Tooth decay is the process of tooth degeneration when plaque acids eat away your tooth enamel. Plaque build up on the surface of your teeth and between the grooves and crevices of your teeth produces an acid that attacks the hard outer-layer of your tooth. Over time the plaque build up and acid attack can cause holes in the teeth that are called dental caries. Plaque build up along the gum line can also cause dental abscesses and gum disease.
While your teeth are under attack and tooth decay is happening, you may not feel any actual pain. Once the decay has eaten away through your tooth enamel to reach the soft inner tooth pulp, you may start to experience toothache or pain in your gums or jaw. Sometimes tooth pain from caries can feel sharp and severe, or can be a continuous throbbing pain that keeps you awake at night.
Many people are unaware they are suffering from tooth decay, but some symptoms can show up that you should look out for. If you notice any of these symptoms it would be wise to book an appointment to see your dentist to get your concerns checked out.
- You experience an unpleasant taste in your mouth
- You experience tooth sensitivity with pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold or sweet
- You notice grey, brown or black spots appearing on your teeth
- You suddenly start having bad breath
When to see a dentist
You should have regular dental check ups – at least once every six months is usual. Should your dentist detect early sighs of tooth decay during a routine examination, they can offer treatments to help. Catching tooth decay early works out much cheaper and easier to treat than allowing months to pass before getting treatment.
Your dentist will be able to spot signs of decay through a dental examination and through X-rays of your teeth and gums. Having X-rays will let your dentist see any hidden problems below the gum line or within your jaw bone.
Treatments for tooth decay
The treatment you will be offered by your dentist for tooth decay will depend on how severe it is. If the decay is in the early stages and hasn’t caused any significant damage to your tooth enamel, then your dentist will probably give your teeth a clean and polish to remove any plaque and tartar that has built up on the surface of your teeth. Your dentist will also advise you about reducing the amount of sugar in your diet and reinforce the need for a good cleaning routine using fluoride toothpaste.
Your dentist may treat your teeth with a varnish or gel that contains fluoride to help strengthen the enamel. This can help make your teeth stronger and more resistant to plaque acids that cause tooth decay. You may need to return to have a cavity treated with a filling. Depending on where the tooth is situated in your mouth, you could be offered a white or amalgam filling.
Should your decay be quite advanced and has spread to the infect the tooth pulp, you may be in need or a root canal treatment. Your dentist will explain the root canal treatment and you will need to book an appointment to have this treatment. In severe cases where the tooth is too badly damaged to be able to be saved, you may be offered a partial denture, bridge or tooth implant. Again, your dentist will be able to advise you about the best treatment to suit your needs.