Tooth Decay

Tooth Decay

Overview

Tooth decay (dental caries) is damage to a tooth that can happen when decay-causing bacteria in your mouth make acids that attack the tooth’s surface or enamel. This can lead to a small hole in a tooth, called a cavity. If tooth decay is not treated, it can cause pain, infection, and even tooth loss.

People of all ages can get tooth decay once they have teeth—from childhood through the senior years.

Young children are at risk for “early childhood caries,” sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay, which is severe tooth decay in baby teeth.

Because many older adults experience receding gums, which allows decay-causing bacteria in the mouth to come into contact with the tooth’s root, they can get decay on the exposed root surfaces of their teeth.

Causes

When decay-causing bacteria come into contact with sugars and starches from foods and drinks, they form an acid. This acid can attack the tooth’s enamel causing it to lose minerals.

This can happen if you eat or drink often, especially foods and drinks containing sugar and starches. The repeated cycles of these “acid attacks” will cause the enamel to continue to lose minerals. Over time, the enamel is weakened and then destroyed, forming a cavity.

Symptoms

there are not usually any symptoms. As tooth decay advances, it can cause a toothache (tooth pain) or tooth sensitivity to sweets, hot, or cold. If the tooth becomes infected, an abscess, or pocket of pus, can form that can cause pain, facial swelling, and fever.

But if you have dental caries, you might have: 

  • toothache – either continuous pain keeping you awake, or occasional sharp pain without an obvious cause; it can sometimes be painless
  • tooth sensitivity – you may feel tenderness or pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold, or sweet
  • grey, brown or black spots appearing on your teeth
  • bad breath
  • an unpleasant taste in your mouth

Diagnosis

it can be found during a regular dental check-up. Early tooth decay may look like a white spot on the tooth. If the decay is more advanced, it may appear as a darker spot or a hole in the tooth. The dentist can also check the teeth for soft or sticky areas or take an x-ray, which can show decay.

Treatment

Dentists commonly treat cavities by filling them. A dentist will remove the decayed tooth tissue and then restore the tooth by filling it with a filling material.

Helpful Tips

Here are some things you can do to prevent it:

  • Use fluoride, a mineral that can prevent tooth decay from progressing, and even reverse, or stop, early tooth decay. You can get fluoride by
    • Brushing with fluoride toothpaste.
    • Drinking tap water with fluoride.
    • Using fluoride mouth rinse.
  • Have a good oral hygiene routine. Brush teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and regularly clean between teeth with floss or another interdental (between-the-teeth) cleaner.
  • Make smart food choices that limit foods high in sugars and starches. Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking.
  • Do not use tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco. If you currently use tobacco, consider quitting.
  • See a dentist for regular check-ups and professional cleanings.

A note to parents: Visit A Healthy Mouth for Your Baby and The Tooth Decay Process: How to Reverse It and Avoid a Cavity, to learn how to care for your baby’s and children’s teeth, including information on when to start using fluoride toothpaste. Also, when your child’s permanent (second) teeth come in, talk to your dentist about sealants. They cover the chewing surfaces of teeth and can help prevent decay.

Treatments for tooth decay

Early-stage tooth decay

Early-stage tooth decay, which is before a hole (or cavity) has formed in the tooth, can be reversed by:

  • reducing how much and how frequently you have sugary foods and drinks
  • brushing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste

Your dentist may apply a fluoride gel or fluoride paste to the affected tooth.

Fluoride helps to protect teeth by strengthening the enamel, making teeth more resistant to the acids from plaque that can cause tooth decay

Treatments for holes in teeth

When there's a hole in the tooth, treatment may include:

  • a filling or crown – this involves removing the dental decay and filling the hole or covering the tooth (read about what NHS fillings and crowns are made of)
  • root canal treatment – this may be needed to remove tooth decay that's spread to the center of the tooth where the blood and nerves are (the pulp)
  • removing all or part of the tooth – this is usually advised when the tooth is badly damaged and cannot be restored; your dentist may be able to replace the tooth with a partial denture, bridge, or implant

Resources:

nidcr.nih.gov

NHS.uk

We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. Growing Smiles is a pediatric dentist in Anna, Richardson, Plano, Garland, Murphy we have Pediatric Services in Texas: Early Childhood Care, Preventive Care, General Treatments, Sedation Dentistry, Special Needs Dentistry, Emergency Service and Orthodontic (Braces & Invisalign) For more information call us to answer all of your questions.