Tooth decay is also known as dental caries, dental cavities, holes, broken teeth and soft teeth.
It occurs when your tooth is exposed to acid for too long, and the acid literally eats away at the hard structure of tooth and melts it away to a soft – wet-soap-like consistency.
Usually bacteria in your mouth and in ‘plaque’ are the primary means of creating acids on your teeth, as they make acid as a by-product of converting your food into energy.
Foods and drinks can also contain acids. Soft drinks and diet soft drinks are especially notorious for having ‘citric acids’ in them which also affect teeth surfaces.
Interestingly, acid damage goes generally un-noticed in teeth until the damage is so extensive that it starts to enter the internal parts of the teeth. This is why it’s so important to have regular checkups to identify areas which may be acid-damaged before they extend too far and you require a permanent filling.
Although you may be unable to detect if you have decay forming, your dentist has special training and tools available to assist with the diagnosis.
They may be able to ask questions about your past dental & medical history, such as dietary questions to try and find trends.
Specialized tools such as great lighting, a small mirror and integrity checking tool allow the dentist to really explore how structurally sound your teeth enamel are.
X-ray machines are also available to take images of the teeth which may show how deep decay has penetrated inside the teeth and view areas which the dentist cant see from outside (such as between the teeth).
How is it Treated?
Treatment for tooth decay varies depending on how bad it is.
Small decay may actually be reversible by using fluoride and a special cleaning regime your dentist can go through with you.
Larger decay may extend all the way into the dentine and require fillings to remove all the bacteria and acids and replace the softened teeth with a filling material.
When decay reaches all the way into the pulp of your tooth your options start requiring root canals and crowns designed to protect the tooth from further damage. It may even have progressed so far that your options are limited in saving the tooth and a dental extraction may be necessary for the overall health of your mouth and other teeth.