Tooth decay is the process that results in a cavity (dental caries). It occurs when bacteria in your mouth make acids that eat away at a tooth. If not treated, tooth decay can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss.
You can easily prevent tooth decay by brushing and flossing your teeth regularly, seeing your dentist for teeth cleaning and checkups, and avoiding foods that are high in sugar.
Tooth decay doesn't have to be an insurmountable problem, for anyone. With just a little understanding of the basics of tooth decay formation, most people can easily put the issue of having cavities to rest.
Tooth decay usually does not cause symptoms until you have a cavity or infected tooth.
When this occurs, symptoms include:
- Toothache, which is the most common symptom. An infection or irritation of the tooth pulp usually causes the pain.
- Bad breath or a foul taste in the mouth.
- White, gray, brown, or black spots on the teeth.
- Loose fillings.
- A broken tooth or a tooth that is sensitive to pressure.
The pain may become worse when you:
- Eat sweets.
- Eat hot or cold foods or drink hot, cold, or acidic liquids, such as citrus drinks.
- Chew food or gum.
- Breathe in cold air.
- Brush your teeth.
Severe tooth decay may cause a pus-filled sac (abscess) to form in the bone at the base of a tooth.
Symptoms of abscess include:
- Swollen glands.
- A swollen jaw.
- Deep, throbbing pain.
The combination of bacteria and food causestooth decay. A clear, sticky substance calledplaque that contains bacteria is always forming on your teeth and gums. As the bacteria feed on the sugars in the food you eat, they make acids. The acids attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more after eating. Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay.
You make tooth decay more likely if:
- You don't brush your teeth twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime.
- You don't floss your teeth each day.
- You eat foods with a lot of sugar in them. The longer a sugary food stays on your teeth, the more the bacteria feed and make acids. Sticky sweets and sugary foods, such as raisins, sugar-coated cereal, cake, cookies, caramel, and taffy, cause the most damage.
Lack of fluoride in the public water supply also makes tooth decay more likely.
You can pass the bacteria that cause tooth decay to your baby. This can happen when you share spoons, forks, and other utensils with babies. The saliva you leave on the utensil contains the bacteria. Sometimes kissing can also transfer saliva and bacteria. You can help prevent tooth decay in your child by making sure that your family practices good dental health habits.
Treatment for tooth decay varies according to how severe the decay is.
- Brushing and flossing with fluoridetoothpaste and/or receiving fluoride treatments may be enough to reverse early decay, before cavities have formed.
- You need a filling if a cavity has formed. A filling is a material that plugs the cavity hole and restores a tooth to its original shape after your dentist has removed the decay.
- You may need a crown if the decay is severe and your tooth is badly damaged. A crown (often called a cap) is a man-made replacement for all or part of a tooth. Crowns are also used to treat teeth that have broken or decayed so much that a filling will not work.
- You may need a root canal treatment if the pulp of your tooth is infected. A root canal removes the diseased pulp of a tooth.
- You may need your tooth taken out (extraction) if the root of the tooth is severely damaged. You may need to replace the tooth with a bridge or animplant.
If you do not treat tooth decay, your cavities can get worse and you may lose a tooth. If you wait to see your dentist, your tooth repair will probably cost more and take longer.
Many people are very nervous before or during a dental visit. This can make going to the dentist a difficult experience. You can take steps to limit your anxiety, such as explaining your fears to the dentist and setting up a system of hand signals. Hand signals let you tell the dentist when something hurts or you want a break, even if you cannot talk.