Our mouths are full of bacteria. Dr. El Jader explains that some bacteria are helpful, but some can be harmful – including the ones that play a role in tooth decay. These bacteria combine with food to form a soft, sticky film called plaque. The bacteria in plaque use the sugar and starch in what you eat and drink to make acids. The acids begin to eat away at the minerals on your enamel. Over time, the plaque can harden into tartar. Dr. El Jader continues to say that besides damaging your teeth, plaque and tartar can also irritate your gums by starting with inflammation of the gum as a part of gum diseases.
According to Dr. El Jader, we get fluoride from toothpaste, water, and other sources. This fluoride, along with our saliva, helps the enamel repair itself by replacing the minerals. Our teeth go through this natural process of losing minerals and regaining minerals all day long. But if you don’t care about your teeth and/or you eat and drink lots of sugary or starchy things, your enamel will keep losing minerals. This leads to tooth decay.
What are the signs of tooth decay?
A white spot may appear where minerals have been lost. This is an early sign of tooth decay. You may be able to stop or reverse the decay at this point. Your enamel can still repair itself if you take better care of your teeth and limit sugary/starchy foods and drinks.
However, Dr. El Jader explains that if the tooth decay process continues, more minerals are lost. Over time, the enamel is weakened and destroyed, forming a cavity. A cavity is a hole in your tooth. It is permanent damage that a dentist has to repair with a filling.
What are the stages of tooth decay and how can we treat it?
There are five stages of tooth decay. The earliest stage is often reversible, but later stages can cause permanent damage to an affected area. There are steps that you can take to help prevent tooth decay. These include things like brushing your teeth at least twice a day, avoiding sweet foods, and making sure to visit your dentist regularly.
The treatment for tooth decay depends on what stage it’s in. Some examples of potential treatments include fluoride treatments, fillings, and root canals.
Dr. El Jader takes us through the different treatment options based on the progression of tooth decay:
1- Initial demineralization
This earliest stage of tooth decay can actually be reversed before more permanent damage occurs. This can be achieved by treating the teeth with fluoride.
You can receive a fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office. It’s often applied to your teeth in the form of a gel or varnish. Fluoride works to strengthen enamel, making it more resistant to the acids produced by plaque bacteria.
Fluoride can also be found in some types of toothpaste and is often present in tap water in some countries.
Fluoride can also be found in some types of toothpaste and is often present in tap water. About 74 percent of Americans that get their tap water from a community water system receive fluoridated water.
2- Enamel decay
When tooth decay enters this stage, cavities are often present. Fillings are used to treat cavities.
When giving a filling, your dentist will first use a tool to clear away any areas of decay. They’ll then fill the hole with a material such as resin, ceramic, or dental amalgam. This material is typically the same color as your tooth.
3- Dentin decay
Because dentin is softer than the enamel, decay moves at a faster rate when it reaches this stage. If identified early, dentin decay may be treated with a filling. In more advanced cases, the placement of a crown may be required.
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