The term tooth decay is used to describe the process by which the hard tissues in the mouth erode because of the chemical and microbial environment of the mouth. Because this process is irreversible after a certain point, treatment should begin as soon as signs of tooth decay are spotted, before it becomes a more serious problem.
How to spot tooth decay?
Tooth decay affects the enamel first. If the decay has not yet gotten through the enamel, and there is no hole in the tooth, and the enamel is continuous, the damage can be reversed.
Causes of tooth decay
Tooth decay is almost always caused by improper at home oral hygiene, such as not brushing for long enough, or not brushing often enough, or not using dental floss. Food detritus that is not removed after meals form plaque, which start chemical reactions that dissolve the minerals in your enamel and cause tooth decay.
Certain patients are more susceptible to tooth decay than others. Your age, diet, oral hygiene routine, the chemical make-up of you saliva, the social and environmental conditions that you live in, not to mention the anatomical properties of the teeth are all important factors.
Symptoms of tooth decay
Tooth decay is usually discovered visually; it appears as a darker splotch on the teeth. In other cases patients feel unevenness of the tooth surface when their tongue brushes the tooth, and in more severe cases, sharper bits of tooth jutting out. The first symptom is usually sensitivity to cold. Although this is not necessarily a symptom of tooth decay, as other things can also cause tooth sensitivity, you should still book an appointment with your dentist just in case.
If tooth decay is discovered early enough, using fluoridated gels and a hygiene session with your dentist will be enough to stop the process and reverse it.
If there is already a cavity, then the solution is to remove the decayed bits of tissue, and to fill up the resulting hole with tooth coloured composite resin. It is highly advisable to get the tooth filled as soon as you get the diagnosis, as the decay will get deeper every day, and if it gets deep enough into the tooth you will need a root canal treatment.