Cavities and rotten teeth can be caused by many things: Your diet, cleaning routine - or the lack thereof, your mouth’s pH level and more. Whilst prevention and diagnosis of tooth decay are necessary to improve the health of your teeth, once you’ve discovered a cavity you need to act quickly to preserve your tooth!
There are a few things you need to consider. Decay worsens over time and depending on what stage you are in, the severity and appropriate treatment method may differ. You may be able to treat some stages of tooth decay at home whilst others can only be addressed by your dentist.
What Are Cavities And What Causes Them?
|Cavities, also referred to as tooth decay, are holes in your teeth caused by the destruction of your tooth enamel, the protective outer layer of your teeth.|
With poor oral health care and dietary choices, a sticky film of bacteria, called plaque, can form on your teeth. If these bacteria are given the chance to “eat away” at your tooth enamel, you may soon find yourself on the way to your dentist in an attempt to save your tooth and prevent further damage.
Incorrect or insufficient brushing or using the wrong dental products will only aggravate the issue.
To make matters worse, bacteria transform sugars in your diet into acids that attack the enamel of your teeth, eating through the enamel and creating a hole/cavity. Once the enamel is broken a cavity forms, it grows quickly as the inside of the tooth, the structure known as dentine, is softer and therefore, decay progresses very quickly. It may look small on the outside but can be quite large underneath and not seen by the naked eye.
However, not all bacteria are bad. The main culprit is a bacterium known as Streptococcus mutans, which significantly contributes to tooth decay.
Certain conditions will add to the problem. When you consume acidic foods and drinks, the pH level in your mouth falls below 5.5 - creating the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to flourish.
To put it in a nutshell, tooth decay is caused by plaque and certain people will have a higher risk of developing cavities, particularly if they:
- Consume a lot of sugary or acidic foods and drinks
- Have poor oral hygiene and do not brush and floss daily
Those who suffer from eating disorders or acid reflux disease, are at a particularly high risk, since stomach acids wear down tooth enamel even faster.
How to Fix Tooth Decay
The dentist is the only way to remove tooth decay.
Using a local anaesthetic, the dentist will numb the tooth and surrounding gum, then remove the decay, clean the area and then place a filling material where the cavity was, restoring the tooth to its natural colour and shape.
The treatment for tooth decay is, however, dependent on its stage - see the table below.
The Stages of Tooth Decay
The constant build-up of dental plaque is the first sign to look out for. Here’s what else you need to look out for - and when it’s time to see your dentist.
|Stage 1||Demineralisation/White Spots||Your teeth are exposed to acids produced by certain bacteria, which causes your teeth to lose minerals. As a result, you may see white spots appear on your teeth, weakening the tooth enamel. |
This is the first sign of beginning tooth decay.
Make sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss once a day to prevent bacteria from building up further.
Have your dentist examine the white spots at your next check-up. Regular dental check ups, ideally every six months, help prevent the white spots developing into cavities with the application of fluoride, but it’s up to you to change your routine and make better dietary choices.
|Stage 2||Enamel Decay||When these white spots turn brown, your enamel is breaking down and prone to further acid attack. This is when you will start to notice the first little holes (cavities). |
At this stage, only your dentist will be able to prevent further damage.
|Stage 3||Dentin Decay||Dentine is the layer underneath the tooth enamel. When the dentine is exposed to acids, your tooth will only decay faster. |
This is usually where you will notice increased sensitivity around the affected tooth. The pain will be particularly intense when you consume hot drinks and foods.
At this stage, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your dentist.
|Stage 4||Pulp Damage||When the innermost layer of your teeth is affected, things can quickly become very painful. You will notice irritation and swelling.|
Don’t waste time and book an emergency appointment with your dentist before things become worse.
|Stage 5||Abscess||If bacteria are allowed to penetrate the pulp, the tooth nerve, they are likely to cause a serious infection, severe pain and nerve death, which then requires extensive root canal treatment or tooth extraction. This can result in the loss of your tooth and can put you at a severe health risk.|
Symptoms of tooth abscesses include:
Hopefully you won’t let it come this far.
Can the Effects of Tooth Decay be Reversed?
At the early stages of tooth decay, you and your dentist can work together to stop the damage from spreading and prevent bacteria from wreaking havoc on other teeth.
Unfortunately, enamel can't repair decay or wear by itself as it doesn’t contain any living cells. Regular trips to the dentist paired with diligent dental care are ultimately the only way to keep your teeth healthy and beautiful.
In other words, you cannot reverse the impact of decay.
Damage that has already been done will need to be treated by your dentist.
So the most important question is:
How Do You Prevent Tooth Decay?
Every dentist will agree that a regular and thorough cleaning routine is the most critical factor in your dental health. This involves:
- Brushing your teeth twice daily for two minutes each time.
Use an electric or manual toothbrush. Depending on what your dentist recommends, you may need to switch to an electric toothbrush or change the harshness (soft, medium, hard) of your manual toothbrush to get a better clean.
- Floss daily.
Flossing isn’t negotiable and it’s never too late to add it to your routine. The bacteria that get stuck between your teeth are difficult to reach with a regular toothbrush. Flossing will remove plaque in those hard-to-reach areas and drastically reduce the risk of cavities.
- Use fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash.
Fluoride is an effective tool in the fight against tooth decay. Fluoride helps rebuild weakened tooth enamel and can reverse tooth decay at the early stages.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups - but at least every six months.
During regular checkups, your dentist will conduct a proper clean and full assessment of your mouth. They will perhaps conduct an x-ray every now and then to identify and diagnose deep cavities that may not be obvious on the surface.
If you know that you’re prone to cavities, go and see your dentist more regularly!
- Avoid drinking and eating sugary drinks and foods.
Sugary foods and drinks, as you now know, feed harmful bacteria that are the cause for dental cavities. By making healthy choices, you can keep your smile looking healthy and beautiful for longer!
Struggling with tooth decay and missing teeth? Contact the friendly team at Next Smile™ to discuss your options.