What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is simply the damaging of your tooth enamel, which is the very hard outer layer of a tooth. It affects kids, teens, and adults. A gummy film of bacteria frequently forms on your teeth. When you consume foods or drinks that have sugars, the bacteria present in plaque form acids that damage your tooth enamel.
Cavities will then arise from the stickiness of the plaque keeping these acids in contact with your teeth and with time may cause the breakdown of the enamel. In most cavities, a hole will be formed in your tooth which is usually caused by decay.
Consequently, cavities can also be called tooth decay or caries.
What are the types of tooth decay and cavities?
Smooth surface, pit and fissure, and root are the three (3) main types of cavities present on your teeth. Cavities completely destroy areas in the hard surface of your teeth usually the enamel, therefore, making it develop tiny openings or holes. These dental caries or tooth decays are caused by several factors like frequent taking of snacks, bacteria in your mouth, not taking good care of your teeth, and consuming sugary drinks.
Tooth decay and cavities are predominant amongst infants, teenagers, and older adults. Cavities and tooth decay can become larger and affect deeper regions of your teeth resulting in loss of tooth, toothache, and infection. To avert tooth decay and cavities from occurring, you have to imbibe good brushing techniques and use a special thread to clean between your teeth properly.
Symptoms of tooth decay and cavities?
Its symptoms are due to the extent and location of the tooth decay or cavities. At the initial stage the cavity is developing, you may not experience any symptoms at all but as the tooth decay gets larger, it may bring about visible signs and symptoms. They include:
- The sensitivity of the tooth
- Noticeable holes or little openings in your teeth
- Feelings of pains when you bite meat or fishes
- Incessant toothache
- Feelings of mild to sharp pain especially when sipping sweet drinks either cold or hot
- Having some black, brown or white stains on the surface of your tooth
When to visit a dentist
You must not wait till you start developing tooth decay or cavities before you visit a dentist. It is advisable for you to visit your dentist to have regular checkups and cleaning of your teeth. In a situation where your toothache you or your mouth, quickly visit your dentist for optimal treatment.
What are the causes of cavities?
Cavities arise from tooth decay; a process that develops over time. Tooth decay developmental process includes the following:
Formation of plaque
A dental plaque which is a clear gummy film that covers your teeth arises from consumption of enough sugars and starches and improper cleaning of your teeth. Usually, the bacteria will begin to feed on the starches and sugars that weren’t cleaned off your teeth and a plaque is formed.
Plaque that sticks to your teeth can harden above or under your gum line developing into tartar. Tartar can make plaque more difficult to remove and creates a hideout for bacteria.
Plaque attacks the enamel
The minerals in your tooth’s outer enamel are being removed by the acids present in plaque. This brings about tiny openings or holes in your enamel which is the first stage of cavities. After areas of enamel are completely damaged, bacteria and acid can reach the dentin (next layer of the teeth). The dentin layer is softer than enamel and is less resistant to an acid having small tubes that directly communicate with the tooth nerves causing sensitivity.
After the development of tooth decay, the bacteria and acid continue their action in your teeth by transferring next to the pulp (inner tooth material) that contains blood vessels and nerves. This will make the pulp swell and becomes irritated from the bacteria. Since there’s no place for the swelling to expand inside of a tooth, the tooth nerve becomes pressed, resulting in pains. Feelings of discomfort can spread from outside of the tooth to the bone in some cases.
What are the risk factors of tooth decay/cavities?
Anyone that has teeth is at risk of having cavities, but your chances of getting cavities could be increased from the following factors:
Some particular foods and drinks
Foods that stick to your teeth for some time like ice cream, milk, sugar, honey, dried fruit, soda, cookies, cake, mints, hard candy, chips, and dry cereal are more prone to causing tooth decay than foods that are easily carried away by saliva in the mouth.
Infant feeding usually at bedtime
Here, bedtime bottles filled with formula, milk, juice and other sugary liquids makes these beverages to stay on their teeth for several hours while they are fast asleep, feeding decay-causing bacteria. The damage is often referred to as baby bottle tooth decay. These baby bottle tooth decay can also arise from little infants who drink from a sippy cup filled with these beverages.
