Also termed caries, tooth decay refers to the destruction of the hard white enamel on the surface of teeth that protects the inner pulp and nerves inside from the elements. This causes exposure of the inner nerves to hot and cold food or drink which leads to pain.
Causes of tooth decay
One of the most common causes of tooth decay is accumulation of food particles around the sides and in between the teeth. These food particles usually give rise to the growth of bacteria which produce acid that slowly dissolves the enamel of the teeth.
The bacterial colonization of the teeth usually takes the form of a thin, sticky, colorless film called dental plaque. As soon as food is eaten, its sugar content is utilized by the bacteria to form the enamel-dissolving acid. This causes minerals contained in the enamel, such, as calcium, to be lost and leads to tooth decay.
Symptoms of tooth decay
The most common manifestation of tooth decay is toothache. The pain may be particularly troublesome when the person eats or drinks. Tooth decay causes visible discoloured or black areas on the tooth.
Diagnosis and treatment
Tooth decay can be identified by regular dental checkups. Regular checks can help the dentist flag up any cavities or build up of plaque, so that early treatment can be offered and the tooth saved. Tooth decay is one of the most common conditions to affect the teeth but it is also one of the most easily preventable.
Treatment of tooth decay depends on the extent of damage to the tooth. Early damage can be corrected using fillings or crowns, while more advanced cases may require root canal treatment or complete removal of the tooth.
Regular brushing after meals, cutting down on sugary foods that tend to stick to the corners of the teeth and regular dental checkups can help prevent tooth decay.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc