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Tooth Decay

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is the general name we give the damage that is done when the bacteria that occurs naturally in your mouth create acid that erodes your tooth. This can lead to a pain, infection and even the loss of the tooth.

Every tooth has three layers:

  • The hard enamel on the outside.
  • The middle layer of dentin.
  • The pulp at the centre of the tooth that contains the nerves and blood vessels.

The longer you leave tooth decay untreated, the more layers are affected and the worse the damage will be. Don’t wait until it hurts!

What causes tooth decay?

Plaque grows on your teeth, gums and dentures everyday. Plaque contains the bacteria that feed on sugars from your food that remain on your teeth. As the bacteria feed, they produce acids which erode your tooth enamel over time, causing decay.

How do I know if I have tooth decay?

Unless you visit the dentist for regular, six-monthly check ups, you may not know you have tooth decay until you have a cavity or even an infected tooth. If this happens, you may experience:

  • A toothache.
  • Swelling in your gums near a painful tooth.
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.
  • White, grey, brown, or black spots on your teeth.
  • Or no symptoms at all! Pain associated with decay can vary from excruciating to none at all, even when the tooth has been destroyed and only the root remains for some people. So just because you have had no discomfort doesn’t always mean your teeth are free from decay.

How is it treated?

With regular check-ups you may catch decay before a cavity forms and you may be able to stop it with fluoride treatments.
However, if the decay has eaten through the enamel, you may need:

  • A filling, when the dentist will fill the hole and restore the tooth to its original shape.
  • A crown if the decay has been left longer and you need a replacement for part of a tooth.
  • Root canal therapy if the pulp of your tooth becomes infected.
  • Extraction, if the root of the tooth is severely damaged the tooth may need to be removed and the dentist may replace the tooth with a bridge or an implant.

If you have a toothache, you need to see a dentist for treatment.

How to prevent tooth decay

At Somerville Dental Health, we want to help you prevent tooth decay before it starts. Here’s how:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day, after breakfast and before going to bed.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss once a day.
  • See your dentist for regular check-ups so that any early problems can be treated before major, expensive treatments are needed.
  • Don’t snack before bedtime. Food left on the teeth overnight is more likely to cause cavities.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugar, especially soft drink, sweet cereal, desserts, and sticky foods.
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