What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that erode the hard outer layer of your tooth, which is called dental enamel, exposing the much softer layer of tooth material underneath that is called dentin. As tooth decay progresses, it creates a cavity (dental caries). If not treated the decay will eventually reach the center of the tooth containing all the nerves and blood supply, causing pain and infection, and this can even lead to tooth loss.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is caused through the formation of plaque in your mouth, combined with eating foods high in carbohydrates and sugars. This is the sticky colorless layer that forms over your teeth throughout the day, and if you haven’t cleaned your teeth for a while, then you can often feel it only by running your tongue over your teeth.
Plaque contains bacteria that thrive on leftover foods in the mouth, producing acids and toxins as a by-product and which attack your teeth. Every time you eat the acidity in your mouth will increase, weakening the tooth enamel and increasing the risk of tooth decay. It’s even worse if you frequently snack throughout the day, as the acidity levels will remain high for more extended periods.
Preventing Tooth Decay and Treating It
Preventing tooth decay is very straightforward, and relies on proper oral hygiene at home combined with preventative dental care at Midtown Dentistry. If you are overdue for a visit, then now is a great time to book a dental exam and professional cleaning.
Professional Dental Care
Dr. Jonathan Penchas or another of our dentists will examine your teeth for any small signs of cavities or lesions that require treatment. Sometimes it might be possible to treat microscopic lesions or pits in the teeth with fluoride to help harden the tooth surfaces, but otherwise, it will be necessary to fill the tooth.
Regular check-ups are essential, even if you think your teeth are trouble-free. Often dental diseases such as tooth decay will not present any symptoms until relatively well advanced. By this stage, you are likely to need a much more substantial filling, or possibly even root canal treatment. If the cavity is too big, it might be necessary to crown the tooth. All of these options are much more expensive and time-consuming than a tiny filling.
Routine dental cleanings will remove any hardened plaque from your teeth. Plaque begins to harden within 48 hours or so, and after this has occurred, it can only be removed by a dental professional through scraping it away. Professional cleanings help to decrease the chance of tooth decay as well as gum disease. Other treatments that can help reduce the risk of tooth decay include dental sealants and fluoride treatments. Ask your dentist for further information.
Oral Care at Home
If you want to decrease your risk of tooth decay, then you need to make sure you brush your teeth twice a day and that you floss once a day. You also need to make sure your technique is the very best it can be. If you’d like some extra help, then ask our dental staff for advice on the best way to brush and floss.
Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Lessen the Risk of Tooth Decay
Even small changes can make a difference. Cutting out snacks in between meals or choosing healthier snacks such as cheese or vegetables will help decrease the amount of time your teeth are exposed to acid. If you smoke, then quitting will lower your risk as nicotine increases the ability of plaque to stick to your teeth.
Saliva is naturally cleansing, so if you suffer from dry mouth, then take action to address this problem. It can be helpful to suck sugar free candy or to use sugar-free chewing gum to help stimulate the flow of saliva and to make sure you are well hydrated.