Tooth Decay is damage that occurs when germs (bacteria) in your mouth make acids that eat away at a tooth. It can lead to a hole in the tooth, called a cavity. If not treated, tooth decay can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss.
What causes tooth decay?
Bacteria and food can cause tooth decay. A clear, sticky substance called plaque is always forming on your teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the food you eat.
As the bacteria feed, they make acids. The acids attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more after you eat. Over time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, causing tooth decay.
Things that make you more likely to have tooth decay include:
- Not brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and not seeing a dentist for checkups and cleanings.
- Eating foods that are high in sugar and other carbohydrates, which feed the bacteria in your mouth.
- Not getting enough fluoride. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acids produced by plaque. Fluoride is added to many public water supplies.
- Not having enough saliva. Saliva washes away food and harmful sugars, so it helps protect your teeth from decay.
- Smoking, using spit (smokeless) tobacco or breathing secondhand smoke.
What are the symptoms?
Tooth decay usually doesn’t cause symptoms until you have a cavity or an infected tooth. When this happens, you may have:
- A toothache, which is the most common symptom.
- Swelling in your gums near a sore tooth. This can be a sign of severe tooth decay or an abscessed tooth .
- Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.
- White, Grey, brown, or black spots on your teeth.
How is it treated?
The best treatment for tooth decay depends on how severe it is. If tooth decay is caught early, before cavity forms, you may be able to stop it by brushing with fluoride toothpaste or getting fluoride treatments. That’s one good reason to see your dentist on a regular basis.
If the decay has eaten through the enamel, you may need one or more of these treatments:
- A filling if a cavity has formed.
- A crown if the decay is severe and your tooth is badly damaged.
- A root canal if the pulp of your tooth is infected. A root canal removes the diseased pulp of a tooth.
- Removal (extraction) if the root of the tooth is severely damaged.
How can you prevent tooth decay?
You can prevent most tooth decay with these tips:
- Take good care of your teeth. Brush your teeth twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime. Use fluoride toothpaste. Floss once a day.
- See your dentist for check-ups once or twice a year so problems can be found before they’re serious.
- Don’t snack before bedtime. Food left on the teeth overnight is more likely to cause cavities.
- Avoid foods that have a lot of sugar, especially sugar-coated cereals, desserts, and sticky foods like taffy and raisins. The longer sugar is in contact with your teeth, the more damage it will do.