Tooth decay is, at its most basic definition, the destruction of the tooth enamel – which is the hard outer layer of the teeth.
Most of the damage is caused by acids that are generated when plaque comes into contact with foods containing sugars and starches.
The acids, with the help of the plaque’s inherent stickiness, cause the enamel surface of the teeth to break down over time, leaving holes in the teeth called cavities. If left untreated, these holes could increase in size and eventually lead to an infection, severe toothache and even tooth loss.
Aside from attacking the enamel surface, the plaque acids from tooth decay can also ravage the dentin layer of the tooth and eventually cause a root cavity. For the uninitiated, root cavities are more aggressive than regular cavities and can cause a tooth to break off within a short period of time, leaving you at risk of getting infections.
Tooth decay is especially common in children, teenagers, and adults. But even infants aren’t safe from getting cavities in their budding little teeth. To help you determine whether you or someone in your family has tooth decay, here are its most common signs and symptoms:
- White, black or brown spots on any surface of a tooth.
- Noticeable pits or holes in a tooth.
- Tooth sensitivity and pain when biting down.
- Spontaneous toothaches.
- Emergence of pus around a tooth.
- Unpleasant taste in your mouth.
- Bad breath.
Fortunately, tooth decay can be prevented by anyone with the right mindset. Here are some tips for preventing tooth decay:
- Brush with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day.
- Clean between your teeth daily with an interdental cleaner (such as floss).
- Ask your dentist about supplemental fluoride, dental sealants, and antibacterial treatments.
- Rinse on a daily basis with mouthwash containing fluoride or antiseptic ingredients.
- Eat balanced and nutritious meals. Avoid chips, candy, pretzels, and other foods containing carbs.
- Visit your dentist regularly. Get professional teeth cleanings and oral exams.
You may have noticed that fluoride is present in almost every tooth decay prevention tip. This is because fluoride strengthens the enamel surface of the teeth, giving it better resistance against the plaque acids that cause tooth decay.
For those who have tooth decay, several treatments are being offered by dentists. Let’s take a look at them:
- Dentists may apply a fluoride gel, paste or varnish on the affected tooth.
- Dentists may drill away and replace the decayed portion of the tooth with a strong filling.
- Dentists may place a crown to cover and protect the decayed tooth.
- Dentists may use the root canal treatment to fight the infection being spread by the tooth decay.
- Dentists may replace badly damaged tooth with an implant, bridge or denture.