Tooth decay is one of the most common dental problems. Studies by the World Dental Federation show that it strikes almost 100 per cent of adults and around three-quarters of children. Damage to the hard surface of the tooth leads to cracks and cavities. If these are left untreated, tooth decay results in pain, infection and ultimately tooth loss.
Causes of Tooth Decay
Every day, your teeth are exposed to substances that can be corrosive to the outer enamel of the tooth. These include sugary or acidic drinks, plaque build-up and even bacteria from your saliva. If these substances build up, they will erode the outer enamel of the tooth.
It is impossible to avoid exposure altogether, but tooth decay is exacerbated by factors such as smoking, failing to brush and floss your teeth and not keeping regular appointments with a dental hygienist.
Indications That You Have Tooth Decay
The problem with tooth decay is that in its initial stages, there are usually no obvious signs or symptoms. When the tooth decay becomes severe, you might notice sensitivity, toothache, swollen gums or pain when biting on food. However, your dentist will be able to see early indications of decay during a check-up, providing the opportunity to take action before any of these symptoms have a chance to manifest.
Treating Tooth Decay
Time is of the essence when it comes to tooth decay. If it is caught in the early stages, it can often be resolved with a simple fluoride treatment. More advanced decay might require removal of the damaged part of the tooth and replacing it with either a filling or a dental crown. If left untreated for too long, the dentist might have to extract the rotten tooth entirely.
Prevention is Better Than A Cure
Maintaining a good dental hygiene routine is your best weapon in protecting yourself against tooth decay. That means brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice a day after meals. It is also essential to get your teeth cleaned and descaled by your dentist and hygienist at the recommended intervals. This removes any plaque or tartar build-up. Finally, make sure you have regular check-ups so that the dentist can identify any signs of decay and take action as quickly as possible.
Common Questions in Tooth Decay
A combination of factors usually causes cavities. These include regular consumption of sugary foods and drinks and not taking proper care of your teeth with regular brushing. If you are a smoker or you drink to excess, these are additional risk factors that increase the likelihood of tooth decay.
Tooth decay needs to be treated professionally by a dentist, and you cannot treat cavities yourself. However, regular brushing and flossing will reduce the risk of tooth decay. Fluoride toothpaste helps to strengthen the enamel, protecting the tooth from the bacteria that cause decay. Some people advocate natural remedies such as aloe vera or liquorice. There are anecdotal suggestions that these might also help strengthen the enamel, but again, their value is limited to prevention, not treatment, of decay.
Once a tooth starts to decay, it will continue to do so, leading to more severe problems. Ultimately, if the decay reaches the pulp at the centre of the tooth, you will experience discomfort and sensitivity. It is also likely to lead to infection, which is painful and can quickly spread to the gum and jaw. At this stage, it becomes more difficult for the dentist to save the tooth and extraction might be the only viable option.
Yes, as long as it is caught at an early stage, the dentist will be able to treat the decay and restore your tooth to perfect condition. This usually necessitates drilling out the decayed area and replacing it with a filling. As a general rule, the sooner the decay is identified, the more straightforward the treatment will be.
When you look at your teeth in the bathroom mirror, you are unlikely to see visible signs of tooth decay. These minute indications will only be visible to the dentist when he or she examines and probes your teeth closely. However, if you notice any discoloured spots or tiny holes in your tooth, these are signs of decay, and you should book a dental appointment as soon as possible.