Tooth decay is a process where the bacteria in your mouth create acid that will eat away at your tooth enamel, which is the hard protective outer covering over the crown of each tooth. Underneath the enamel there is a much softer material called dentine, and when this is eaten away by acids it results in tooth decay and a cavity will develop.
It's important to get prompt treatment for tooth decay as otherwise it's likely to become painful as the cavity gets larger, and eventually the decay will reach the central part of your tooth which is called the pulp chamber. This contains nerves and blood supply to the tooth and an infected pulp can be rather painful. If the infection is not treated at this stage then the tooth may eventually need extracting.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Every day bacteria and food debris build up in your mouth, creating a sticky layer or biofilm called plaque that adheres to your teeth and gums. The bacteria in plaque feed on carbohydrates and sugars found in foods, and as they do so they create acids. This results in the mouth becoming more acidic after eating, and during this time the tooth enamel becomes softer as the acid removes certain essential minerals. As the mouth becomes less acidic some of these minerals are redeposited into the tooth enamel, but repeated exposure to acid can eventually wear away the enamel and the underlying layer of dentine.
What Are the Symptoms of Decay?
Unfortunately there may be relatively few symptoms that you have a cavity until the tooth becomes substantially infected, when the bacteria reach the pulp. By this stage you're likely to have toothache. Sometimes a tooth that has a substantial cavity will feel more sensitive towards hot and cold foods.
Getting Diagnosis and Treatment for Tooth Decay
Your dentist can examine your teeth for any signs of cavities, and it might be necessary to have dental x-rays to show hidden areas such as the contact points between each tooth. The treatment for tooth decay depends on the size of the cavity. If there are only small signs that you might be developing a cavity then it might be possible to have fluoride treatment to help harden the tooth. Otherwise your dentist will need to remove the tooth decay and fill the cavity. If the decay has reached the pulp then you'll need to have root canal therapy, and afterwards the tooth will be restored with either a filling or crown. Sometimes the decay is so advanced that there's no choice but to extract the tooth.
How Can I Reduce the Risk of Decay?
Preventive dentistry is the best way to reduce your risk of developing cavities. A preventative dental care routine simply means having regular check-ups with your dentist at Sparkle Dental combined with regular hygiene visits to have your teeth professionally cleaned. We can also give you help and practical advice on cleaning your teeth and flossing at home to make sure you remove as much plaque as possible.
Even making small changes to your diet can help, especially if you're prone to snacking in between meals on sugary or carbohydrate rich foods, as these stick to the teeth for extended periods of time, increasing acidity levels in the mouth for longer. Cutting out snacks or choosing healthier options such as crunchy vegetables or cheese can help, as will avoiding fizzy drinks or sugar laden coffees and teas.