Tooth Decay – What is it?

Tooth Decay, what is it?

Tooth Decay

What is this thing – Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is a pretty self-described phenomenon. As you can see in the image above, it is essentially the decaying of your teeth. There are various stages of tooth decay as well. It’s caused by the same thing that causes gum disease; bacteria. There are other names for it as well: cavities, caries, dental caries…to name a few.

I know that simply stating that tooth decay is caused by bacteria may be a bit incredible, but it is true. Those nasty “bugs” can actually help to cause holes in your teeth. If bacteria stays on your teeth for a long enough time, the acid made by the bacteria eating the food on your teeth will begin to demineralize and break down the tooth, starting with the enamel (usually). This is why dentists and hygienists always want you to maintain good home care in terms of your oral hygiene. This is why they want you to floss too!

You may have had a cavity in the past. Do you remember where it was located (if the doctor showed you)? Usually the spots that are hardest to clean on the teeth are the first to start decaying. For instance, the deep grooves in your molars and bicuspids are perfect places for bacteria to escape your brush and start causing damage to your teeth. Same thing goes for the spaces in between your teeth that you can’t get to unless you are flossing. Also, the further back in your mouth the teeth are, in general, the harder they are to clean right.

There is currently no known way to “regenerate” your tooth structure. So, it is very important that the decay of your teeth be kept to a minimum. You want the teeth you have, and you want them to last a lifetime.

Stages of tooth decay.

Tooth decay does have stages, much like the progressive worsening of the gums and jaw bone that come from bacteria that are causing gum disease.

As you may have noticed in the picture above, the decay will continue to get deeper and deeper into the tooth. It usually starts in the enamel layer of the tooth, which is the hardest tissue in the body. Once it moves through that, it is then into the dentin of the tooth. The dentin, being a lot softer than enamel, is much easier for the bacteria to go through, and it can spread very fast in this layer. After it’s through the dentin, the bacteria will infect the nerve of the tooth. You would know if the root is infected as it usually is quite painful (though sometimes, you may not experience any symptoms). Once the root of the tooth is infected, the only treatment options you usually have at that point are, a. root canal, or b. pull the tooth. If you wait long enough, you could also develop an abscess at the tip of the infected root.

It’s best, in the handling of tooth decay, to “nip in the bud.” You want to remove the bacteria that is eating up your tooth, and you want to do it before it hits the nerve of your tooth.

Handling tooth decay.

In order to remove the decay, the dentist will have to physically remove the broken down and demineralized parts of your tooth, this is done using a special drill. When the doctor removes the decay he will seal the tooth back up, usually with something like a composite resin material that looks like natural tooth material. That is essentially what they have to do. It’s pretty simple. It only get’s complex when the bacteria have decayed your tooth to the point that you will need a root canal. When that occurs, it’s not only more complex of a procedure, it’s also much more expensive.

The best way, in my opinion, to fight tooth decay is a as a preventative measure. Clean your teeth well, don’t eat a lot of sugar, floss, and ensure that you are regularly going to your dentist for professional cleanings and checkups.

You have but one permanent set of teeth, make them last a lifetime.

Stay healthy my friends.



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