Tooth decay is very painful, and can also make you feel insecure if they are visible at the front of your teeth. It is therefore wise to solve the problem as quickly as possible. This does not have to be as difficult or expensive as you might think. You can make an appointment with your dentist, who can take a good look at the tooth and discuss the possible treatments with you. Do not postpone this, because this can have serious consequences for your teeth.
- Tooth decay or caries is an attack on the enamel (the hard protective layer) of your teeth, which can eventually cause your teeth to be lost.
- With tooth decay, drinking cold and sometimes hot drinks can hurt.
- Eat and drink little or no sweets and soft drinks.
- Brush your teeth very carefully with a soft brush. Go to the dental hygienist or your dentist at least twice a year.
What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay or caries is an attack on the enamel (the hard protective layer) of your teeth. Dental plaque is a thin layer that gets on the teeth and molars due to food and saliva. Bacteria in the dental plaque produce acids that dissolve tooth enamel very gradually, creating gaps.
Stages of tooth decay
- First phase
A white milky stain comes on the tooth. In this phase only the enamel is affected and the drilled holes are not included. Proper brushing with fluoride toothpaste, thorough cleaning between teeth with brushes, floss or toothpicks, and the use of a fluoride mouthwash can stop the process and even lead to recovery of the enamel. The dentist can limit himself at this stage to giving practical advice.
- Second stage
The dental bone is affected. It becomes softer; over time a hole is created in the glaze layer. Here the dentist will intervene by making a filling. This is necessary because the tooth can no longer repair itself (which was still possible in the first phase) and the rotting process proceeds increasingly faster once the hole has been formed.
- Third phase
The damage to the dental bone goes deeper into the tooth in the direction of the dental nerve, which is accompanied by pain complaints with hot and cold food. The dentine becomes soft as butter and the hole in the enamel layer gets bigger and bigger. The dentist must now intervene to prevent nerve infection.
Causes of tooth decay
This is usually due to eating foods high in sugar or starch, or insufficient oral care. If you do not brush your teeth often enough, a layer of plaque can be created by bacteria in your mouth. Over time, this layer accumulates, and the enamel of your teeth can dissolve in it. This weakens your teeth and makes it easier for bacteria to penetrate into the softer dental bone on the inside. Inflammation can easily occur inside your teeth, which can lead to a painful infection under the teeth and gums.
In your mouth, food and drink are mixed with saliva. Every time there are remains in your mouth after eating and drinking. Together with your saliva, these residues form a thin layer over your teeth. This pale, sometimes somewhat yellowish layer is called plaque.
The plaque is directly against the hard enamel layer of your teeth. This contains a lot of bacteria. Among other things, these bacteria break down sugars from food residues and turn them into acid. This acid dissolves the tooth enamel very gradually, creating holes.
Acids in soft drinks can also dissolve the dental enamel.
- A hole in the tooth is usually the initial stage of tooth decay.
- Holes are most common in children, but adults also have to watch out for this.
- Only a dentist has the right equipment and expertise to determine if you have a hole. This is because holes usually develop below the tooth surface, where they are not visible to the naked eye.
What are the symptoms of tooth decay?
People with tooth decay often suffer from symptoms such as painful teeth, sensitivity and pain when something sweet, hot or cold is bitten. If an infection has occurred, this pain can even be so severe that you can no longer eat normally. This is usually accompanied by swelling and pus in the mouth. Physically, you may suffer from nutritional deficiencies and weight loss due to reduced eating. With seriously rotten teeth, you may be able to see the holes with the naked eye, or the teeth may even break off or fall out.
Features of tooth decay are:
- Yellow or brown spots on teeth and molars.
- Holes in teeth or molars, often in places where molars or teeth are close together.
- Drinking cold and sometimes hot drinks can hurt.
- If the tooth decay persists: toothache, for example when eating acidic things or salty liquorice.
- In an even further stage teeth and / or molars can hurt continuously.
- The gums around a tooth or molar with tooth decay can become inflamed and bleed easily.
- Dirty taste in your mouth.
- Bad breath.
- Severe pain with tooth root infection.
- Sometimes, formation of a jaw abscess, if treatment continues to be delayed.
Advice to prevent tooth decay
Preventing tooth decay is the best approach:
- Eat little or no sugar. The more often your teeth come into contact with sugars, the worse it is.
- Drink little or no soft drinks. The acids herein dissolve the tooth enamel slowly.
- Brush your teeth after every meal or use chewing gum (without sugars). Starch contains a lot of sugars. For example, starch is found in potatoes, rice and bread. Starch comes in during every meal and therefore extra sugars that are bad for your teeth. Limit the number of meals to three per day.
- Brush your teeth very carefully with a soft brush.
- Or use an electric toothbrush with which you can brush your teeth extra well.
- Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride inhibits the acid which dissolves enamel and helps the tooth enamel to become strong again.
- Use dental floss after brushing. Carefully thread the floss through all the gaps between your teeth and choose to remove the plaque residue
- Triangular toothpicks are good for removing any food residues between your teeth. Making the toothpick moist makes it smooth and slightly smoother and easier to use.
- With daily “toothpicks” the friction with the toothpick ensures that less plaque remains between your teeth and molars.
- You can also use tooth carriers. These are mini brushes that fit between the teeth if there is enough space between them. Forcing with a brush can damage your tooth enamel.
- Smoking is bad for your teeth and gums. One of the many reasons to quit smoking.
- Go to the dental hygienist or your dentist at least twice a year.
- Once you have tooth decay, it is important to contact your dentist quickly.
- If you have a toothache, you can cool down with an ice pack on the cheek.
If your tooth decay has been remedied, then of course you want to prevent this in the future. You can do this by maintaining a daily oral care routine. Brush your teeth in the morning and in the evening and rinse your mouth twice a day with mouthwash such as Listerine. This can kill 99% of the harmful bacteria in your mouth, thereby partially preventing plaque. To further reduce the plaque in your mouth, we recommend flossing once a day. In addition, visit a dentist every six months to have your mouth professionally cleaned and to check whether there are any (starting) problems in your mouth.
Treatment of tooth decay
If you have tooth decay, don’t wait to go to the dentist. Tooth decay can quickly proceed to an infection, which can have serious consequences for both your teeth and your physical health. Your body can respond to an infection with a sepsis. This is a life-threatening reaction that can be accompanied by fatigue and chronic pain, which in the worst cases can lead to amputations, organ failure and death.
If you are on time and go to the dentist, this can fortunately be prevented. If the decay has not yet spread to the interior of the tooth, the dentist can fill the gap. If the inner pulp has already been damaged, a root canal treatment must first be done before the hole can be filled. If the hole is so large that it weakens the tooth structure, a crown must be placed over it. This is an artificial coating that protects the rest of the tooth.
At a further stage in the tooth decay the tooth can no longer be saved and must be pulled. The affected tooth, or even an entire upper or lower row, can be replaced with implants. Your dentist can discuss all the pros and cons of each treatment with you in advance, so that you know exactly where you stand.