Gradual, progressive decay of a tooth is known as dental caries. Dental caries usually starts as a small cavity in j the enamel (the hard, protective outer covering I of a tooth).
If left untreated, the decay eventually penetrates the outer layer of enamel and ! attacks the dentine (the softer material that makes up the bulk of a tooth). As the tooth decay progresses, the pulp (the living core of the tooth that contains the nerves and the blood vessels) may be affected. If the pulp is exposed to decay and becomes infected, it may die.
What Are The Causes?
- Tooth decay is usually caused by a build-up of plaque (a deposit of food particles, mucus and bacteria) on the surface of the teeth. The bacteria in plaque break down the sugar in food to produce an acid that erodes the tooth enamel. If sugar)7 foods and drinks are taken regularly and the teeth are not cleaned thoroughly soon afterwards, a cavity is likely to form eventually.
- The condition is especially common in children, adolescents and young adults as they are more likely to have a diet high in sugar and fail to clean their teeth regularly.
- Babies who frequently fall asleep with a bottle of juice in the mouth may also develop severe caries, especially in the front teeth, called “bottle mouth”.
What Might Be Done?
- Your dentist will examine your teeth with a probe and a mirror to look for areas of decay. An X-ray may also be taken to reveal decay that may be developing beneath the surfaces of the teeth.
- If you have superficial dental caries that is restricted to the surfaces of the enamel, your dentist may only apply fluoride to the area and advise you to be more careful about oral hygiene.
- If tooth decay has penetrated further into the enamel, or if it has affected the dentine, your dentist will probably need to fill the affected tooth. An injection of local anaesthetic is often used to numb the tooth and nearby gum to prevent you from feeling pain. When the area is numb, the decayed parts of the tooth are drilled out, and the cavity is cleaned and filled to stop further decay.
- If you have pulpitis (inflammation of the pulp) and it is found that the pulp cannot be saved you may need root canal treatment.
Can It Be Prevented?
Your teeth and gums should be brushed and flossed regularly to keep them clean and free from plaque. You can also help prevent dental caries from developing by resisting the temptation of sugary foods and drinks and eating safe snacks.