number of reasons:
- Firstly, your dentist will be able to detect decay in its early stages, hopefully before it has caused cavities or penetrated into the centre of the tooth where it may cause more serious issues.
- Your dental professional may be able to treat decay at this stage with tailored advice on health habits and fluoride treatment. They can also undertake an X-ray if necessary to stop ‘invisible’ decay – because decay is not always notable through external examination.
- Consider fissure sealants if you have fissures in your teeth that make them prone to decay. Your dental practitioner or other dentist near me will be able to assess your suitability for this procedure.
- Have a dental hygiene clean at your dental specialist. This will remove plaque from the teeth in a way that your toothbrush is not able to, because your dentist has access to specific tools and techniques. This is true of calculus, which refers to hardened plaque.
- At home, make sure you are doing everything you should be to look after your teeth. Your dentist can provide you with advice so you can do this confidently and in the correct manner. Their advice may relate to areas of the mouth you are failing to brush and floss. It may also relate to the type of toothbrush, toothpaste, and other cleaning paraphernalia.
- Reduce your consumption of sugary food and drink. By consuming food and drink that is high in sugar content, a person may create the ‘perfect storm’ that allows bacteria and therefore acid to result in tooth decay. There are many obvious foods to cut, but also consider less obvious foods that are high in sugar – such as fruit juice – and whether you can reduce your sugar intake in hot beverages.
- Stay hydrated. Water consumption can help to fend off tooth decay by a number of mechanisms. Firstly, water (especially tap water) may contain fluoride which can strengthen the teeth. Secondly, if we are properly hydrated, we are able to produce the necessary levels of saliva. Saliva helps to keep the teeth clean and can help to resist decay in its early stages. Also look at what might be causing a lack of saliva or ‘dry mouth’, such as drinking too much coffee or smoking.
Treating existing tooth decay at your dental clinic
How it is treated will depend on the issue it is causing you. If the issue is cosmetic, your dentist will still want to support you to reduce the likelihood of decay in the future. Many cosmetic dental treatments work best with teeth that are otherwise strong and healthy. You may discuss with your dentist treatments including teeth whitening, dental veneers, and dental crowns, and they will be able to advise on whether you are a suitable candidate for cosmetic treatments at your dentist.
If your tooth decay has resulted in a cavity, then the treatment may centre on filling this cavity using a dental filling. Fillings may be made of many different materials including porcelain, composite resin, amalgam, ceramic, and even gold with the choice of material depending on need and placement in the mouth. A filling is helpful in restoring the structural integrity of the tooth so it can comfortably bite, chew and function again. They can also prevent further damage from occurring to the tooth.
If your tooth decay has resulted in a cavity that has resulted in infected dental nerve or a dental abscess, then you may require a more extensive procedure, called a root canal procedure at your orthodentist. This is a filling, but for the damaged inside of the tooth, which is also referred to as endodontic treatment. Your dental professional will drill a hole into the tooth, remove the dental nerve, then fill and seal the space. A crown may be placed over the affected tooth, to restore its function while still retaining the natural tooth root.