The Lowdown on Tooth Decay: What You Need to Know
Maintaining good oral health and a shareable smile requires you spend time caring for your teeth and gums on a daily basis. Yet tooth decay can slowly build up to a point that it causes issues and problems that need attention right away. Here is the lowdown on tooth decay, including what it is, how you can prevent it, and what treatments are available should it gain the upper hand.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay results from mouth bacteria and plaque and creates darkened holes within the hard surfaces of your teeth. This decay can form on natural teeth and also around or underneath dental restorations, such as crowns.
The decay usually forms when a sticky coating is left behind after you eat starchy or sugary foods. Bacteria in the mouth flock to these coatings, and soon a layer of plaque develops. This plaque is acidic and, if left unattended, can harden above or below your gum line and become shielded by tartar, making it harder to get to and remove. Things don’t get any better from there.
To break it down even further, consider the following stages of tooth decay.
With the exposure to acids created by bacteria and plaque, the tooth enamel, that hard, protective surface layer, begins to lose essential minerals. White spots can develop across the affected teeth, and this is often the first visible sign you are experiencing tooth decay.
2. Breakdown of Tooth Enamel
Tooth enamel begins to break down further and starts to weaken. Small cavities or holes begin to form and may show as brown spots on your teeth. You may also experience tooth sensitivity.
3. Damage to the Underlying Layer (Dentin)
Dentin is the substance layer directly beneath the tooth enamel and contains tiny tubes that connect and communicate with the nerves. It is softer and at higher risk of erosion from the acids created as you eat. Once it reaches this underlying layer, tooth decay can speed up, and you will notice teeth becoming extremely sensitive when you consume hot or cold beverages or foods.
4. Irritation and Damage to the Tooth Pulp
If not halted at the dentin layer, the bacteria and acid will continue to the pulp of the tooth, the region where blood vessels and the nerve reside. It is the pulp that provides sensation to the tooth itself and keeps it healthy. Once damaged, however, the pulp can swell and press on or irritate the nerve, making the tooth painful.
Once the tooth decay reaches the pulp, infection can set in, and the resulting inflammation can form an abscess, a pus-filled pocket at the tooth’s base. You can also experience discomfort due to the swelling in the face and lymph nodes. When it reaches this stage, you may find you need a root canal or the extraction of the tooth altogether.
How to Treat Tooth Decay
Once tooth decay is identified, your dentist will need to remove it as soon as possible. This removal process involves first numbing your mouth in the area of the decay, then using a drill. Afterward, you will have an open hole in your tooth, requiring a solution based on the size of the hole and the amount of natural tooth left.
With a small hole or cavity, a tooth-colored filling may do. The bigger the filling, the less strength and durability your tooth will have. For these larger holes, a dental crown will be a better option.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay
Staying proactive to prevent tooth decay from developing is also essential. To do so, consider the following tips.
- Be diligent in your daily dental hygiene habits. Brush twice each day and floss at least once per day.
- Limit or avoid certain types of food and beverages, including starchy (e.g., breads, pasta, crackers, potato chips, etc.) and sugary ones (e.g., sodas, candy, cookies, hard candy, etc.).
- Consider adding fluoride. As a mineral helpful for repairing and strengthening tooth enamel, fluoride can help you combat excessive tooth decay. Ask your dentist about professional fluoride treatments and look for mouthwashes or toothpastes containing this mineral.
- Drink lots of water. Sipping on water after meals and throughout the day can help wash away lingering bacteria that cause plaque and tartar and also remove any leftover food particles.
- Schedule regular dental cleanings. Make bi-annual appointments for cleanings by a professional dental hygienist. Such cleanings can help remove plaque and decay on the surface of teeth and in those hidden areas that are difficult to reach by brushing alone.
Schedule an Appointment with Lifetime Dental Health Today!
Caring for your teeth and gums can go a long way in keeping your mouth and smile healthy. The team at Lifetime Dental Health can also help by providing professional cleanings to keep tooth decay from developing or progressing deeper and causing issues. Contact our Columbus office today at 614-321-1895 to schedule your next appointment.