What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is damage to your teeth that can cause cavities, abscesses, tooth loss, and other oral and dental problems. Tooth decay is caused by acids excreted by several varieties of bacteria that can live in dental plaque. These bacteria survive in your mouth by consuming sugars from the food you eat. When the bacteria consume sugar, they convert it into a range of acids that corrode your teeth.
Tooth decay is more common in children than adults because baby teeth have a thinner layer of enamel.
The 5 Stages of Tooth Decay and How to Treat Them
Your teeth are protected by an outer layer of a very hard material called enamel. Enamel is composed primarily of various minerals. The acids produced by the bacteria in plaque remove these minerals from the enamel. This can cause a white spot to appear on the affected tooth, which is often the first sign of tooth decay.
This tooth decay stage can be halted before the situation gets worse. Fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel, helping it resist corrosion by bacterial acids. Fluoride is found in many kinds of toothpaste and most tap water supplies. You can also get a fluoride treatment from a dentist, which is applied to your teeth as a gel or varnish.
If the first tooth decay stage goes untreated, the enamel will continue to break down. This can cause white spots on your teeth to start darkening to a brown color.
As the enamel breaks down, it becomes weaker. As a result of this weakening, small holes in your teeth, called cavities, can start to appear.
Cavities can be filled by a dentist. When you get a filling, the dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth and fill the hole with a hard material that matches the color of your tooth.
The third tooth decay stage affects dentin. Dentin is the tissue inside your tooth under the layer of enamel. Dentin is much softer than enamel and is more easily damaged by bacterial acids. As a result, the rate of tooth decay will speed up once the decay gets through the enamel and reaches the dentin.
Dentin also contains tubes that are connected to the nerves in your teeth. When the dentin is exposed because of tooth decay, your teeth can become more sensitive. Because of this, you may start experiencing pain or discomfort when eating or drinking hot or cold foods and beverages.
Dentin decay can also be treated with a filling, like a cavity. However, in more severe cases you may need a crown. This involves removing all of the decayed parts of the tooth before fitting an artificial covering to the visible part of your tooth above the gums.
The tissue in the innermost layer of a tooth is called the pulp. The pulp contains all of the nerves and blood vessels in the tooth, which are vital for keeping your teeth healthy. They also enable you to feel sensations through your teeth.
When the pulp is damaged by tooth decay, it can become inflamed and put pressure on the nerves, causing pain.
Pulp damage may require a root canal, followed by a crown. A root canal involved removing the infected pulp from inside your tooth, then cleaning and filling the cavity. A crown is then fitted to the tooth.
Once tooth decay has reached the pulp, bacteria can begin to infect the inner pulp tissue. This leads to further inflammation and can cause an abscess to appear at the bottom of the tooth. An abscess is a pocket filled with infected pus.
An abscess can spread into your jawbone and to other parts of your body. They require prompt treatment to avoid further health issues. This may require the tooth to be removed in some cases.
If you have an abscess, you will likely experience a significant amount of pain, not just in the affected tooth but sometimes throughout your entire jaw. You might also experience swelling inside your mouth and around your face and jaw, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, or a fever.
An abscess will be treated with a root canal and covered with a crown, or the tooth may need to be removed entirely to prevent the infection from spreading. You will also need to take antibiotics to fight the infection.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay
Good oral hygiene is vital to prevent tooth decay. Take the following steps to reduce the build-up of bacteria and plaque on your teeth:
- Brush at least twice a day and after meals with a fluorinated toothpaste
- Avoid sugary drinks and snacks
- Drink water throughout the day
- See a dentist for routine teeth cleaning and oral exams
- Consider having a sealant applied to your teeth
Keep Your Tooth Decay in Check With our Dentists in Summerlin
Regular dental check-ups will help you maintain better oral health, and give you early warning of the first signs of tooth decay. Treating tooth decay early can prevent further damage to your teeth, and requires less costly measures to treat. Get in touch today to book your next oral exam with one of our Las Vegas dental professionals.