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Understanding Tooth Decay: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

20 Feb 2023

We’re all told from a young age that sugar is bad for our teeth and that we must brush every morning and night. Aside from keeping your breath fresh and our teeth nice and white, it’s essential to practice good oral hygiene habits to stop tooth decay. 

If you’ve ever needed a filling, you’ve likely had tooth decay. As one of the most common non-communicable diseases on the planet, it’s something we all need to know about and that we should all take steps to prevent. 

So, what exactly is tooth decay? What causes it? What should you do if it’s already affecting your teeth? And how can you stop it from damaging your teeth in the future?

This guide will give you the full lowdown on the symptoms and prevention strategies for tooth decay that you should understand. 

What Is Tooth Decay?

As the name implies, tooth decay is the deterioration of your teeth. When the surfaces of your teeth start to wear down, small holes appear. Often referred to as cavities or caries, tooth decay is permanent damage. 

Left untreated, tooth decay can have a serious impact on your oral health, and it may even cause you other health issues. 

What Causes Tooth Decay?

Although some teeth are more susceptible to cavities than others, tooth decay is caused by a combination of two things; bacteria and sugar. 

Inside everyone’s mouths, there are countless different bacteria. Although we generally think of bacteria as being harmful, many of the bacteria in our mouths are actually perfectly harmless. In fact, some break down food and even work to keep your teeth healthy. 

But present at all times, every one of us has the type of bacteria that can cause tooth decay. Just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean it will cause you harm. These bacteria need sugar before they do damage. 

Sugar is in so much that we eat and drink, from sweets and soft drinks to healthier options like fruit. When we consume a lot of sugar and we don’t brush our teeth right away, the bacteria feed on it, and as it does so, it produces an acid that erodes enamel. 

You might notice that your teeth and gums are often coated in a slightly sticky substance. This is called plaque. Plaque contains bacteria. By clinging to your teeth, plaque build-up makes acid erosion more likely. If plaque isn’t removed, it hardens and discolours, becoming tartar.

Tooth enamel might be the toughest material in the human body, but acid erosion will gradually weaken it until cavities form. 

What Are the Symptoms Of Tooth Decay?

One of the first signs of tooth decay is that your teeth feel sensitive to different temperatures. Eating or drinking anything too hot or cold may also cause shooting sensations. Gradually, this will progress to a more continuous toothache which may include sudden sharp pain, seemingly without reason. 

It’s sometimes possible to see teeth decay. You might notice areas of your tooth that are darker, or they may have black spots. 

Additionally, you might also experience a strange, unpleasant taste in your mouth and have bad breath. 

How Is Tooth Decay Treated?

If you have a cavity, we’ll typically fix this with a filling. Fillings are made of an amalgam or composite material. 

Amalgam fillings are silver-coloured and contain metals. These are durable and are usually used out of sight on your molars. Composite fillings are white, so they are great for treating more visible areas of decay. 

What Happens If You Ignore Tooth Decay?

Although common, tooth decay shouldn’t be dismissed or ignored. Leaving cavities to go untreated will lead to infection. Bacteria will penetrate deeper into your teeth until, eventually, the living areas at the core of the tooth become infected. 

Inside every tooth, there’s a pulp chamber that contains nerve endings, connective tissue, and blood vessels. The dental pulp runs down to the root canal. When this area is exposed to bacteria, you’ll need a root canal treatment to remove any infected matter. 

If you have a root canal infection, you’ll experience greater pain and sensitivity, and you may have difficulty biting and chewing. At this point, your tooth can still be saved. Eventually, if left, the tooth will die, and abscesses will form beneath it. 

Once a tooth dies, infection will spread to other areas of your mouth, including your gums and jaws. From here, it’s possible for the infection to enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs, including your heart. 

How Can You Prevent Tooth Decay?

Because tooth decay is caused by a buildup of plaque bacteria feeding on sugars in your diet, the best course of action is to maintain good oral hygiene standards and limit your sugar intake. 

It’s vital that you brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride helps strengthen your enamel, making them less susceptible to decay. 

Brushing often helps remove the plaque and food debris that builds up during the day or night, meaning there’s less risk of bacteria causing acid erosion. When brushing, ensure you’re thorough, spending plenty of time on every part of your mouth. 

Flossing is a great way to remove plaque and food debris between teeth. Adding flossing to your routine helps you maintain fresh breath and reduces the risk of decay. Rinsing using mouthwash is also helpful in the fight against plaque buildup. 

Sugar is an inevitable part of most people’s diet, but wherever possible, try to cut back on the amount you consume. The occasional soft drink or sweet treat probably won’t do too much harm, but if your diet is rich in sugar, you’re putting your teeth at greater risk. 

Finally, we recommend coming to see us for a regular checkup and a professional clean often. Regular checkups allow us to spot problems early when they’re still easy to fix. A routine clean from our hygienist will remove any tartar and improve your overall oral hygiene standards. 

Stop Tooth Decay With Love Teeth Dental

Prevention is always easier than the cure. At Love Teeth, the friendly teams in all of our Surrey clinics are here to help you maintain a great-looking, healthy smile. 

Call us today to book a routine checkup or an appointment with our hygienist, and together we’ll keep tooth decay at bay. 


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