Even after trying your best to prevent tooth decay, sometimes the dentist finds a little cavity or two. It may be tempting to put off tooth decay treatment when you're not feeling any pain, but procrastination comes with a price: Tooth decay doesn't repair itself, and what starts out as a minor problem can quickly become serious, changing your treatment options dramatically.
Tooth decay refers to the damage of the teeth enamel. The enamel is the tough, external part of your teeth. This can be problematic to adults, teens and children. A sticky layer of film known as plaque continuously forms on the teeth. When you drink or eat foods containing sugars, these germs in the plaque manufacture acids which attack the tooth enamel. The sticky plaque helps keep the acids in contact with the teeth and after a period of time, the enamel breaks down.
You won't notice pain and sensitivity until decay goes through the enamel into the dentin layer. Dentin is made up of tiny nerve endings that become irritated and cause sensitivity when exposed to hot, cold, sweet, sticky and sour foods. You may also feel discomfort when biting down and find that food frequently gets trapped between your teeth.
Decay spreads rapidly through dentin because it is much softer than enamel. Root decay also spreads quickly, since the cementum covering on the root is not as hard and thick as enamel. Be warned that as tooth decay continues, your pain may be more frequent and intense.
It is important to remember that infection develops when decay and germs reach the pulp portion of your tooth, which contains the nerves and blood vessels. Pain from an abscessed tooth is persistent, serious and will likely keep you up at night. Other symptoms include fever, facial swelling and a bad taste in your mouth. You may notice pus draining from a red swelling on your gum near the root tip. Consequences can be serious if the infection spreads into your jawbone or throughout your body.
If your dentist detects a small area of erosion on your enamel before it reaches the dentin, he may suggest an approach that would help repair the spot. This process might include at home use remedies. Alternatively he may suggest using mouthwashes, toothpastes or filling materials that contain fluoride, calcium and phosphates.
When decay reaches the dentin, there is no turning back. A small cavity can be repaired with either an amalgam filling (composed of silver and other metals) or a tooth-colored resin material. If the tooth has lost a lot of its structure, however, your dentist may need to do a crown. Crowns strengthen and restore shape and function to your teeth, but they cost quite a bit more than a simple filling.
An abscessed tooth is the worst-case scenario, and your treatment options are slim: You can either opt for a root canal treatment or an extraction, though dentists will typically only do extractions when there are no other means of saving the tooth. Should you require a root canal, your dentist or an endodontist will remove the unhealthy pulp and clean and seal the pulp chamber. After root canal treatment, teeth can become more brittle and break easily. If you lost a lot of tooth structure due to decay, your dentist may also recommend a crown for your tooth.
Do you see a pattern here? The longer you put off dental treatment, the more involved and expensive it becomes — and the more pain you may have to endure. The moral of this story is to go to the dentist at the first sign of trouble. Better yet, help prevent decay from occurring by brushing and flossing daily, and visiting your dentist regularly for a more thorough cleaning and checkup. Please visit Health 24 for more information on tooth decay.