What is Tooth Decay?20 October 2015 Categories: Uncategorized
What is Tooth decay?
Tooth decay happens when the enamel and dentine of a tooth become softened by acid after you have eaten or drunk anything containing sugars. Over time, the acid makes a hole called a cavity in the tooth. ‘Tooth decay’ is also known as ‘dental caries’.
What causes tooth decay?
Tooth decay is caused by plaque acids that build up and gradually dissolve away the out layer of the tooth called the enamel and then dissolve the second layer called the dentine, of the tooth. Decay damages your teeth and if left untreated may lead to the tooth needing to have a filling placed in it to stop food particles and sugar continuing to decay the tooth. In some instances the tooth may ever have to be removed completely.
What is enamel?
Enamel is the hard, protective outer coating of the tooth and is the hardest part of the body. It does not contain any nerves or blood vessels and is not sensitive to pain.
What is dentine?
Dentine lies under the enamel, forming most of the tooth, and it can be very sensitive to pain. Dentine covers and protects the central ‘pulp’ of the tooth.
What is the pulp?
The pulp is a soft tissue which contains blood vessels and nerves and is in the middle of the tooth, this is very sensitive and can be damaged easily.
What is plaque?
Plaque is a thin, sticky film that keeps forming on your teeth constantly, we can remove plaque with brushing, hence why brushing twice a day for at least 2 minutes each time and flossing is crucial to remove plaque. Plaque contains many types of bacteria and can be very detrimental to teeth.
Why do my teeth decay?
Decay happens when sugars in food and drinks react with the bacteria in plaque, forming acids and as we know acids can erode. Every time you eat or drink anything containing sugars, these acids attack the teeth and start to soften, dissolve and break down the enamel. The attacks can last for an hour after eating or drinking, before the natural salts in your saliva cause the enamel to ‘remineralise’ and harden again. It’s not just sugars that are harmful: other types of carbohydrate foods and drinks react with plaque and form acids. (These are the ‘fermentable’ carbohydrates: for example ‘hidden sugars’ in processed food, natural sugars like those in fruit, and cooked starches.) You should always check the ingredients in the food you eat. Generally anything with ‘ose’ such as; glucose, fructose and sucrose in the name is a sugar.
Having sugary snacks and drinks between meals can increase the risk of decay, because your teeth come under constant attack and do not have time to recover. It is therefore important not to keep having sugary snacks or sipping sugary drinks throughout the day.
What are the signs of Tooth decay?
In the early stages of tooth decay there are no symptoms, but your Dentist or Hygienist may be able to spot a damage leading to a cavity in its early stages when they examine or x-ray your teeth. This is why you should visit your dental team regularly, as small cavities are much easier to treat than advanced decay.
What happens if I have a cavity?
Once the cavity has reached the dentine your tooth will generally become sensitive, particularly when you have sweet foods and drinks, and acidic or cold/hot foods. However your tooth can become sensitive and feel uncomfortable without the influence of food or drink.
As the decay increases and starts to creep closer to the dental pulp you may suffer from toothache. If the toothache is brought on by hot or sweet foods this may last for only seconds. As the decay gets closer to the dental pulp the pain may last longer and longer, you may need to take painkillers to control the pain as it can be very severe (always seek the advice of your Doctor or Dentist). If you feel these symptoms you must visit your Dentist straight away as the tooth is actually dying, and you may even develop a dental abscess if it is not treated.
What happens if I don’t get it treated early?
Toothache is a sign that you should visit your Dentist straight away, as it is a warning that something is wrong, once your tooth is hurting there it definitely needs to be seen. If you don’t do anything, this will usually make matters worse and you may lose a tooth that could otherwise have been saved and suffer unnecessary pain and discomfort.
What areas of my teeth are more likely to decay?
The biting surfaces of the teeth and the surfaces between the teeth and at the gum line are most likely to decay, because food and plaque can become stuck in these areas and can be hard to reach when brushing and flossing. But any part of the tooth can decay and be at risk.
What treatment will I need?
If the decay is not too serious, your Dentist will most likely remove all the decay and repair the tooth with a filling. Sometimes however, the nerve in the middle of the tooth can be damaged which is a more serious procedure. If the nerve is damaged the dentist will need to carry out root canal treatment by removing the nerve and then repairing the tooth with a filling or a crown. If the tooth is so badly decayed that it cannot be repaired, the dentist may have to take the tooth out.
Will I always need a filling?
No. In the very early stages of decay, your Dentist may apply a fluoride varnish onto the area. This can help stop more decay and help ‘remineralise’ the tooth. However, it is important to follow the cleaning routine your dental team suggest, using a fluoride toothpaste to prevent decay starting again.
Is there anything I can do to protect my teeth against decay?
As each of the adult molars (back teeth) appears, and if the tooth is free from decay, a ‘pit and fissure sealant’ can be applied to each tooth, this protects the tooth. The sealant is a plastic coating that fills all the little crevices in the tooth surface and acts as a sealant whilst also creating a flat surface that is easier to clean. Adults can also have this treatment if the teeth are free from decay. Your Dentist will discuss whether this is the right treatment for you. Children can also have fluoride varnishes painted onto their teeth twice a year which will help to reduce the chances of decay.
What can I do to prevent decay?
The best way to prevent tooth decay is by brushing your teeth thoroughly last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste. Make sure that you brush the inner, outer and biting surfaces of your teeth. Using ‘interdental’ brushes, or dental floss or tape, also helps to remove plaque and food from between your teeth and where they meet the gums. These are areas where plaque can build up as they are harder to reach so it’s important to “floss” as an ordinary toothbrush can’t reach these areas.
Is there anything else I can do?
Visit your dental team regularly, as often as they recommend. Have sugary and acidic food and drinks less often or cut them out of your diet altogether. Avoid having snacks between meals, to limit the number of times your teeth are under attack from acids, remember it’s the sugar from food and drink which reacts in your mouth to form acid.
Chewing sugar-free gum for up to twenty minutes after a meal can help your mouth produce more saliva, which helps to cancel out any acids that have formed.
How can my Dentist and hygienist help me prevent decay?
Your dental team will show you what areas you need to take most care of when cleaning. They will also show you how to brush correctly and clean in between your teeth with ‘interdental’ brushes or floss.
If you wish to know any more about tooth decay, protecting your teeth or the treatments available to you, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org we work alongside Dentists around the UK and can also put you in touch with a Dentist to suit you.