Tooth decay is a disease process caused by the by-product of bacteria in the mouth. Unfortunately, the only treatment once the disease has progressed is restoration of the tooth with fillings, such as amalgams (silver) or composite resins (tooth-colored) or if the decay is more advanced, then crowns (caps), root canal therapy, or extraction may be the only course of treatment.
Process of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay or caries occurs when the bacteria found in the plaque that forms on teeth after eating and drinking is not removed quickly enough by brushing and flossing. These bacteria give off an acidic by-product that given enough time, will eat a hole through the enamel, or outside layer, of the tooth and leave a “soft spot” in the tooth. This hole will continue to get larger and deeper until the tooth is properly treated.
Treatment of Tooth Decay
Treatment involves numbing the tooth so the dentist can use a handpiece to remove all of the soft diseased tooth and all the bacteria, and then using a restorative filling material such as amalgam or composite resin to seal the hole left behind. If the decay has removed too much tooth for the tooth to adequately support a filling, a crown may be needed to hold the tooth together. Likewise, if the decay has reached the nerves and blood vessels in the center of the tooth, a root canal may be needed as well to remove the nerves to prevent future tooth pain.
Prevention of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay can be prevented using a combination of two things. The first is fluoride. The National Institute of Health found that fluoride in the water system was the # 1 most important health advancement made in the 20th century. It has been proven to decrease the depth of the pits and grooves in the teeth which are prone to trapping bacteria and leading to decay and helps expose the tooth enamel to fluoride molecules. Also, using fluoridated toothpaste exposes the enamel to the fluoride molecules which leads to a chemical change in the tooth enamel that actually leaves the enamel stronger and more resistant to the bacterial acids. The second form of prevention is the mechanical removal of the bacteria through brushing and flossing your teeth. The less bacteria on the teeth, the less the chance the bacterial by-products can cause irreversible damage.