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Dental Decay & Treatment

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is a process where acid made by bacteria (germs) attacks the tooth surface and gradually causes a cavity (hole). Acid is made by bacteria when sugary food or drink items are consumed frequently.
So a combination of germs, sugars and the pattern in which they combine in your mouth causes the problem.

Tooth decay is very common in Ireland across all age groups. Despite great advances in the type of dentistry we provide, at the end of the day, we want to help you avoid needing these treatments. This means listening to preventative advice and putting it into action every day at home.

Is tooth decay preventable?

Yes, it is completely preventable! If you make sure you follow Three Key Steps:

  • Keep all tooth surfaces clean by brushing thoroughly twice a day and flossing once a day.
  • Keep the amount and frequency of eating or drinking sugary items to a minimum. Between meals snacking on anything containing sugar in particular should be avoided. Have a detailed look at what you eat and drink and how often you eat them. Doing a diet sheet for a few days is a great way to highlight the frequency with which you eat less healthy items. Click here for a printable diet sheet. Fill it up and bring it along for your check-up and we'll help you with it.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste (preferably with at least 1000ppm sodium fluoride- look at the ingredients on the back of the tube) and maybe a fluoride mouthwash also. Fluoride strengthens the enamel surface, making it more resistant to acid. Don't rinse vigorously with water after brushing; spit out excess toothpaste only. The fluoride then has a chance to work on strengthening the tooth surfaces.

    So Big Deal if I need a filling - everyone has them - what's the problem?

    A filling only fills a hole in your tooth. That tooth is then weaker and more likely to need other treatment for the rest of your life. The average filling lasts about 10-15 years, meaning if you get a filling done at age 15 years, you may have to replace that filling 4-5 times during your life. Each time it's replaced it gets a little bigger and the tooth gets a little weaker- often eventually leading to more complicated dentistry like root canal treatments and crowns or tooth removal. By avoiding the need for that treatment in the first place, you avoid all that dental treatment throughout your life. This is especially important for teenagers and young adults to understand….what you do now to take care of your teeth will decide the condition of your teeth when you are 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 years old and how much of your hard-earned cash you have to spend on them!

    Tooth decay starts on the outer surface of the tooth (enamel). The germs penetrate to the next layer (dentine) and most of the structural damage occurs here. However the enamel often stays intact until the cavity is quite large so it is not visible to the untrained eye. Even when you visit the dentist, a cavity may not show up until xrays are taken. This is why attending the dentist regularly for a health check is so important. At Oranmore Dental Care, we recommend that everyone visit for a check up at least every 12 months and sometimes every 6 months. This enables us to detect problems early before they cause pain or infection.

    So if you can see a hole in your tooth, it's likely to be quite large and need attention ASAP.

    Does tooth decay cause pain?

    Does tooth decay cause pain?

    The level of pain you get from a dental cavity (hole) depends on how far the germs have travelled through the tooth. Tooth decay on enamel does not cause pain. Even a small to moderate sized cavity in dentine is usually not painful . As the germs gradually damage the dentine and move closer to the pulp (nerve) of the tooth, some discomfort may start. A typical example would be an area of your mouth becoming sensitive to sweet things and then to cold, lasting just a few seconds.

    If the pain becomes more sharp or achy and last more than a couple of minutes, this is a sign of damage to the pulp by the bacteria. Unfortunately, your tooth may then require more advanced dental treatments like a root canal treatment or even extraction.

    How long does it take for a cavity to develop?

    From its starting point, as a chalky-looking white spot on the tooth surface to the point where the enamel surface is broken takes up to two years to develop. Therefore if you attend the dentist regularly - (at least once a year), you will be aware if you have a tooth decay problem and can takes steps to stop it getting worse.

    Tooth decay can be stopped by taking the prevention steps already mentioned. Once the combination of acid-making bacteria and sugar are removed from the mouth, the tooth surface can harden and 'remineralize' (minerals in your saliva and toothpaste strengthen the weakened surface) over many months. To the inexperienced eye, the appearance of the tooth may not change and the affected area can in fact darken in colour. You may look at some dark spots on your teeth and be concerned that they need a filling when in fact they are scars of previous tooth decay. If you are unsure, the best thing to do is get them checked. When you attend a dentist you trust over a number of years, he/she is able to monitor these kinds of areas over time and only take action if they deteriorate, thus avoiding unnecessary treatment.