Tooth decay and 11 risk factors

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What is tooth decay? Is tooth decay serious? Let’s find out in this article!

Overview

Cavities are holes on your teeth’s hard surface that have sustained permanent damage. When you often consume sweet foods and beverages without brushing your teeth each day, cavity and tooth decay might result.

The most common dental condition is cavities, which are particularly common in children, teenagers, and the elderly. Infants may occasionally also have decayed teeth.

Larger cavities that penetrate into the inner layers of your teeth can result in fractured teeth, bleeding gums, and excruciating toothaches. The best defense for your teeth is hence consistent brushing and flossing.

Tooth decay
Tooth decay – Is tooth decay serious?

Symptoms

The location and size of the cavity will determine the symptoms. At first, tooth decay may not show any symptoms. Most typical signs occur as the decaying holes get bigger and include:

  • Toothache even when not biting or chewing
  • Mild or severe discomfort when eating or drinking something sweet, spicy or cold
  • Visible black spots on your teeth surface 
  • Darkening of the teeth

When to see a dentist?

The early stages of cavities don’t show any symptoms, so it’s important to schedule routine check-up sessions. Go to a dental office if you get a fever or jaw pain.

Causes

Cavities develop from tooth decay — a procedure that happens over time. Here’s how tooth decay progresses:

  • Plaque forms: Dental tartar is an invisible layer. It develops when you overeat in sweet foods and neglect to properly brush your teeth. Plaque quickly forms when sugars on your teeth are not eliminated by brushing or flossing. Tartar forms when plaque under or above your gum line hardens (calculus). Tartar creates a barrier for germs and makes plaque more difficult to remove.
  • Plaque attacks: Cavities start as microscopic breaches in the enamel caused by the acids in plaque that remove the outer enamel’s minerals. The subsequent layer of your teeth, known as dentin, might then be destroyed by microorganisms. Because dentin is weaker than enamel, it may be destroyed by germs more quickly. Finally, the germs get to the tooth’s nerve, which causes sensitivity.
  • Destruction continues: Acid and bacteria from tooth decay move to the pulp, which contains blood vessels and nerves, as the condition worsens. The germs are what create the inflamed and swollen pulp. Since there isn’t enough room, the nerve is compressed and starts to hurt as the swelling increases.
Plaque forms
Plaque forms

Risk factors

The following factors can increase risk of getting cavities:

  • Tooth location: The back teeth are where decay typically shows itself (molars and premolars). These teeth have many roots, pits, and nooks where food frequently gets caught. Additionally, they require more effort to clean debris than front teeth.
  • Certain foods and drinks: Foods that stay to your teeth for a long time, such as milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, soda, dried fruit, cake, and cookies, are more likely to result in tooth decay than foods that can be removed with a simple brushing.
  • Frequent snacking or sipping: Regular sugary snacks and drinks give the bacteria more energy to grow and produce acids that damage your teeth. Particularly when you consume too much soft drink, your teeth are constantly bathed in acid.
  • Bedtime infant feeding: Infants are typically accustomed to receiving bottles of milk, juice, and other sweet beverages while they sleep. And for hours, these liquids stay on their teeth, nourishing the germs that cause tooth decay. It is frequently known as baby bottle tooth decay.
  • Inadequate brushing: After eating and drinking, brush and floss thoroughly because if you don’t, plaque builds quickly and the harm might begin.
  • Not getting enough fluoride: Natural mineral fluoride can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth decay, helping to avoid cavities. Fluoride is added to many public water systems due to its advantages for teeth. In addition, it is frequently found in toothpaste and mouthwash. But fluoride is typically absent from bottled water.
Flouride 
Flouride
  • Younger or older age: Cavities are widespread in adolescents and children aged 6 to 8 in the US. Also more vulnerable are the elderly. Teeth become more fragile as a result of gums receding and teeth wearing down over time. Additionally, older persons may use more medications, which increases the risk of tooth decay.
  • Dry mouth: Lack of saliva results in dry mouth, which inhibits food and plaque from being removed from your teeth. Salivary substances also work to neutralize the acid that bacteria create. By decreasing saliva production, several medications or chemotherapy treatments might raise your chance of developing cavities.
  • Worn fillings or dental devices: Dental fillings might disintegrate and leave a gap. Plaque can also quickly accumulate below dental appliances and be hard to remove.
  • Heartburn: Stomach acid can reflux into your mouth as a result of heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eroding your teeth’s enamel and negatively damaging the tooth. By exposing more of the dentin to bacterial attack, this increases the risk of tooth decay. If you have lost enamel, your dentist could suggest that you visit the doctor to examine if gastric reflux is the reason. 
  • Eating disorders: Significant teeth erosion and cavities can result from anorexia and bulimia. Vomiting causes stomach acid to repeatedly wash over the teeth, eroding the enamel. Saliva production might also be affected by eating disorders.

