If you are a golfer, then a hole-in-one is quite the achievement! However, if you get a hole in one of your teeth, then you are probably not going to be nearly as thrilled.
What many people may not realise though is that tooth (dental) decay is largely a preventable disease and when detected in its early stages it can be stopped and reversed. So, the following article is going to explore tooth decay in more depth and provide you with the tools to help reduce your risk of dental decay.
But firstly, to clarify, in this article we are mainly going to use the term decay. Yet, sometimes tooth decay is referred to as caries, cavities or simply just as a hole.
What is dental decay?
Our mouth is home to many different types of bacteria. Whilst many of them are harmless and even good, some of them are not. When the balance of ‘bad’ bacteria shift it can increase your risk of dental disease, from decay to gum disease.
However, together the different types of bacteria create a biofilm, commonly referred to as dental plaque. When we eat and drink, the bacterial biofilm in our mouth turns sugars and carbohydrates into acid. The acid by-product produced by the decay-causing bacteria can cause mineral loss to the tooth’s strong outer layer known as the enamel, through a process known as ‘demineralisation’.
In the right conditions, when demineralisation occurs our teeth will naturally try to ‘remineralise’ themselves. This is the initial stage of dental decay. It is during this stage in which the decay can be stopped or reversed.
However, if the conditions are not right, unfortunately the teeth are unable to remineralise. The decay-causing bacteria will then further dissolve the tooth’s enamel reaching the second layer of the tooth, called the dentine. When the bacteria reach the dentine layer, the tooth is now no longer able to remineralise and repair itself. This is when a tooth needs to have a filling to stop the bacteria travelling any further into the tooth and spreading.
What happens if decay is not treated?
As mentioned, if the bacteria reach the dentine then a tooth needs to have a filling. Meaning that the bacteria and damaged part of the tooth which could not be remineralised are removed, and a dental material placed. This acts to stop the bacteria from being able to progress any further into the tooth.
However, if left untreated the bacteria will continue to damage the tooth. This can happen quite rapidly once the bacteria are in the dentine layer; as dentine is not as strong as enamel. Gradually the bacteria continue to dissolve and destroy the dentine moving closer to the middle of the tooth until it reaches the nerve (or pulp) of your tooth. The pulp though plays a special role in keeping your tooth alive. So, if the bacteria reach the pulp then it can cause an infection to the tooth, resulting in an abscess.
Does decay hurt?
During the early phase of the decay process, you may have no symptoms or signs. However, as the decay progresses this is when people first start to notice sensitivity or pain – especially to sweet, acidic or cold foods and drinks. But this can turn into a what we know as a toothache when the decay gets larger, moving closer and closer to the nerve.
What are the treatment options for tooth decay?
The treatment of decay largely depends on how much damage the bacteria has caused. In the very early stage of the decay process, you can practice good oral hygiene habits and be conscious of your diet to encourage your tooth to remineralise itself. Yet, if the bacteria reach the dentine a simple filling can help to stop the decay from progressing any further. But if the decay has damaged a large proportion of the tooth then it may require more extensive or complex dental treatment. This may mean a larger filling, a crown or root canal therapy.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts sometimes the decay has damaged so much of the tooth that we may not be able to save it and you may need to have the tooth extracted. That is why at Subiaco Dental Practice we like to focus on prevention and early detection! Which can save you time and money later on.
After the decay is treated can the tooth get decay again?
Unfortunately, yes, it can. Just because a tooth has a filling or has been treated previously for decay it does not mean that it cannot be attacked by the same decay-causing bacteria again. If you do not practice good oral hygiene habits or if the bacteria still have a food source, you can get recurrent decay or new decay in the same way that the tooth got decay initially.
Furthermore, dental materials are not quite as strong as your natural tooth and can require replacement in the future too. This is yet another reason why prevention is better than a cure!
How do you know if you have decay?
Your dentist is the best person to let you know if you have tooth decay. At Subiaco Dental Practice we use your regular dental check-ups to look for early signs of decay. We also use x-rays to help us to check areas we may not clinically be able to see, like in between your teeth and around existing fillings and restorations.
If decay progresses past the early stages, this is when you are most likely to notice. You may start to have pain or sensitivity. It is also during the later stages of decay that you may start to see the hole for yourself.
What can you do to reduce your risk of decay?
Given that dental decay is a relatively preventable disease, there a few things which you can do to
help reduce your risk factors. This includes:
- Practising good oral hygiene habits at home
- – Brushing at least twice a day
- – Cleaning in between your teeth at least once a day
- – Using a fluoride-containing toothpaste
- Reduce your intake of sugary and acid foods and drinks
- Avoid snacking in between meals
- Keep well hydrated with water
But importantly remember to have regular dental check-ups. That way potential problem areas can be identified early. At Subiaco Dental Practice we like to work out what your risk factors for dental disease are and use that to determine how frequently you should have a dental check-up.
Unfortunately, though sometimes your tooth may be more susceptible to decay because of the way the enamel has formed or because the tooth has deep pits and fissures which trap bacteria. If this is the case your dentist will be able to identify these high-risk areas and suggest extra ways to help strengthen and protect these teeth.
At Subiaco Dental Practice, our goal is to prevent dental disease and because dental decay is a preventable disease, that is why we wanted to share this article with you. As remember the earlier dental decay is detected, the easier it is to treat.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, we hope that it has provided usefully. But should you have any questions or concerns then please contact us at Subiaco Dental Practice on (08) 9388 8555 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Tooth decay is the process in which acid-producing bacteria damages a tooth.
- For tooth decay to happen there needs to be three things:
- – A tooth,
- – The acid-producing bacteria,
- – A food source for the bacteria to feed from.
- During the early stage of the decay process the tooth’s enamel can repair itself, through a process called remineralisation.
- If decay-causing bacteria infiltrate the tooth’s dentine layer it can spread quickly but a simple filling can help to stop the decay
- If decay is not treated it can continue to spread and reach the tooth’s nerve causing infection, meaning more complex and expensive dental treatment is required to save the tooth.
- In the early stages of the decay process there may be no pain or symptoms.
- Decay can be prevented by practising good oral hygiene habits, by being aware of your diet and through early detection.