Tooth Decay – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Tooth decay also known as dental caries or cavities is a common disease which affects a large percentage of the world population. It is widespread and generally occurs due to poor oral habits. It is the demineralization of tooth by the acid releasing bacteria. These acids cause the tooth to decay. The decay begins on the outer surface of the tooth and progresses to deeper layers.

Causes of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is not a suddenly occurring event. It occurs due to a constantly acting cause such as poor oral habits. Poor oral hygiene causes formation of plaque which is responsible for initiating caries formation. The organisms responsible for causing tooth decay are Streptococcus Mutans and Lactobacillus.

These bacteria release acids which initiates the decay of the teeth. The leading cause of caries is poor oral hygiene. Not brushing often and improper brushing leads to poor oral hygiene. Not rinsing after meals, excessive intake of starch and sugary diet, smoking also contributes to tooth decay.

Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Initially, there are no symptoms of decay till it has progressed extensively. A white chalky spot may appear on the tooth which indicates dissolution of the outer layer of tooth which is the enamel. The white chalky spot appears in only few cases and not in all.

As the tooth decay progresses, this white chalky spot turns brown due to further decay. The demineralization causes the area to become soft. The decay progresses in to deeper layers. When the decay has progressed in to deeper layers where nerves are present, it causes pain and sensitivity.

Prevention of Tooth Decay

The best way to prevent dental caries is by following a proper oral care routine. This will ensure good oral hygiene which best keeps dental caries at bay.

You don’t have to try anything fancy to maintain a good oral hygiene. Just sticking to the basics of oral hygiene would do such as brushing your teeth two times a day. Flossing your teeth at least once every alternate day. Regular dental check ups by the dentist at least once in three months.

When the patient is at risk of developing tooth decay, the dentist can take certain measures to protect the patient such as:

-Topical Fluoride: Applying Fluoride in the form of Stannous Fluoride on the tooth surface which prevents caries. This occurs due to the strengthening of the enamel by formation of fluoropatite.

-Fissure Sealants (Dental Sealants): These are applied on chewing surfaces of the molars (which are at high risk of developing caries).This prevents Plaque formation. This is especially done in children

Treatment of Tooth Decay

It is essential to identify whether specific habits are causing dental decay. These can be checked to prevent future occurrences of tooth decay.

Fillings: The tooth structure which has decayed cannot be recovered and must be replaced by a restorative material. This treatment is called Filling or restoration. The decayed part of the tooth is removed and filled by a suitable restorative material such as amalgam or composite.

Root Canal Treatment (RCT): If tooth decay has progressed to the nerves, an RCT is suggested. The entire pulp is removed and filled with inert material and sealed. A cap is also applied in most cases.

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