Tooth decay occurs when acid is produced from the building up of plaque on the teeth. Plague is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth which can breakdown the enamel. Buildup of plaque leads to problems, such as:
- Dental caries (holes in the teeth) – Which occurs as a result of consumption of food and drinks high in carbohydrates (sugary foods and drinks), the bacteria in plaque turn the carbohydrates into energy they need, producing acid at the same time. If the plaque is allowed to build up, the acid can begin to break down (dissolve) the surface of your tooth, causing holes known as cavities.
- Gum disease or dental abscesses (collections of pus at the end of the teeth or in the gums) – If untreated, the bacteria will enter the pulp (a soft center of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels). At this stage, the nerves become exposed to bacteria, usually making your tooth painful. The bacteria can cause a dental abscess in the pulp and the infection could spread into the bone.
Symptoms of tooth decay
Tooth decay may not cause any pain. However, if you have dental caries you might have:
- Toothache which may occur continuously (pain keeping you awake) or occasionally (sharp pain without an obvious cause).
- Tooth sensitivity where you may feel tenderness or pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold or sweet.
- Grey/brown/ black spots appearing on your teeth.
- Bad breath.
- Feeling of an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
- Red, tender or swollen gums.
- Gums may bleed when you brush or floss.
- Gums may begin to pull away from your teeth.
- Loss of permanent teeth.
- Changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align with each other.
- Changes in the way your dentures or partial dentures fit.
- Difficulty swallowing food or drinks.
- Mouth ulcers or sores that don’t heal
How to Prevent tooth decay
Tooth decay is a common but preventable problem. It can be avoided by maintaining healthy teeth and gum. To Prevent tooth decay you should:
- Reduce your intake of sugary and starchy food or drinks, especially between meals or an hour before going to bed. Medications containing sugar should be avoided by seeking alternative source.
- Replace your toothbrush or the head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months, or if the bristles become irregular or frayed.
- Brushing your teeth properly with a toothpaste containing fluoride twice a day, by holding your toothbrush at a slight angle, aiming the bristles toward the area where your tooth meets your gum and brushing gently with short back-and-forth motions. Also, brush the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of your teeth, as well as your tongue for cleaner result.
- You should use floss to reach the tight spaces between your teeth and under the gum line , and an interdental brush at least once a day
- Don’t routinely cover your toothbrushes or store them in closed containers, by so doing, it can encourage the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Rather, rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing and Store in an upright position, allow it to air-dry until using it again. Also, to prevent cross-contamination, keep it separate from other toothbrushes in the same holder.
- Limit excessive alcohol intake and avoid smoking as alcohol can contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel and tobacco can interfere with saliva production, which helps to keep the teeth clean.
- Regular visits to your dentist for professional cleanings and oral examination.
- Chewing sugar-free gum after meals may reduce the formation of dental cavities.
- Persistent dry mouth caused by certain medicines, treatment or medical conditions should be reported to your doctor.
Treatment for tooth decay
Depending on how advanced your condition, the following treatment may be given:
- Early stage tooth decay may require a reduction in the amount of sugar in your diet and the times you eat. A fluoride gel may be applied, varnish or paste to the area, to protect the teeth by strengthening the enamel, and increasing the teeth’s resistant to the acids from plaque that can cause tooth decay.
- The dental decay may be removed by filling and crown, which is applying local anaesthetic to numb the tooth and filling the hole.
- A process known as root canal treatment is used to remove the tooth decay if it has spread to the pulp (the center of the tooth, containing blood and nerves).
- A badly damaged tooth may need to be removed and replaced with a partial denture, bridge or implant.
Article by: eDokita Team