Usually, the first stages of tooth decay can occur if you don’t brush teeth immediately after eating and drinking making plaques to be easily formed.
During young or old age
Like in the U.S., tooth decay is rampant amongst young children and teenagers. Also, older adults are at higher risk too. Teeth become more vulnerable to root decay when the teeth wear down making the gums appear recedes. In some cases, tooth decay risk could be increased amongst older adults who used more medications to help reduce the flow of saliva.
Use of dental fillings/dental devices
Fillings may weaken your teeth making them break down or form rough edges. This enables plaque to be formed more easily making it difficult to remove. Just like dental fillings, dental devices can impede fitting well, allowing tooth decay to be formed underneath them in the mouth.
Disorders associated with eating
Tooth cavities and erosion could arise from anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Stomach acid from incessant vomiting washes over the teeth by making enamel to dissolve. Saliva production can also be impeded from eating disorders.
Location of tooth
Tooth decay is common in your premolars and molars teeth as they have enough pits and crannies, grooves, and several roots that can store food particles. This makes it difficult for your back teeth to remain clean, unlike your smoother, easy-to-reach front teeth.
Incessant sipping and taking of snacks
When you continuously consume snacks or take sugary drinks, it gives the mouth bacteria more energy to produce acids that may attack your teeth and wear them away very easily. Consuming soda drink throughout the day helps bring about continual acid bath over your teeth. Try consuming cucumber to help build strong teeth.
Insufficient fluoride in the body can bring about cavities and the early stage of tooth decay. Because of fluoride health benefits, it is being added as an essential ingredient in mouth rinses and toothpaste. Fluorides are not usually added into bottled water.
A dry mouth
Insufficient saliva in the mouth causes dry mouth. Saliva can help wash away food and plaque from your teeth to help prevent tooth decay from occurring. Some medications, radiation to your neck/head, certain medical conditions, and some chemotherapy drugs can reduce the production of saliva thereby increasing your chance of having cavities.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD or heartburn can make stomach acid flow into your mouth, wearing away the enamel of your teeth and damages your tooth. This makes the bacteria to attack more of the dentin, resulting in tooth decay. In some cases, your dentist may suggest you meet your medical doctor to ascertain if gastric reflux is the cause of your enamel loss.
Most people don’t care if their kids have cavities in their teeth as they don’t take tooth decay serious. Tooth decay and cavities can have severe and prolonged complications, even for kids who are just growing new milk teeth.
Complications associated with cavities include the following:
- Abscesses of tooth
- Broken or damaged teeth
- A shift in the positioning of teeth after tooth loss
- Feelings of pains
- Pus or swellings around your tooth
- Inability to chew things properly
You may experience the following when tooth decay and cavities become severe:
- Loss of weight or nutrition issues due to difficulty in eating or chewing things
- Feelings of pains daily
- Tooth abscesses occur in rare cases; a localized collection of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue, which can be more severe or even life-threatening
- Loss of tooth, impeding your overall appearance as well as lower your self-esteem and confidence
How to diagnose tooth decay and cavities
The following are the ways your dentist can use to detect tooth decay effectively:
- You will be asked if you experience any tooth sensitivity and pain
- Dental devices will be used to identify soft areas on your teeth
- Your teeth and mouth will be properly examined
- Dental X-rays will be used to ascertain the extent of tooth decay and cavities
- You will be informed if you have any of the three types of cavities like pit and fissure, smooth surface, and root by your dentist.
Treatment for cavities
Going for a regular medical checkup can help identify cavities and any other dental conditions before they bring about troubling symptoms that may eventually become more severe.
The earlier you detect these symptoms, the more likely you are to avoid any early stage of tooth decay. In a case where the cavity is treated before it brings about pains, extensive treatment won’t be required.
Optimal treatment of cavities may depend on your particular situation and how severe they are to you. The following are the best treatment for it:
These are introduced when tooth decay has developed beyond its earliest stage. Fillings are also known as restorations. Porcelain, dental amalgam (usually a combination of several materials), and tooth-colored composite resins are the various materials from which fillings are made of.
