What Is Tooth Decay?
Have you ever wondered what’s happening during a dental exam? One of the most important jobs a dentist has is looking for signs of tooth decay and then stopping it from destroying your teeth. According to the CDC, most adults in the U.S. have experienced tooth decay. It’s ideal to get treatment early so it doesn’t progress into causing pain or needing more invasive and costly procedures.
Tooth decay typically starts out with plaque, which is a type of sticky bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth. Bacteria thrive on sugars from the food and beverages you consume and it breaks down the protective enamel layer on your teeth and can cause cavities, which is usually the first visible sign of tooth decay.
By drilling out the decayed portion of the tooth and replacing it with a filling, your dentist protects your tooth from further decay, though it’s not necessarily a permanent solution for everyone. In fact, ordinary wear and tear often causes teeth to weaken and fracture over time, which allows bacteria to settle into small crevices and cause further damage and decay.
The roots of your teeth are also susceptible to tooth decay. It can start when your gums recede, which is something that happens naturally with age but you can also hasten recessed gums by brushing your teeth too hard or using a toothbrush with hard bristles. When plaque forms on exposed tooth roots, it can lead to decay.
How do I prevent tooth decay?
It’s much better to prevent tooth decay than to start treatment after decay sets in. Because like we mentioned above, after cavities form, a filling may only keep decay from worsening in the short-term. Eventually, imperfections in the tooth can welcome plaque, bacteria and acids to settle in or on the tooth and damage it even further. So the best way to prevent decay is to keep up with your regular dental cleanings and exams, brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily.
Diet is a huge factor in causing tooth decay. When you consume foods and beverages that are acidic (which is almost anything you put in your mouth) your saliva becomes acidic which causes the enamel to dissolve. It takes 20 minutes for your saliva to neutralize. This means if you sip on drinks throughout the day or snack frequently you will be at higher risk of tooth decay. Rinsing your mouth with alkaline water or chewing Xylitol gum or mints will help to clear the acids and bacteria in your mouth.
I haven’t seen a dentist in a while. Does that mean I have tooth decay?
Based on statistics from the CDC, about 91% of adults in the U.S. do have tooth decay. So you can assume that you do, but the only way to know for sure is if you schedule an exam with your dentist.
With treatment, you can help stop decay from eroding the enamel on your teeth, which is what leads to pain and discomfort because under the enamel is a sensitive layer called dentin. Once that’s exposed, you can start feeling pain and discomfort. It is important to understand that decay does not cause pain until it is significant in size so just because your teeth don’t hurt doesn’t mean you are cavity free.
Is tooth decay reversible?
Tooth decay can be stopped and prevented, but if you have a cavity that has reached the dentin layer, it can’t be reversed. If the lesion is shallow and into the enamel it can sometimes be stopped from progressing with use of fluoride.
To prevent tooth decay from worsening, the best course of action is to schedule a dental exam and cleaning. Your dental hygienist will clean plaque and bacteria from your teeth. And along with regular brushing and flossing at home, you can prevent permanent decay from setting in. But if your dentist does see a cavity, she can fill it the same day and prevent tooth decay from further damaging the tooth.
If your dentist diagnoses advanced tooth decay a filling may not be sufficient due to the amount of tooth structure that has been destroyed. In these situations a porcelain crown that encases the tooth will be recommended. If a tooth is decayed so deep that the nerve inside the tooth has been affected, you may need a root canal.
It’s a terrible idea to procrastinate treatment at this point because it can still get much worse. Left alone, bacteria can cause an abcess or infection in your gums or jaw bone. According to the American Dental Association, symptoms of an abscess include pain, swelling and redness, bad taste in the mouth, and fever.
If you do have advanced tooth decay, you may already have noticeable symptoms, like tooth, gum or jaw pain. You probably also have sensitive teeth and can see discoloration or even rotting on one or more teeth.
Call us at Luxe Dental right now! At first, tooth decay is usually not something you can see or feel. But once it wears away the enamel on your teeth, it’s permanent and progressive. Decay can spread pretty quickly and the worse it gets, the treatment options will only get less desirable for you.