Tooth decay begins with bacteria. Our mouths are constantly exposed to large amounts of bacteria; it’s in the food we eat and the air we breathe. As we eat food, our body naturally creates a material known as plaque. Plaque is a blend of food, saliva, and bacteria. Plaque gathers and accumulates in your mouth, and finally resting between your teeth and along the gum line at the base of your teeth. Bacteria thrive in plaque, it happily feeds on the sugars that are so often found in much of our food, and as the bacteria feed, it emits an acid that decays our teeth. If a patient brushes their teeth at least twice a day, they are more likely to remove the plaque while it is still soft. Plaque that remains can then dry and become hard, this is known as tartar.
Tartar is calcified plaque. It is difficult to remove through brushing and the cause of tooth decay. As the tooth decays, there are varying restorations that we can perform depending on the severity of the decay.
- Small amounts of decay: Limited decay can be removed easily. This is what patients refer to as having a cavity, or caries. The decay is small in size and the hard enamel layer of the tooth. We remove the decayed portion of the tooth and then fill the space with tooth-filling material such as amalgam or composite filler.
- Larger amounts of decay: If Dr. Dose has to remove a significant portion of the tooth, we may recommend a more durable filling. This may include a partial crown, known as an inlay or onlay, or we may recommend a full crown. Dental crowns provide added strength to a tooth whose structure has been substantially compromised.
- Root Canal Therapy: If decay is not resolved early, the decay can work its way deep into the tooth. A deep cavity can lead to a bacterial infection inside the pulp, or inner portion, of the tooth. The infected pulp cannot heal on its own, and should not be ignored. To save the tooth, and prevent the infection from spreading, we need to go inside the tooth and remove the source of the infection, clean the canal, and fill it with the medicated material. This process is known as a root canal. Following this therapeutic procedure, we cap the tooth with a dental crown to provide additional strength.
Protecting your teeth from decay is important, there are steps you can take to help. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing before you retire each night, and using an antibacterial mouthwash daily, can make a significant difference in the health of your teeth.
Are you interested in learning more about tooth decay? Give us a call at (503) 647-4565. We are happy to help you learn more about your smile!