Tooth decay is the number one issue facing dental patients each year. Degrees of tooth decay vary, and decay can begin from a variety of causes. However, the most common cause is food particles getting stuck on or trapped in between teeth as a result of improper oral hygiene. Preventing tooth decay, or cavities, can get harder as you get older, too, since it is likely you will or go through situations like vitamin deficiencies or periods of increased stress.
Knowing you have tooth decay may be frightening, but don't worry. There are many relatively painless ways your dentist can help!
Tooth decay happens as a result of damage and bacterial infection of a tooth's enamel by prolonged exposure to bacteria-feeding foods, acidic damage, abrasions and other factors. The most common causes of tooth decay are as follows:
- Lack of proper dental hygiene: Tooth decay happens when the bacteria consume the sugars and residue the foods you eat leave behind. The bacteria then produce an acid that wears down tooth enamel. If the teeth aren't cleaned, the bacteria will continue to produce the acid, causing the enamel to erode and form cavities. Most dentists recommend brushing and flossing at least twice a day to prevent mouth bacteria from damaging the teeth.
- Prolonged exposure to damaging substances: Tooth decay can be accelerated by exposure to sugary or acidic substances such as soda and juice — especially citrus-based juice. Smoking tobacco is also a leading cause of tooth decay, which is why dentists recommend that patients quit smoking as soon as possible.
- Worn and damaged enamel: This is a common cause of tooth decay in older dental patients. Over time, enamel tends to weaken simply from wear and tear on the teeth.
- Nutrient deficiencies: Sometimes the enamel can be weakened due to a lack of proper nutrients or a lack of fluoride in the water, which can leave you more vulnerable to tooth decay.
Treatment options vary based on the progression of tooth decay. However, today's dentists are equipped with tools to both prevent cavities and help restore teeth that have already undergone decay.
1. Composite Fillings
If you have a minor to moderate cavity, your dentist will most likely give you a filling. During the filling procedure, the dentist numbs the area around the tooth and uses a small drill to remove the decayed portion of the tooth. Once the decayed area is gone, the dentist fills the tooth with a tooth-colored composite mixture — the "filling." Once the dentist is done layering and hardening the filling, the composite mixture is shaped and hardened to resemble the rest of the tooth.
2. Root Canals
Root canal therapy is performed for cavities that have extended into the root of a tooth and have begun to cause an infection. During a root canal procedure, the dentist will first numb the area. Then they will create a small opening at the top of the tooth. From this opening, the dentist will remove the infected pulp and clean the area. Finally, the dentist will fill the tooth and close it with a temporary filling that is replaced in a few weeks with a crown.
3. Dental Crowns
Dental crowns, also called "caps," are simply restorations placed overtop a tooth that help restore a tooth's structure after it has been damaged. Crowns are usually made to look like regular enamel, and they're even used sometimes in cosmetic dentistry. A crown is also different from a filling in that is protects the entire tooth instead of just a small portion. Crowns are typically used after a root canal or to repair other moderate to severe tooth damage.
4. Dental Bridges
Dental bridges are used when you need to fill the gap created by a missing tooth. A bridge is made of a false tooth set between two crowns. This way, the false tooth is secured by the structural support of the teeth on either side.
5. Dentures and Partials
Dentures and partials (partial dentures) are used in cases where tooth damage is so severe that some or all of the teeth need to be removed. While dentures are a full set of false teeth, partials are only a partial set. Both dentures and partials are carefully fitted to a patient's mouth to ensure they are both comfortable and completely functional.
About Anderson Dental
At Anderson Dental Group, we are dedicated to our patients' dental health and comfort, and we strive to provide excellent dental care to the surrounding community. If you're concerned about tooth decay, our friendly and experienced staff can help. Get in touch with us today to schedule an appointment!