What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is when a tooth becomes weakened by sugar attacks and plaque acid. The medical term for tooth decay is dental caries.
Why does tooth decay matter?
If left untreated, decay can spread within a tooth and weaken the enamel and dentine until the tooth crumbles. This can result in the tooth no longer being useful for chewing and can affect the appearance of your smile.
It can cause tooth sensitivity and in some cases, tooth decay can cause severe pain and infections requiring emergency or urgent dental treatment.
How do you know if you have tooth decay?
Tooth decay is often seen as a black, grey, brown or white mark, or a hole in a tooth. Sometimes tooth decay can be sensitive or painful, but sometimes is not felt at all, and only detected by a dentist during a dental examination.
What causes tooth decay?
Tooth decay is caused by the normal bacteria living in your mouth eating some of the sugar in your diet and producing plaque acid. The acid removes calcium from the enamel and dentine in your teeth and so weakens their structure. These weakened areas of decalcification become soft and can eventually crumble into a cavity.
How to prevent tooth decay
Every time you eat or drink something sugary, the bacteria in your mouth produce plaque acid. The acid weakens your teeth for around 20 minutes after each sugar attack. The more sugar attacks you have, the longer each day your teeth will be weakened.
- Minimise the number of times you have a sugar attack each day by avoiding sugary snacks and drinks between mealtimes. If you have sugary treat, try to finish it in one sitting rather than picking or sipping over a long period of time.
- Brush twice daily using a fluoride toothpaste.
- Use a good tooth brushing technique. Consider using an electric toothbrush.
- Clean between your teeth daily, using dental floss and/or interdental brushes.
- Visit your dentist for a dental checkup every 3-24 months as directed by your dentist.
A good base level oscillating rotating electric toothbrush
- Rotating oscillating
- Brushing timer
- Can use separate heads and share the handle between whole family
- Pressure sensor – tells you off for pushing too hard
How to reverse tooth decay
It may be possible to halt or even reverse early decay that has not yet crumbled into a cavity by making changes to your diet as well as using fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash. This should always be directed by your dentist after an dental examination usually including some dental X-Rays.
You will need to follow the advice above for preventing tooth decay and in addition to this:
- Use a high fluoride toothpaste (prescribed by your dentist) twice daily.
- Rinse with a fluoride mouthwash at two separate times to brushing.
- In some cases your dentist may apply a concentrated fluoride varnish directly to your teeth.
- The early decay will need to be monitored closely by your dentist with a dental checkup probably after 6 months or as soon as 3 months.
When does tooth decay need to be treated with a filling?
You dentist will advise if your decay needs treating with a filling or other dental restoration. This would usually be when there is a cavity that you will not be able to keep clean, if on a dental X-Ray your dentist can see that the decay has spread passed a threshold, or if you are experiencing any sensitivity or pain from the decay.
Other factors that may influence how your decay should be treated might be your diet (specifically how often you have sugary snacks and drinks), your pattern of attendance at the dentist, your level of oral hygiene, and how well you usually follow your dentist’s advice.