Tooth decay is a common disease that destroys enamel, the outermost layer of the tooth. As this progresses, it can invade the deeper layers of the tooth, resulting in damaging cavities. Failure to seek treatment for tooth decay can result in a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms and complications. However, prompt treatment can help prevent and stop the spread of decay.
If you suspect that you may have a cavity, find a dentist to perform a thorough exam. The sooner that tooth is treated, the less damage it will cause and the less costly treatment will be. Learn more, what signs to look for, and what to do if you are diagnosed with a cavity.
What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is damage to a tooth’s surface. This condition develops when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that attack and destroy enamel. Tooth decay can lead to dental caries or “cavities” that appear as holes in the tooth.
Our mouths are full of bacteria, some good and some bad. When bacteria combine with food, it forms a sticky, soft film called plaque. Bacteria found in plaque use starches and sugars in the foods and beverages you consume to make acids that eat away at the minerals in the enamel.
This plaque hardens into tartar over time, which can only be removed by a dental professional. In addition to damaging teeth, a buildup of plaque and tartar can cause gum irritation and gum disease.
What Are Some Signs of Tooth Decay?
Signs and symptoms of tooth decay can vary from person to person. Some people do not experience any symptoms at all. However, as it becomes larger and starts to spread, signs and symptoms can start to appear, such as the following:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Toothache (often spontaneous pain that occurs without any apparent cause)
- Visible pits or holes in the teeth
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold, or sweet
- Pain when you bite down
- Black, brown, or white staining on the surface of the teeth
If the tooth is not treated in a timely manner, complications can also occur. Some of the most common complications of tooth decay include pain, swelling or pus around the tooth, chewing problems, broken or damaged teeth, tooth abscess, and possible tooth loss.
How Is Tooth Decay Treated?
Treatment for tooth decay is dependent on a wide range of factors, such as the extent, what symptoms are present, and the preferences of the patient. Common treatment options for tooth decay include the following:
- Fluoride – If tooth decay is caught in its early stages, extra fluoride may be used to reverse the decay in a process known as remineralization. Fluoride treatments aim to repair tooth enamel and strengthen the tooth structure. Your dentist may prescribe a prescription toothpaste and mouthwash, and/or perform fluoride treatments at the dental office.
- Dental Filling – In many cases, tooth decay and cavities are treated using dental fillings. During this procedure, the dentist drills out the decayed portion of the tooth and fills the hole with filling material, such as silver amalgam, composite resin, or gold.
- Root Canal – More extensive tooth decay may require a root canal. Root canal therapy is designed to treat the pain caused by root decay. During a root canal, the pulp of the tooth that contains nerve endings that cause pain is removed.
- Tooth Extraction – If the tooth decay is so severe that alternative treatments are not possible, your dentist may suggest a tooth extraction. A dental implant can be used to replace the pulled tooth and prevent other teeth from shifting.
Schedule an Appointment Today
There are many things that you can do to prevent tooth decay and maintain good dental health and wellness, such as practicing proper oral hygiene like regular brushing and flossing. Use fluoride toothpaste twice a day, preferably after each meal. Floss daily and undergo dental checkups at least twice a year. Also, cut back on starchy and sugary foods and drinks.
For more information and treatment options, or to schedule an appointment, contact the friendly dental team at Bonham Dental Arts.