Root passage or canals
Root canal treatment is useful where decay has eventually reached the pulp as it aims at repairing and saving the extremely damaged or infected tooth instead of doing away with it completely. Medication may be introduced to the root canal to make it infection free. After which the pulp may be replaced with a filling for effective treatment.
Treatment involving fluoride
Fluoride treatment is needed where your cavity is just starting as it helps renew your tooth’s enamel and may sometimes stop a cavity from developing in its earlier stage. It is advisable to go for professional fluoride treatments as they are richer than the amount that may be present in toothpaste, tap water, and mouth rinses.
Most fluoride treatments come in several forms like in gel, liquid, varnish or foam-like which are then applied onto your teeth or placed in a tray like that fits into your teeth properly well.
This involves a custom-fitted covering that replaces completely your tooth’s natural crown. Crowns are suitable for weakened teeth and prolonged decay as the decayed area will be drilled away by your dentist to ensure a good fit of your tooth. Most crowns are made of gold, resin, porcelain of high strength, and porcelain fused to metal/other materials. Consuming fresh lime juice can help in the treatment of swollen gums.
Extractions of tooth
This is applicable where some teeth are extremely damaged and can no longer be restored and the best option is to do away with it completely. A gap can be formed which makes other teeth to shift after your tooth must have been pulled off. A dental implant to replace the missing tooth could be the appropriate choice in this case so as to avoid leaving a gap in your teeth.
How to prevent tooth decay and cavities
Inculcating good oral and dental hygiene can help avert tooth decay and cavities from occurring. The following are the best effective ways to prevent cavities:
- Go for regular oral exams and professional teeth cleanings from your dentist.
- Always brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste before and after eating or drinking.
- Rinse your mouth properly with a fluoride mouth rinse to avoid developing cavities.
- Cultivate the habit of drinking tap water as most public water contains fluoride, which helps reduce your chance of having tooth decay.
- Always eat healthy foods that are good for your teeth like fresh vegetables and fruits that increase the flow of saliva in your mouth and unsweetened tea/coffee/gums which may help wash away food particles effectively from your mouth.
- Use of antibacterial treatments like certain antibacterial mouth rinses helps reduce the growth of harmful bacteria in your mouth. This is suitable for people who are susceptible to tooth decay.
- Avoid daily sipping of sugary drinks and snacking so as not to damage your tooth enamel.
- Use of dental sealants helps cover grooves and crannies from which food can be collected and protect your tooth enamel from acid and plaque attacks.
- Consider fluoride treatments like drinking enough fluoridated water in a case you are deficient in fluoride.
- Chewing xylitol-based gum with prescription fluoride while using an antibacterial rinse may help prevent cavities very well.
How to prepare for your appointment
You can make an appointment with your dentist if you experience any pain or sensitivity in your teeth. The following are the best way you can prepare for your appointment with your dentist:
Write down any medications you are taking, any allergies experienced from the medications, and important questions to ask your dentist.
The following are basic questions to inquire from your dentist:
- Do I have a simple cavity?
- How many visits will it require for a successful treatment?
- How long will the pains last?
- What can I take to alleviate the pains?
- How long should I wait before I eat or drink after taking medications or treatment?
- What are the other things I can do to prevent cavities?
- Does my local water supply contain adequate fluoride?
- Can you please help me with any brochure or printed materials on tooth decay/cavities?
- Which support websites or groups are available online?
By asking all these questions will help your dentist design the best diagnosis and treatment for you. Also, have in mind that your dentist will ask you questions in return to know precisely the optimal treatment for you.
Questions mostly ask by dentist includes:
- How frequently do you brush your teeth?
- Do you floss your teeth regularly?
- Does your toothpaste contain fluoride?
- Do you consume a lot of sugary drinks or sweets?
- Does biting down make your pains severe?
- Do extremes in food temperature bring about pains?
- What are the medications you took?
- Where you recommended by your doctor before taking the medications?
We have seen the likely causes of cavities that it affects the whole population at large irrespective of your age and gender. Maintaining good dental hygiene and eating healthy foods that are suitable for your teeth will help prevent tooth decay.
Avoid excessive smoking as it makes your teeth appear brownish in color thereby increasing your risk of developing cavities.