What is dental decay? The basics explained
Dental decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a common oral health condition caused by the erosion of tooth enamel. It occurs when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, builds up on the teeth and produces acid that damages the enamel. Over time, this acid attack leads to the formation of small holes or cavities in the teeth. If left untreated, dental decay can progress and cause pain, infections, and even tooth loss; however, it can be prevented with proper oral hygiene and regular dental care.
What causes dental decay?
Dental decay occurs due to a combination of factors, including poor oral hygiene, frequent consumption of sugary and acidic foods, and bacteria in the mouth. When we neglect proper brushing and flossing, plaque accumulates, providing a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. These bacteria feed on sugars in our diet and produce acid, which gradually wears down the protective enamel layer, leading to decay.
What are the symptoms of dental decay?
The early stages of dental decay may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, as the decay progresses, you may experience the following signs:
- Tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks.
- Toothache or pain when biting down.
- Visible black, brown, or white spots on the teeth.
- Bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
How do I prevent tooth decay?
Preventing dental decay is crucial for maintaining optimal oral health. Here are some effective preventive measures:
- Brush your teeth: Brush at least twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste. Be thorough, ensuring you clean all tooth surfaces and along the gumline.
- Clean between your teeth daily: Regular flossing and interdental brushing helps remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth and along the gumline.
- Limit sugary and acidic foods: Reduce your consumption of sugary snacks, sodas, and acidic beverages, as they contribute to tooth decay.
- Visit your dentist regularly: Schedule regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings. Your dentist can detect early signs of decay and provide professional preventive treatments like fluoride varnish and fissure sealants.
- Use fluoride products: Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay. Use fluoride toothpaste and consider using a fluoride mouthwash as recommended by your dentist.
What happens if dental decay is left untreated?
If dental decay is left untreated, it can lead to more serious oral health problems, including:
- Toothache: Decay can progress to the inner layers of the tooth, causing severe pain and discomfort.
- Infection: Decay can reach the tooth's pulp, leading to infection and the formation of an abscess.
- Tooth loss: Severe decay may necessitate tooth extraction if it cannot be effectively treated.
- Overall health risks: Poor oral health has been linked to various systemic health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
How is dental decay treated?
The treatment for dental decay depends on the severity of the condition. In the early stages, your dentist may recommend:
- Dental fillings: Small cavities can be treated by removing the decayed portion of the tooth and filling the space with a durable material such as composite resin.
- Dental sealants: These thin plastic coatings are applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from decay.
For more advanced cases, your dentist may perform procedures such as:
- Dental crowns: When a significant portion of the tooth is decayed or damaged, a dental crown may be necessary to restore its strength and appearance.
- Root canal treatment: If the decay reaches the innermost part of the tooth (pulp), a root canal procedure may be required to remove the infected tissue and save the tooth.
Dental decay is a common dental issue that can be prevented with proper oral hygiene and regular dental care. By practising good oral hygiene, making healthy dietary choices, and visiting your dentist regularly, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing cavities. Remember, prevention is key! So remember to brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly. If you have any concerns or questions about dental decay, don't hesitate to reach out to our dental practice.