Tooth decay describes the condition wherein the tooth, under a variety of harsh conditions, break down leading to the formation of a cavity. It starts with a hole/opening in the enamel. If this is not treated, it progressively reaches the deeper sections of the tooth, where the pulp and the nerves are causing the tooth to become sensitive to a variety of stimuli, a variety of gum problems such as inflammation and swelling, pain and ultimately tooth loss.
Is it very common?
Tooth decay is a common dental ailment that may occur at any time or age. However, since the onset of tooth decay is strongly related to the unregulated consumption of sweet foods and beverages; it tends to affect the young and adolescents more than any other age. One form is diagnosed in nursing infants and is referred to as nursing caries.
What is 'Baby Bottle Tooth Decay'?
A serious form of tooth decay affects nursing infants and is called 'Nursing caries' or 'Baby bottle tooth decay'. In infants who are nursed continuously with a bottle/ formula milk/ pacifiers; the milk is retained in the mouth as the child falls asleep with the bottle. This milk is an excellent nutritive media for a variety of germs present in the mouth. The milk is broken down by the germs to form harsh acids which lead to the formation of a cavity on the tooth.
Causes of tooth decay?
What areas are likely to decay?
- Poor oral hygiene: Irregular and improper brushing, not flossing between teeth, not rinsing with water or mouthwash after meals speed up the process of tooth decay.
- Unregulated diet of sweet food and drinks: Periodic snacking on aerated drinks, jam, marmalade, even potato chips can lead to the formation of acidic by - products which damage the surface of the tooth enamel. This is the reason why most young children adolescents suffer from tooth decay.
- Bad or worn out dental fillings: Tooth decay might develop again from exposed tooth surfaces.
- Teeth next to each other because this area is hard to clean
- Fissures in the "chewing" (occlusal) surface of teeth
- Gum line
The most obvious sign of tooth decay is toothache, particularly after hot or cold foods or drinks. However, pain may not be present until decay has reached an advanced stage.
What can i do if i have tooth decay?
- Pits or holes may also be visible in the teeth.
- Most tooth decay is discovered at an early stage during a routine check up.
- A serious complication can be the development of a tooth abscess - the build up of pus resulting from a bacterial infection of the centre of the tooth.
- Infection may spread out from the root of the tooth and to the bones supporting the tooth.
- Plaque and tartar also irritate the gums, and lead to a gum disease called gingivitis.
If you have developed black or brown spots of decay on your teeth either in the fissures or on the smooth surfaces and it is associated with discomfort and /or sensitivity to hot and cool and /or frank pain, it is likely that you have tooth decay. Your dentist will evaluate you comprehensively and based on his clinical and radiographic findings he will do one of the following:
"PREVENTION IS THE BEST CURE FOR TOOTH DECAY"
- When decay is limited to enamel: Treatment at this initial stage is preventive in nature because it will stop the decay process from extending to deeper areas of the tooth. All that is necessary is a simple filling. It is usually painless at this stage. Your dentist will clean out the decayed part of enamel and fill the resulting cavity with either silver amalgam, or preferably, with the newer tooth coloured composite material.
- When decay has extended to dentin: This may be painful after eating or with cold water. Food is likely to be lodged in the cavity. Treatment at this stage consists of a more extensive filling. It may be necessary to numb the area during treatment. One of the above materials may be used.
- When decay has reached the nerve: Serve pain is the usual complaint. The invading bacteria cause the nerve of the tooth to become inflamed. Root canal treatment will be necessary at this stage if the tooth has to be saved. Subsequently he will put a veneer or a crown on the tooth as the case may be.
- Infection reaches bone: The bacteria destroy the nerve and spread to the bone of the jaw. The bone is thus inflamed and infected. The infection may erode through the side of the bone into the mouth, face or neck to cause a swelling.
Certain preventive measures are known to reduce the risk of tooth decay. You must practice these good dental habits.
Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination.
Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Hold a soft brush at the gum line at a 45o angle. Brush in a circular motion to massage the gums and an up-down motion to dislodge plaque. Do this gently on the outer as well as inner surfaces of teeth.
- Choose The Right Toothbrush:
Dentists recommend using a toothbrush with soft bristles and small head. Replace your toothbrush every 3 months or as soon as it loses it's original shape. Once a brush loses its shape, you require more pressure for the same cleaning action. This extra pressure is damaging to gums as well as the protective enamel layer.
Floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth. Take about 18" of floss and wrap most of it around your middle finger and the rest around the middle finger of the other hand, leaving a 2" length between them. Using your thumb and forefinger, gently scrape the side of each tooth away form the gum.
Rinse your mouth with water thoroughly after each meal. Rinse for a minute everyday with mouthwash.
- Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking
- Check with your dentist about use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, and about use of dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from decay.