Tooth decay is probably the most common condition affecting all segments of the population in all age groups. The oral cavity is a storehouse of all kinds of bacteria. The flood gates are opened when these bacteria attack retained food in the teeth and oral cavity. This produces acid that dissolves the tooth enamel (the outer coating of the teeth) leading to cavities.
The most common site for tooth decay are fissures and grooves on the chewing surfaces of molars and areas of contact with adjacent teeth. Since these are difficult areas to keep clean they are potential areas for food to get trapped leading to a cavity. The decay begins as a small white spot on the outer surface of the tooth, which turns brown or black. This then progresses to form cavities where there is a hole in the tooth. Food gets lodged inside the cavity and the patient experiences discomfort or pain or sensitivity to hot and cold items.
When the decay is unattended by this stage it goes deeper into the tooth and touches the pulp space containing the nerves and blood vessels. This now causes acute pain. The pulp has now been infected. Here a mere filling to treat the tooth will not help. The patient will either have to extract the tooth or do a Root Canal Treatment to remove the infection inside the pulp. If the tooth is still not treated at this stage the infection goes beyond the pulp and the root tip and into the surrounding bone. An abscess is now caused which can cause pain, swelling, fever and later discharge of pus.
What are the causes of tooth decay?
1. Poor oral Hygiene. Irregular and improper brushing, not rinsing with water or mouthwash after meals speed up the process of tooth decay. Bacteria multiply maximum during the night when asleep and the mouth and tongue is still. Not brushing at night can increase the chance of dental decay.
2. Unregulated diet of sweet food and drinks. Periodic snacking on aerated drinks, jams, sweets, chocolate, even potato chips can lead to the formation of cavities. Even chewing gum that is not sugar-free can predispose you to dental decay.
3. Bad or worn out dental fillings. Tooth decay might develop again from exposed tooth surfaces.
Can this decayed tooth be saved?
The thumb rule in Dentistry is that the earlier you treat a decayed tooth the better chance it has to be saved and last for a long time. If the tooth is not treated the decay only gets worse.
In shallow and moderately deep cavities, the dentist drills out the decay (as the enamel is the hardest structure in the body) and fills it up to restore the original tooth shape. Conventional filling materials like a silver filling were used most often. This contains
an alloy of Silver and Mercury. Recently there have been a lot of concerns amongst patients about mercury poisoning. They prefer the other filling alternative which is a tooth colored composite resin which matches with the patients tooth shade.
This material has increasingly become popular now and is often the filling material of choice.
Earlier, teeth that were extensively decayed with damage to the pulp were extracted. Today Root Canal Treatment can effectively save such teeth.
Tips to prevent tooth decay
Don’t wait till it hurts!!
» Reduce the frequency of intake of sweets during the day. A balanced diet that includes all food groups such as fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, cereals, dairy products, meat and fish provides the essential nutrients required for dental growth. Clean your teeth after eating. It is essential for tooth protection.
» Eat less of refined carbohydrates, especially food containing sugars. Restrict carbohydrate food only to mealtime. Food that are eaten as part of the meal cause less harm. More saliva is released during a meal, which helps wash foods from the mouth and lessens effects of the acids.
»Consume lots of fibrous food, as it has a cleansing and gum massaging action.
» The last item of your meal should preferably be salads, or fruits.
» Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
» Keep dentures, retainers and other appliances extremely clean. This involves brushing them regularly and keeping them in a cleaning solution.
» Clean your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners. Visit your dentist every 6 months. Your dentist can help prevent problems and catch those that do occur while they are easy to treat. If you have got treatment done with your dentist don’t assume that your teeth will be in good shape forever. You have to visit the dentist regularly to see that the treatment done continues to be in good shape besides having him check for other problems.
How Teeth Decay?