Patient's Complete Guide to Tooth Decay
Overview of Tooth Decay
The mouth is an important organ of the human body. Your oral health can affect your whole lifestyle. Your mouth consists of teeth and tongue. Teeth play an important role in eating, smiling and talking. Your health and personality rely on teeth cleanliness. It is important to take care of your oral hygiene otherwise various dental diseases can occur such as tooth decay or cavities and it can lead to severe oral health issues.
Tooth decay ( دانتوں کا سَڑنا/Danton Ka Sarna) or cavities is the condition in which your teeth are permanently damaged. In this case, tiny holes and openings are developed on the tooth surface. Various factors such as bacteria, frequent snacking, and improper cleaning contribute to tooth decay.
If cavities are left untreated, they can damage the deep layers of teeth. It can result in severe toothache, infection and tooth loss. You can avoid cavities by regular brushing, flossing and dental visits.
Occurrence of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is among the world's most common health problems. It is most common in children, teenagers and older adults. However, anyone with teeth can get cavities, including infants due to improper cleaning.
Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay
Common signs and symptoms of toothache are:
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
- Toothache, spontaneous pain or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
- Tooth sensitivity
- Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth
- Pain when you bite down
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
Causes of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is not a simple process, rather it occurs in multiple steps. The main cause of tooth decay is the overuse of sugary foods.
- Plaque Formation: Plaque is a sticky film that coats the teeth. It can form due to bacterial feeding on sugars and starches attached to your teeth. Improper cleaning of teeth can result in plaque formation. Due to bacterial feeding plaque is hardened and converted into tartar or calculus.
- Plaque Attacks: The enamel (outer covering of teeth) started to be removed by acid in plaque. It results in tiny openings and holes in the enamel. After that, the bacteria reach another layer of teeth—dentin. Dentin is softer than enamel and consists of tiny tubes that are connected to nerves.
- Destruction Continues: When bacteria and acid reach the inner tooth layer (pulp) it results in swelling and irritation. This material consists of nerves and blood vessels. Due to swelling, the nerve can be pressed and you may experience pain
Risk Factors of Tooth Decay
Following factors increase the risk of tooth decay:
- Tooth Location: Tooth decay mostly occurs in back teeth including molars and premolars. These teeth can easily collect food particles due to a large number of pits and grooves on their surface. Therefore, cleaning molars and premolars is difficult.
- Certain Foods and Drinks: Food items such as milk, ice cream, cake, cookies and other similar foods stick to the tooth. These foods can not be washed away by saliva, therefore increasing the risk of decay.
- Frequent Snacking or Sipping: Due to frequent snacking and sipping sugary drinks, more acid is produced in the mouth that damages the teeth.
- Bedtime Infant Feeding: In infants and toddlers mostly decay occurs. This damage is usually called baby bottle tooth decay. This occurs because before sleeping infants drink milk, juice or other sugary liquid. When they are sleeping the decaying bacteria feed on this material and increase the decay process.
- Inadequate Brushing: If you don't brush your teeth regularly and properly after each meal, the risk of tooth decay and toothache are increased.
- Younger or Older Age: Younger children and old people are at high risk of tooth decay.
- Dry Mouth: Dry mouth increases the risks of tooth decay. Because saliva consists of substances that counter acid as well as wash away plaque and food from the tooth.
- Worn Fillings or Dental Devices: Dental fillings are materials that are used for filling when a tooth is damaged. However, over the years, these fillings also weakened and developed rough edges. Due to this plaque easily develops in these areas and damages the tooth.
- Heartburn: In Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) stomach acid flows back into the mouth (reflux), which damages the tooth enamel. Due to this dentin is exposed to bacteria and results in tooth decay.
Dental-Related Complications of Tooth Decay
If tooth decay is left unnoticed and untreated it can cause serious complications such as:
- Damage or broken teeth
- Tooth abscess
- Chewing problems
- Swelling or pus around a tooth
- Positioning shifts of teeth after tooth loss
- Pain that interferes with daily living
- Weight loss or nutrition problems from painful or difficult eating or chewing
- In rare cases, a tooth abscess — a pocket of pus that's caused by bacterial infection — can lead to more serious or even life-threatening infections
- When cavities and decay become severe, you may have:
- Tooth loss, which may affect your appearance, as well as your confidence and self-esteem
You can avoid cavities and tooth decay by practising good dental hygiene. You can prevent cavities by following tips:
- Brush your teeth properly after eating and drinking. Use fluoride-containing toothpaste.
- Try to floss regularly and rinse your mouth with a fluoride-containing mouthwash.
- Visit your dentist for regular examination and professional cleaning.
- Use sealants for molars and premolars to seal off grooves and crannies. Because these areas collect food particles more easily. It is recommended by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use sealants for school-age children.
- Avoid eating and drinking beverages that help bacteria to create acids and destroy tooth enamel.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables that increase the flow of saliva. Similarly, sugar-free coffee, tea and gum also help to wash away food particles.
- Try fluoride treatments as per the dentist’s recommendation. It is beneficial to fulfil your teeth fluoride requirements.
You can decrease the risk of cavities by chewing xylitol-based gum along with prescribed fluoride and an antibacterial rinse.
Usually, tooth decay is diagnosed by the following approaches such as:
- Physical Examination: During the physical examination, the dentist inquires about toothache and sensitivity. The dentist physically examines the mouth and teeth. Soft areas in the mouth are checked by dental instruments.
Imaging Tests: Imaging tests such as X-rays are performed, which show the extent of cavities and decay.
Treatment of Tooth Decay | When to Consult a Doctor
Through regular check-ups, cavities and other dental problems can be identified before they cause other serious problems.
Treatment varies with the severity and the particular situation of tooth decay. Treatment approaches include:
- Fluoride Treatments: Fluoride treatment can restore tooth enamel if the cavity is just started. Professional fluoride treatments are more helpful because they contain more fluoride as compared to toothpaste and mouth rinses. Fluoride treatments can be in the form of liquid, gel, foam or varnish that's brushed onto your teeth.
- Fillings: If the decay has become more serious, fillings are the main treatment option. Fillings are also called restorations. Fillings are prepared by using various materials, such as tooth-coloured composite resins, porcelain or dental amalgam.
- Crowns: Crown is a custom-fitted covering that replaces the tooth's entire natural crown. It is used if your entire tooth has decayed or weakened. In this procedure, all the decayed teeth are drilled away. Crowns can be made of gold, high strength porcelain or resin.
- Root Canals: A root canal is required if the decay has reached the pulp of your tooth. It is for badly damaged teeth. It can be used instead of tooth removal. In this procedure, the decayed pulp is removed. Further, the root canal is filled with medicines to prevent any infection.
- Tooth Extractions: Sometimes tooth decay gets extremely worse and can’t be restored. In this case, it must be removed. The gap created is filled by a bridge or a dental implant.
It is important to have regular oral medical checkups because sometimes cavities are formed without any discomfort or pain.