If you are experiencing dental pain, it can be helpful to learn about tooth decay so that you can take steps to prevent damage to your teeth. In addition to brushing and flossing regularly, there are several other measures you can take to prevent this decay. By learning more about this common dental pitfall, you can work to avoid resultant issues.
Tooth Decay Details
If you’ve got a tooth in your mouth that won’t stop throbbing, stinging, or tickling, there are many possible explanations, but the most common cause of tooth pain is tooth decay. Tooth decay happens to people all over the world, and most people experience it at least once in their lifetimes.
What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the degradation of your tooth itself, resulting from bacterial impacts on the tooth structure. Your mouth is full of bacterial species like streptococci, staphylococci, and lactobacilli, among other things. Fortunately, your saliva usually keeps these bacteria strains from doing damage to your teeth. Saliva cleans and strengthens your teeth, making it difficult for the bacteria to infect them. Unfortunately, in some cases the saliva provides insufficient protection and the bacteria start to eat your teeth. This results in tooth decay.
How to Handle Tooth Decay
In this situation, if you don’t act quickly, the bacteria will spread through your teeth and cause some serious damage. The deeper the bacteria go into your teeth, the worse the damage will be. Decay normally starts somewhere on the enamel, the hard outer layer of your teeth. It’s much easier to stop when the issue is isolated to this layer. If left for too long, the decay then spreads to the middle layer, known as the dentin. Once decay reaches the dentin, it can easily spread to the rest of the tooth.
The innermost layer of your tooth is called the pulp. If the bacteria get this far, they can infect the nerves and blood vessels in the rest of your mouth, spreading to other teeth, gums, and the rest of the body. However, you’ll normally notice the decay before it reaches your pulp. You’ll see and feel the warning signs, and can then go to the dentist before the infection becomes serious.
What Are the Signs of Tooth Decay?
In order to avoid the damages caused by advanced decay, it is important to identify the issue as early as possible. There are some simple things to look out for in order to know if you have tooth decay:
Tooth sensitivity: pain or stinging when you eat or drink anything sweet, hot, or cold.
Dental pain: your tooth will hurt significantly when you bite down on it.
Aching: you will have a constant or near-constant toothache.
Discolouration: you may notice white, gray, brown, or black spots on the surface of your teeth.
Apparent cavities: the actual pits or a hole in your teeth indicates tooth decay.
Inflammation: in cases of tooth decay, your gums will swell.
Odours: in the event of decay, your mouth will have a foul smell or taste.
Most people notice decay before it results in significant damage to their teeth, but sometimes it comes as a surprise. That’s why your dentist schedules prevention checkups every six months—the regular visits protect you from unexpected issues. Even if you have been attending routine checkups, if you notice any of these signs in your mouth, call your dentist right away.
Tooth Decay Causes
Saliva is an amazing chemical which protects your teeth from all kinds of dangers, including desiccation and bacteria. Nonetheless, sometimes your habits, or your genetics, make it so your saliva can’t keep up with the bacteria. In the event of insufficient salivary function, the bacteria feed off of whatever’s in your mouth instead of being washed away, creating acid as they feed. The resulting breaks down your enamel and ruins your teeth.
Habits which create an environment in which bacteria can overcome your saliva and fluoride toothpaste include:
Failure to brush or floss. If you want your teeth to be healthy, you need to brush twice a day and floss daily. This scrapes the bacteria and acid off your teeth and the fluoride in your toothpaste kills any bacteria in the rest of your mouth. Failure to floss allows bacteria to foster in the spaces between teeth.
Eating an excess of sugary and acidic foods. Bacteria feed on the sugar in your mouth, so the more sugar you eat, the more fuel the bacteria have. Acid makes it easier for tooth decay to develop, as it breaks down the enamel, allowing easier access to the soft tissues inside the tooth.
Ingesting tobacco products. Smoking or chewing tobacco facilitates the breakdown of teeth.
There are also other causes over which you have no control. If you have diabetes, for instance, you can’t control your blood sugars levels as effectively as those without the condition. The bacteria in your mouth may, therefore, have more to feed on, making it easier for you to develop tooth decay. There are also conditions like xerostomia that prevent you from making enough saliva, which means it can’t wash the bacteria and sugars off your teeth.
How Do You Treat Tooth Decay?
The kind of treatment you get depends on how far your tooth decay advances. Common solutions include:
Fillings for cavities and smaller holes in the enamel
Crowns for extensive damage—the crown will replace a significant portion of the tooth
Root canals for severe infections that reach the pulp in your tooth—you will need a bridge or implant of some kind afterwards
If you think you might have tooth decay, call your dentist right away. It is better to catch the problem when it’s small and relatively inexpensive to fix. Regardless of the stage of the decay, you can trust your dentist to make your smile whole and comfortable once again.