Tooth decay, a common oral issue, quietly affects nearly one-third of the Australian population. If left unchecked, it can cause significant damage to your dental health, leading to problems such as decay, infections, and even potential tooth loss. If you’re curious about the ins and outs of tooth decay, or simply keen on safeguarding your smile from cavities and deterioration, you’re in the right place.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll help you understand what tooth decay is, its causes, prevention, and the various treatments available. By the end, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to protect your dental health, ensuring your smile remains healthy and radiant. Let’s get started!
Stages of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is characterised by the gradual destruction of tooth structure. It occurs when acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, along with sugars and starches from the diet, combine to form plaque, a sticky film that adheres to teeth. The acids in plaque can gradually erode the enamel, which is the hard outer protective layer of the tooth, leading to tooth decay.
Tooth decay progresses through several stages:
- Demineralisation: In the early stages, acids from plaque begin to demineralise the enamel, causing it to weaken and develop white, chalky spots. This is an initial sign of tooth decay.
- Enamel Decay: If the demineralisation process continues, the enamel can break down further, leading to the formation of cavities or small holes in the tooth. These cavities may appear as brown or dark spots on the tooth surface.
- Dentin Decay: If left untreated, the decay can progress through the enamel and reach the dentin, which is the softer layer beneath the enamel. Dentin is more vulnerable to decay, and cavities can develop faster at this stage. Sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and drinks may also occur.
- Pulp Damage: When the decay reaches the innermost layer of the tooth, known as the pulp, it can cause inflammation and damage to the nerves and blood vessels within the pulp. This often leads to severe toothache and increased sensitivity.
- Abscess Formation: In advanced cases, the infection can spread from the pulp to the root of the tooth, resulting in the formation of a painful abscess. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket at the root of the tooth and can lead to swelling, severe pain, and even systemic health problems if left untreated.
Treatment Options for Tooth Decay
Fortunately, tooth decay is both preventable and treatable. It can be halted with a range of procedures and oral hygiene maintenance. The treatment may vary based on the severity of the tooth decay. Your dentist can recommend the right treatment after an initial checkup and dental examination.
Some of the treatment options for tooth decay include:
Dental fillings are generally used to treat cavities in their early stages. During this procedure, your dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth and fill the cavity with a filling material, such as composite resin, silver amalgam, or gold. The filling helps restore the tooth’s shape and function, protecting it from further damage and preventing the decay from spreading.
At The Dental Family Beaumaris, we use tooth-coloured composite and amalgam fillings. Composite fillings blend seamlessly with the natural teeth, restoring appearance and providing protection. Whereas, amalgam fillings offer added strength and protection, especially for chewing surfaces. Our gentle dentists will discuss the filling options, explain the procedure and provide personalised recommendations to help you make a decision suited to your preference and dental requirements.
If tooth decay reaches the innermost layer of the tooth, known as the pulp, it can cause severe pain and infection. In such cases, a root canal procedure may be necessary. During a root canal, your dentist will remove the infected pulp, cleaning and disinfecting the tooth interior, and sealing it with a special filling material. Often, a dental crown is placed over the treated tooth to restore its strength.
At our Bayside Clinic, preventive dentistry forms the core of our approach. We aim to treat, save and protect, retaining as much of your natural tooth structure as possible. We understand an infected or damaged tooth can be extremely painful and requires immediate attention. This is why we try our best to make your root canal procedure comfortable, supporting you at every stage of your treatment, from the initial consultation and procedure to aftercare and maintenance.
When tooth decay has progressed and damaged a significant portion of the tooth, a dental crown may be recommended. A crown is a custom-made cap that covers the tooth, providing strength and protecting and enhancing functionality.
Our Clinic offers a range of dental crown options such as all-ceramic, porcelain infused with metal and gold crowns. The crowns are custom-made to fit your teeth comfortably, blending seamlessly with your teeth while offering superior protection and durability.
In cases where tooth decay has progressed to a level where it may not be possible to restore or rebuild the tooth structure, a tooth extraction may be necessary. This helps protect the remaining healthy teeth and your dental health.
At The Dental Family Beaumaris, we explore every other option before suggesting a tooth extraction. Our goal is to help you retain your healthy teeth and maintain your oral health for the long term. We also offer a range of teeth replacement options, such as dental implants, bridges and dentures to help you restore your smile.
Fluoride, a mineral, offers a simple yet effective means of combating tooth decay. It helps prevent tooth decay and facilitate remineralisation, restoring lost mineral content. Fluoride also inhibits bacterial acid production.
In the early stages of tooth decay, fluoride can halt and even reverse the damage caused by bacteria. Fluoride treatments may include prescription fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash, with some dentists scheduling in-clinic fluoride treatments.
Can Cavities be Prevented?
Preventive care is key to preventing cavities and most oral problems. Here are some things you can do to stay on top of your oral health and get a cavity-free smile:
Regular Dental Checkups
Routine dental checkups allow dentists to detect emerging or potential issues at an early stage and address them before they develop into cavities. It also involves teeth cleaning to remove plaque buildup and fluoride treatments to further protect your tooth enamel.
Maintain Consistent Oral Hygiene
Brush your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between the teeth with flossing or an interdental brush. This helps remove plaque and food particles between the teeth, decreasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Also, use an antibacterial mouthwash twice daily or as recommended on the product label to help reduce the bacteria in your mouth.
At The Dental Family Beaumaris, we offer personalised hygiene and gum care plans to help you maintain optimal dental health. With guidance on how to use the correct dental tools and products and education on gum health, we’re here to support you on your oral health journey.
Limit sugary and acidic foods and beverages in your diet. Bacteria in your mouth convert sugar into acid, which can erode tooth enamel. Opt for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Additionally, try to refrain from smoking as tobacco products can increase the risk of cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer.
Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars. They create a protective barrier that seals out food particles and bacteria, reducing the risk of cavities in these vulnerable areas. They are especially beneficial for children when their teeth are developing because it makes brushing easier and prevents tooth decay.
Get a Healthier Smile Today!
Preventive care and getting timely treatment is the first step towards maintaining a bright and healthy smile for life. At our Bayside Clinic, our comprehensive approach to dental care includes evaluating your overall mouth health and ensuring the health of your teeth and gums. By doing so, we help you maintain both your dental health and your overall well-being with treatment tailored to your unique needs. From cavity fillings and root canals to dental veneers and dental implants, we’re here to help you maintain a smile that’s both healthy and beautiful. Book a consultation today.