Tooth decay, which causes cavities or dental caries, is one of the most common chronic oral diseases. It affects all ages, and without the help of a certified dentist, it’s usually impossible to detect before it becomes severe.
However, the good news is that there are easy steps you can take to keep tooth decay from happening and a cavity from forming. In this post, our dentists – Dr. Aten and Dr. Garofalo – explain everything you need to know about dental cavities and getting a tooth decay treatment in Ballantyne, NC, so you can make better decisions that will help you protect your oral health.
What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is one of the world’s most common oral diseases that breaks down teeth and eventually causes permanent damage. Tooth decay is more prevalent in older adults, children, and teenagers. Once tooth decay erodes tooth enamel, cavities (tiny holes) start forming. If left treated, the cavities could wreak havoc on your smile and your overall health.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Many factors can lead to tooth decay and cavity formation. These factors include excessive bacteria in your mouth, drinking sugary drinks or eating sugary foods, frequent snacking, and poor oral hygiene.
When you have too much sugar in your diet (which can also come from foods and drinks high in carbohydrates like bread, fruit, and milk), sugar particles will continue to stick to your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth will mix with these particles, digest both the sugar and starch content, and then convert the particles into acids. This results in the formation and accumulation of plaque on your teeth.
Since plaque is acidic, it will dissolve your enamel and create holes in your teeth. If you don’t remove the plaque with proper brushing and flossing, it can calcify into tartar, which will irritate your gums, cause bad breath, and lead to teeth discoloration or gum disease. Good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are the only way to prevent tooth decay and cavities.
You may also have a higher chance of developing tooth cavities if you:
- Have a dry mouth
- Have an eating disorder
- Don’t brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
- Have weak enamel due to illness or genetics
- Experience acid reflux (also known as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux)
Tooth Decay Symptoms
To prevent a dental cavity from forming, you have to catch tooth decay in its early stages before it advances beyond your enamel. Below are some of the most common symptoms of tooth decay that you should pay attention to:
- Tooth pain or aches
- Gray, black, brown, or white spots on your teeth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- An awful or unpleasant taste in your mouth
- Loose fillings
- Difficulty biting certain foods
- A tooth infection (this can be a sign of a dental abscess)
If you experience any of these symptoms, then it’s time to schedule an appointment with Dr. Aten or Dr. Garofalo for a dental examination. Dr. Aten and Dr. Garofalo will determine which dental treatment will work best to address the tooth decay and preserve your smile.
Tooth Decay Stages and Tooth Decay Treatments
Tooth decay happens in five stages with varying degrees of severity. These stages include:
This is the first stage of tooth decay. It happens when accumulated plaque weakens a tooth’s enamel. Enamel is the hardest material in your body, and it is made up of several minerals. Unfortunately, the acid in plaque is strong enough to erode, weaken, and demineralize it.
Eventually, you’ll notice a white or gray spot on the affected tooth during this stage, which is what dentists look for to detect early signs of tooth decay. Thankfully, with a fluoride treatment or regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste, you can reverse the damage done to your teeth during the demineralization stage.
2. Enamel Decay
If you don’t remove plaque from your teeth in time, tooth decay will turn into a tooth cavity, which will continue to create white spots on your teeth that will eventually turn brown. At this point, you will need the help of your dentist to remove the decayed part of your tooth and apply a dental filling to repair your weakened teeth. The dental filling will also stop cavities from growing larger.
3. Dentin Decay
If your cavities remain untreated, your dentin layer will be next in line to be destroyed by tooth decay. Dentin is the softer tissue that lies below the enamel. When tooth decay reaches the dentin, the decay rate increases. This is because dentin is more susceptible to acid damage.
During this stage, you may start experiencing tooth sensitivity (pain or discomfort when eating or drinking something cold, sweet, or hot). If the decay hasn’t reached your tooth pulp by the time you go to the dentist, your dentist can remove the decayed part and apply a filling or crown to repair your tooth.
4. Pulp Damage
During this stage, the decay will have already spread past the dentin layer and into your tooth’s pulp. The pulp is the center part of the tooth that contains blood vessels and nerves. If your tooth’s pulp becomes inflamed, it will become constantly irritated and cause significant tooth pain or a toothache.
Eventually, your tooth will go through what is known as “pulp death” (pulp necrosis). This is the last stage of pulp damage. During this period, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Swelling around your teeth
- An awful or unpleasant taste in your mouth
- Bad breath
- Tooth color changes from white to gray to black
At this point, your dentist may recommend a root canal to remove the decaying pulp and save your natural tooth.
5. Dental Abscess
This is the final stage of tooth decay. During this stage, bacteria will invade your tooth’s pulp and cause an infection. Eventually, you may notice a pocket of pus – called a dental abscess – near the affected tooth’s root. Dental abscesses cause severe pain and can spread to the rest of your mouth, jaw, gums, and even your face.
Since a tooth abscess can lead to issues beyond your mouth, you’ll need to visit your dentist as soon as possible for immediate treatment. Your dentist may recommend pain relievers to reduce pain, antibiotics to kill the bacteria, and a tooth extraction or a root canal to remove or stop the spread of the infection.
The Risks of Untreated Cavities and Tooth Decay
As mentioned above, when tooth decay goes untreated for too long, your tooth may require extensive emergency dental treatments like root canals and tooth extractions. You may also develop a tooth abscess that causes severe pain and health issues that will affect more than just your mouth. If you have to get a tooth removed, you will likely need a dental implant to replace your tooth.
Can You Stop Tooth Decay From Getting Worse?
Thankfully, there are many ways to stop tooth decay from getting worse! You can follow the tips below to stop a cavity from growing or forming in the first place:
- Brush your teeth regularly, especially after meals, with fluoride toothpaste
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for oral examinations and dental cleanings
- Avoid snacking or consuming sugary or acidic foods
- Drink water that contains an appropriate amount of fluoride
- Floss and rinse after eating sticky, acidic, or high-carb foods
- Avoid smoking and using tobacco products
- Protect your molars with dental sealants
Where To Get a Tooth Decay Treatment in Ballantyne, NC
Tooth decay can lead to pain, cavities, a dental abscess, tooth loss, and other dental issues. Fortunately, our tooth decay treatment in Ballantyne, NC, can help prevent cavities and preserve your oral health.
When you come into our office, Dr. Aten, Dr. Garofalo, and our team of highly trained dental professionals will welcome you. We will examine your teeth and use a dental X-ray to determine the extent of the damage and recommend the best course of treatment for your condition. Your dental treatment plan may involve a cavity filling, fluoride treatment, root canals, dental sealants, a tooth extraction, or a dental implant with bridges or crowns to fix your teeth.
We also offer other comprehensive dental services to protect your dental health, boost your confidence, and brighten your smile. Schedule an appointment with us today to learn more about how to keep up with your oral health!