Tooth decay is the single most common dental problem affecting Americans today. You may hear your dentist refer to ‘dental caries’ or ‘dental cavities’, but all of these terms mean that you have at least one tooth being affected by tooth decay. Tooth decay is a leading cause of dental pain and also the most noted reason for patients to visit their dentist for advice and support.
Tooth decay is the destruction of the outermost layer of your teeth, known as the enamel, by a substance known as plaque acid. Plaque acids are created when bacteria within the plaque break down sugars in your mouth that are there as a result of eating and drinking. Enamel is usually very resilient, but if it is persistently attacked by plaque acids, it softens and eventually holes form. These holes are known as cavities or caries and must be treated promptly after they form. Failure to do so can cause the decay to spread to surrounding teeth as well as penetrating even deeper into the original tooth, causing sensitivity and discomfort.
Eventually, if decay is allowed to reach the root of the tooth then you will almost certainly experience toothache, with many people suffering acute pain when they eat or drink. The root, which serves the tooth with the healthy blood vessels and nutrients, can become infected and the tooth will die.
Abscess formation is the final stage of tooth decay and by far the most painful. Once the bacteria passes into the root, it can put the conjoining bones at risk of infection too. This increases the likelihood of you losing the tooth and suffering from other diseases as the infection passes into the bloodstream and around your body.
Brushing and flossing your teeth is the single, most important thing that you can do protect your teeth from decay, and failure to do this properly on a daily basis will mean that the plaque acids are not removed before they cause damage to your teeth. Flossing and using fluoride mouthwash also helps to remove bacteria and keep your teeth in great condition.
You also shouldn’t underestimate the importance of regular visits to your dentist. Many people think that they only need to make an appointment when they are experiencing problems, but by this point, much of the damage has been done. However, when you attend regular dental check-ups, your professional will be able to assess your teeth for any early signs of cavity development and, if it seems like decay is forming, arrange to treat if before it has serious consequences for your teeth.
Tooth decay is not always noticeable right away, but eventually symptoms will
develop that are impossible to ignore. If you notice any of the following, you
may be developing a dental cavity and you should
get your teeth checked by
your dentist promptly:
Toothache. This can range from a dull discomfort to acute pain.
Pressure in your mouth around your affected tooth.
Increased tooth sensitivity.
Noticeable holes or dark patches on your tooth.
Redness, swelling or pus around a tooth.
If you would like more information about tooth decay, or if you think that you may have developed a cavity, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment.