Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a very common oral health issue that can have far-reaching consequences, if left untreated. It can lead to other oral health concerns and is linked to general health conditions.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is caused by harmful bacteria in the mouth which feed on sugars from leftover food particles, and produce acid. The combination of acid, bacteria, and food debris forms a sticky substance called dental plaque. This is the film you can sometimes feel on your teeth. This leads to erosion of teeth, causing pain and little holes, or cavities.
Not practicing good oral hygiene, such as regularly brushing and flossing, allows plaque to accumulate on teeth so it has time to cause decay. It also allows the plaque to harden into tartar, which is a rough deposit on your teeth that provides a home for even more decay-causing bacteria. Eating and drinking lots of sugary and acidic foods and beverages increases the risk of decay. Dry mouth can also aggravate the situation, as there is not enough saliva to rinse the mouth.
Preventing Tooth Decay and Poor Oral Health
Excellent oral hygiene and good eating habits help prevent cavities. Regular brushing and flossing helps to remove cavity-causing plaque, and a good diet provides vitamins like calcium, which help support strong tooth enamel to resist decay. Avoiding sugary foods and drinks is important, too.
Using a fluoride toothpaste helps prevent decay by strengthening enamel. Your dentist may recommend other treatments, including dental sealants for molars or in-office fluoride treatments. Professional dental cleanings by a dental hygienist or dentist removes plaque and tartar that you are unable to clear away yourself.
It’s important to note that even infants can suffer tooth decay, often called baby bottle tooth decay. This can happen if babies are put to bed with a bottle, or the bottle is used as a soother.
Consequences of Untreated Tooth Decay
Untreated cavities cause more than just pain and heightened sensitivity to hot and cold. If discovered early, tooth decay treatment involves only a simple filling procedure. However, neglecting tooth decay can lead to a cascade of oral and overall health problems.
Heavily Decayed Teeth and Tooth Loss
If dental decay is allowed to progress, cavities become larger until the tooth’s structural integrity is compromised. A dental crown may be necessary to support the tooth.
In very severe cases, the decay may lead to a tooth extraction being necessary, or the tooth may fall out. Tooth loss leads to even more issues, including a loss of bone mass in the jaw. The surrounding teeth may shift towards the gap and even fall out as well.
Infection and Abscesses
Decay can create an opportunity for bacteria and infection to reach the dental pulp, or tissues, in the roots of teeth. Infection and abscesses are extremely painful. Infection in the dental pulp will require a root canal treatment. A tooth abscess will require antibiotics and draining; these can be life threatening if not treated.
Tooth decay can also lead to gum disease. In the early stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis, gums are swollen and prone to bleeding. If untreated, the gum disease worsens into periodontal disease, which can result in receding gums, and bone and tooth loss.
Links to General Health Concerns
Emerging research suggests a link between untreated dental concerns and systemic health problems. Tooth decay affects not only your teeth but also your cardiovascular, kidney, respiratory, and diabetic health.
Cardiovascular and Heart Conditions
Heart conditions and cardiovascular disease are linked to oral health. As tooth decay advances, it causes chronic inflammation, which leads to inflammation of your blood vessels. This raises the risk of heart disease and strokes.
Kidney disease is another concern, as harmful oral bacteria spreads through the bloodstream. This can affect the kidneys’ filtering function, and can potentially lead to kidney problems.
A relationship exists between tooth decay and diabetes, too. Elevated blood sugar levels from diabetes increase your susceptibility to dental problems, while untreated dental issues negatively impact blood sugar control. This means that diabetes and poor oral health aggravate each other.
Respiratory infections like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may also be linked to poor oral health, as bacteria in the mouth is inhaled.
Get Your Teeth Checked Today
Tooth decay is more than an inconvenience; it can have significant consequences if you don’t receive dental treatment. To lower your risks of tooth decay and the complications it can cause, maintaining proper oral hygiene and regular dental checkups is crucial.
Dentists and dental hygienists can remove plaque and tartar that regular brushing and flossing may miss, to help prevent decay.
Early intervention is key to preventing the painful and dangerous complications; regular dental checkups ensure that any issues are diagnosed, even before you may notice any symptoms, and treated early for better results.
Hamilton Mountain Dental offers friendly dental services. From preventive dental treatments like professional cleanings, fissure sealants, and fluoride treatments that help prevent cavities, to discreet white fillings to treat a cavity that does occur, we offer comprehensive services to help you maintain good oral health.