What Causes Tooth Decay?


Dentist Las Vegas

When your dentist tells you that you have a cavity, he's really talking about decay. It happens when your tooth's hard enamel layer falls victim to the bacteria living in the plaque that constantly forms and reforms on your teeth. Once they've made themselves at home in this sticky substance, sugars and acids from things you’ve put into your mouth can gradually break down your enamel, progressing through the tooth's deeper layers all the way down to the pulp.

The main causes of tooth decay include:

  • Inadequate oral hygiene. If you treat your teeth to nothing more than twice-daily scrubbing, you just aren't doing enough. Pick up the brush after every meal, and if you really want to do it right, add flossing, tongue-scraping and mouth-washing to the mix.
  • Poor nutrition. Tooth-decay bacteria thrive on sugary junk food and acidic sodas. If you can't improve on what you put in your mouth, try to rinse and preferably brush after ingesting these items.
  • Tooth grinding. Most tooth-grinders engage in the practice while sleeping or when faced with a stressful situation. Known to the pros as bruxism, it will do more than simply drive your roommate up the wall. The 250 pounds of pressure to which this habit subjects the teeth wears down the outer enamel layer and opens the door to bacteria.
  • Dry mouth conditions. Since saliva helps inhibit the growth of bacteria-friendly plaque, people who suffer from dry mouth are far more likely than others to receive bad news in the dental chair. In addition to genetic predisposition, common causes of dry mouth include diabetes, dehydration, chemotherapy and the side effects of certain prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Gum recession. Receding gums expose the roots of the teeth, leaving them open to decay. Periodontal disease is only one of the culprits here. Trauma, bruxism, genetics, misaligned teeth, bad oral health and even overeager brushing can cause the problem as well. If you catch the condition in time, though, professional treatment can put the brakes on its progression.
  • Crevices in the teeth. Deteriorating tooth enamel can crack, forming an optimal location for the growth of bacteria. The enamel will not heal itself. When these crevices grow sufficiently deep, the application of a dental sealant will often succeed in keeping microbes out. These sealants, however, will only work on healthy teeth. Once decay has set in, the tooth will require alternative treatment.
  • Smoking. In addition to wreaking havoc on your general health, smoking can also do serious damage to your mouth. Every cigarette you smoke increases your chances of falling victim to gum disease, mouth cancer and tooth loss. Smokers also tend to build up excessive amounts of plaque, and because nicotine constricts blood vessels in the gums, incipient periodontal disease will often go undetected.

Skipping your dental appointments. Unless you are extremely lucky or one of the genetically favored, failure to see your dentist regularly will not end well for your teeth. By keeping to a regular six-month schedule, you enable your dentist to uncover and treat early problems before they get far out of hand.

Symptoms of Tooth Decay

In the early stages, tooth decay rarely causes problems. In fact, by the time you do notice that something is wrong, the situation almost always has progressed to the point of needing treatment. Pain is the most common symptom, but you may also notice:

  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth.
  • Bad breath.
  • Discolorations on the teeth.
  • Internal and external swelling in the region of discomfort. This is serious and usually indicates a case of advanced decay or even an abscess, particularly if the swelling appears in the face or jaw.

If you have any of these symptoms, it is vital that you see a dental professional immediately. Once decay has reached the dentin, the trouble has no chance of getting better by itself. In fact, if you wait long enough, the affected tooth could very well give up the ghost entirely.

Treatments for Tooth Decay

The treatment for a decaying tooth will vary in accordance with the problem's severity. In the case of minor erosion, simple repairs are possible. Anything beyond that point, however, will call for more advanced treatment that might include:

  • A resin or amalgam filling.
  • Gum surgery.
  • A root canal followed by the placement of a post and crown.
  • A simple or surgical extraction.

It doesn’t have to get this far. By seeing your dentist regularly, taking care of your teeth and avoiding the commonest tooth-harming culprits, you can often sidestep these worst-case scenarios. If you've been experiencing problems related to tooth pain, bad breath, bleeding gums or broken teeth, don’t wait until things get out of hand. Call Dr. White today.