Tooth Decay

What is tooth decay?

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 prevent tooth decay by being regular with your teeth cleaning and checkups, and avoiding foods high in sugar.  All three of these are necessary and important for prevention, and with diligence, can be accomplished.

What causes tooth decay?

The combination of bacteria and food causes tooth decay. A clear, sticky substance called plaque 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 or drinking. More plaque = more bacteria=more acid, especially if you are “feeding” these bacteria more often by snacking or sipping beverages often.  Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay.

What are the symptoms?

Tooth decay usually does not cause symptoms until you have a cavity or an infected tooth. When this occurs, a toothache is the most common symptom.  By this time it may be too late to save the tooth without extensive treatment.

How is tooth decay diagnosed?

Your dentist diagnoses tooth decay by asking questions about your past dental and medical problems and care, examining your teeth, and by taking X-rays of your teeth and mouth to see hidden cavities.              

How is it treated?                                                         

Treatment for tooth decay depends on how bad it is. You may be able to reverse slight tooth decay by using fluoride. To fix cavities caused by mild tooth decay, your dentist will do a filling. For severe tooth decay, you may need a root canal, crown, or even may have to extract the tooth.