Tooth decay is among the world’s most common diseases. It is described as the damage caused due to bacteria, frequent snacking, having sugary drinks and poor oral hygiene. This leads to the formation of plaque on the teeth. Dental plaques are soft deposits that form a bio film on the teeth, which produces acid that disrupts the surface of the teeth causing further problems such as dental caries (hole in the teeth), gum or dental diseases. The untreated cavities result in severe toothache, gum infection and ultimately may lead to tooth loss. Therefore, a dental supervision is necessary to prevent further complications.
The symptoms associated with tooth decay may include:
- Sharp pain while drinking or eating
- Tooth sensitivity
- Holes or pits on the teeth
- Black or brown staining on the teeth
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria feeding on the teeth and forms plaque. Plaque is a sticky film coated on the teeth due to a large intake of sugars/starches and bad oral hygiene. Plaque on the teeth hardens under or above the teeth to result in tartar, also called as calculus. Tartar is difficult to remove and acts as a shield for bacteria.
Teeth are always susceptible to decay and cavities due to the shape of the teeth, which has natural deep grooves. The food particles, bacteria etc may settle in these grooves and increase the risk of tooth decay, these include:
- Poor dental hygiene
- Consuming sugar or starch-rich foods
- Decreased fluoride intake
- Decreased saliva intake/dry mouth
A dentist might perform several tests to diagnose and determine the level of tooth decay. The diagnosis may include:
- Examination: The dentist examines the mouth and teeth thoroughly with the help of dental instruments to check the affected areas.
- X-ray: X-rays are performed to determine the extent of tooth decay or cavity.
Treatment of tooth decay depends on the diagnostic results. The treatment procedures may include:
- Fluoride treatment: Fluoride treatment is prescribed to treat early stages of the tooth decay. The doctor may prescribe a liquid, gel or a varnish that is brushed onto the teeth, which helps in protecting and strengthening the enamel, increases resistance to the acids produced by the plaques and thus treats tooth decay.
- Filling: Filling is a treatment option if the decay has surpassed the first stage of tooth decay. This involves removal of the decay and filling the pit to restore the shape of the tooth and to prevent loss of tooth. The various materials used for filling may include porcelain, dental amalgam or composite resins.
- Crowns: Crowns are used for severe or extensive decay. Initially, the tooth is drilled to remove the decay and the crown, or a cap is fitted to restore the shape and structure of the tooth. Crowns are made up of materials, such as gold, porcelain, resin and other materials.
- Root canals: If the decay reaches the innermost parts of the tooth, then root canal treatment is necessary. This is done to save a severely damaged tooth instead of removing it. This process involves in removing the diseased or decayed part of the tooth and replacing it with a filling.
- Tooth Extraction: Extraction is the final treatment procedure to treat a severely damaged tooth. It involves in pulling out the entire tooth to prevent the spread of infection.
Tooth decay can be prevented with good dental hygiene. The following are the tips to prevent tooth decay:
- Using fluoride toothpaste: Use fluoride toothpaste twice daily to brush the teeth, ideally after every meal to clean or floss the teeth.
- Rinsing the mouth regularly: Rinse the mouth regularly to wash away sugars or starch present on the teeth. Using fluoride-rich mouthwash is recommended.
- Visiting the dentist: Get professional teeth cleanings and dental examinations on a regular basis to diagnose and treat the decay in early stages.
- Following healthy-diet: Follow a healthy-diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, sugar-free gum and unsweetened coffee/tea. Following these diets might help in increasing the flow of saliva and decreases tooth decay.
- Considering fluoride treatments: Consider fluoride treatments in case of inadequate intake of fluoride through drinking water.
- Drinking fluoride-rich water: Prefer tap water over bottled water, as tap water is rich in fluoride.