Complications

You may not be concerned if your child develops cavities because cavities and dental decay are so frequent. However, even in kids who don’t yet have their permanent teeth, cavities can form and persist indefinitely.

Most complications include:

  • Pain
  • Tooth abscess
  • Swelling or pus around a tooth
  • Damage or broken teeth
  • Chewing problems
  • Positioning shifts of teeth after tooth loss

In case of cavities and tooth decay get worse:

  • Pain that interferes with daily living
  • Weight loss or nutrition from eating or chewing problems
  • Tooth loss, which may affect your appearance
  • In some cases, a tooth abscess — a pocket of pus that’s caused by bacterial infection — which can lead to more serious or even life-threatening infections

Prevention

Teeth cleaning at home
Teeth cleaning at home

Good oral and dental hygiene are the best protection against cavity and tooth decay. Here are some recommendations for avoiding cavities:

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste: Use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth at least twice daily, ideally right after each meal. Use dental floss or a water flosser to clear away debris in between your teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth: Your dentist could advise using a fluoride-containing mouthwash if he believes you have a high risk of getting cavities.
  • Visit the dentist regularly: Have regular checkups to clean and test the condition of your teeth even when you have nothing wrong with them.
  • Consider dental sealants: An artificial plastic coating known as a sealant is placed on the chewing surface of back teeth. It covers food-collecting nooks and crevices to shield tooth enamel from acid and plaque. All children who are of school age should have sealants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although sealants may survive for several years, they must be frequently checked.
  • Drink some tap water: Most public water supplies have added fluoride, which can greatly prevent tooth decay. If you drink only bottled water, you’ll miss out on fluoride benefits.
  • Avoid frequent snacking and sipping: Every time you consume food or drink something other than water, you promote the production of acids in your mouth by bacteria that can destroy tooth enamel. If you eat or drink often during the day, your teeth will be constantly harmed.
  • Eat tooth-healthy foods: Certain meals and beverages are healthy for your teeth. Avoid eating things that stay in your teeth’s grooves and pits for a long time, or brush right away. However, meals like raw fruits and vegetables and unsweetened coffee, tea, and sugar-free gum can boost salivation and wash away meal remnants.
  • Consider fluoride treatments:In the event that you are not receiving enough fluoride, your dentist may advise periodic fluoride treatments. If your risk of tooth decay is really high, he could also recommend having custom trays made that fit over your teeth so that prescription fluoride can be applied.
  • Antibacterial treatments: Your dentist may suggest specific antibacterial mouthwash or other treatments to eradicate dangerous bacteria in your mouth if the condition of your teeth makes them prone to cavities.
  • Combined treatments: Cavities can be greatly reduced by chewing xylitol-based gum, using prescription fluoride, and using an antibacterial rinse.

See more: Scaling and polishing – deep oral cleaning

Q&A

Is tooth decay serious?

Damage to a tooth’s enamel surface is referred to as tooth decay. It happens when oral bacteria’s acid production destroys the enamel. Tooth decay leads to cavity (dental caries), or holes in your teeth. Dental decay, if left untreated, can result in pain, infection, and even tooth loss.

What do decaying teeth look like?

A white spot on the tooth might be an early sign of dental decay. A darker area or a hole in the tooth may be signs of more severe dental disease. The dentist may also take an X-ray to reveal signs of deterioration and look for soft or sticky spots on the teeth.

Can a cavity go away with brushing?

Despite all the benefits of brushing, the hollow will still be there. In actuality, there is little you can do to stop the progression of your cavity. Your cavity will continue to grow until it reaches the pulp chamber and starts to hurt. A root canal will be done if the cavity has reached the tooth’s pulp.

What age is normal for tooth decay?

Nearly 90% of adults ages 20 to 64 years have had decay in their teeth, a percentage that has not changed significantly between the 1999–2004 and 2011–2016 NHANES cycles. Older working-age adults 50 to 64 years had the greatest prevalence of decay (96%) in both NHANES cycles.

Is it too late if a cavity hurts?

If your cavity hurts, it’s not too late to save your tooth. Small cavities often don’t hurt too much, but as they become larger, they will begin to. That’s often when you first become aware of them.

Does a black spot on a tooth mean cavity?

There is really no way to tell, even if black specks may merely be surface stains and not always denote a hollow. As soon as you see a dark spot on a tooth, such as a black or brown mark, call the dentist.

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