What is Tooth Decay and How to Prevent it

If you've ever gone to the dentist for tooth pain or cavities, you're likely already familiar with some of the stages of tooth decay - whether through education, or bitter experience. For the rest of us, we simply have to trust our dentists and hope we never have to go through severe tooth decay!

 

What is Tooth Decay and How to Prevent it?

Tooth decay happens naturally from both the foods we eat and the natural buildup of bacteria. As bacteria builds up, it can destroy our teeth and cause infections. The beginning stages of tooth decay are known as dental caries, or more commonly as cavities, and they're the result of bacteria buildup on the teeth.  Additionally, they're the reason why we need to brush our teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and see our dentists twice a year.

When left unchecked or not cleaned thoroughly enough, cavities can progress to bigger, more costly problems down the road. The symptoms of tooth decay include a range of sensations, both subtle and severe - sensitivity to temperature or sweetness, the coloring of the teeth, halitosis or bad breath, painful bite, and bad tastes in the mouth, among others.

As tooth decay progresses, it can take a variety of different painful and uncomfortable forms within an individual's mouth.

 

stages-of-tooth-decay

 

Stages of Tooth Decay

There are five generally-accepted stages of tooth decay, give or take a few depending on the source:

1. Teeth Spotting

Tooth decay first begins to present itself as white spots or discoloration of the teeth. This is caused by sugars and acids which develop on the teeth over time, requiring us to brush our teeth to remove them.

2. Decaying Enamel

Once tooth decay progresses past the first stage, it begins to have an impact on a tooth's enamel. Enamel is the outermost protective layer of our teeth, and once it becomes too damaged, it will require attention from a dentist. At this point, many will begin to experience symptoms of a cavity, like sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and beverages.

3. Decaying Dentin

After the enamel on a tooth breaks down, a person is likely to begin experiencing some level of pain. This means that the bacteria and decay have reached the tissue beneath the enamel, the dentin, requiring a filling or other treatment from a dental professional.

4. Decay Reaches the Pulp

The pulp is the nerve ending that lies beneath each tooth. Once decay has reached a tooth's pulp, the individual will experience high levels of mouth pain, tooth pain, or even jaw pain. This point will also require a root canal and protective crown to stop the pain and to prevent bacteria from spreading and developing into a more serious infection.

5. Dental Abscess

In the final and most dangerous stage, tooth decay can progress to the tip of the tooth's root beneath the pulp, representing a serious infection. If the infection progresses beyond this point, it can harm the surrounding tissues and bones or spread to the bloodstream - even causing death, if untreated.

 

Tooth Decay Treatment

Tooth decay treatments will depend on which stage a given tooth is in. Ranging from simple to serious, tooth decay treatments include; extra prescribed cleaning at home (brushing, flossing), using fluoridated or otherwise extra strength toothpaste, receiving a filling from your dentist, placement of a root canal and crown, or, in severe cases, tooth extraction and replacement with a dental bridge or implant.

 

stages-of-tooth-decay

 

When Should You See a Dentist?

Like with most oral health concerns, it's best to call your dentist as soon as you have any doubts or worries about your oral health. Anytime you experience tooth sensitivity, discomfort, pain, or other decay-associated symptoms, you should reach out. If you're looking for a dentist in the Atlanta area, you can call us today at 404-254-5196.

 

Can You Reverse Tooth Decay?

Fortunately, it is possible to successfully fight tooth decay! Practicing good dental hygiene at home is the first step. This includes thoroughly brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day, and having your teeth cleaned at least twice a year.

Another completely passive defense against cavities is the consumption of fluoridated water - which you probably already practice if you're a US citizen! Fluoride helps rebuild the enamel of our teeth, and thus, was added to public drinking water in the 20th century to help fight cavities. In addition, you can find helpful fluoride toothpaste and mouthwashes at the store or through your dentist, which also help promote healthy teeth.

As you continue to practice good oral hygiene habits (i.e. brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, etc.), you'll notice the disappearance of most of the above symptoms. And, ultimately, by seeing your dentist twice a year for dental cleanings, you'll be able to spot the early stages of tooth decay before it becomes a bigger issue!  If you need help with tooth decay feel free to contact our dental office in Atlanta to schedule an appointment.  Call us at 404-254-5196 or click here to schedule an appointment online.

Kelle Dennis, D.D.S
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