Dental Care

Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Want to know more about symptoms of tooth decay? There are two sides to the problem of tooth decay, the first is how it decays, and that means what the exact process is.

The second question is why it occurs. The purpose of this article is to take a closer look at decay, how it happens and just as importantly why an otherwise healthy tooth might succumb to tooth decay.

Dental caries is a disease. It is caused by bacteria and is found among people all over the world.

Tooth Elements

Teeth are made of highly mineralized tissue, and are harder than almost any other tissue in the body. 

Enamel is the hardest of these tissues and covers most of the surface of the tooth.

Dentin is slightly less hard and is found immediately beneath the enamel..

The third tissue is called cementum and is found only in the root portion of the tooth. This is the area where cementum provides an anchor point for the ligament which holds the tooth in its socket.

These hard mineralized tissues have no nerves and hence there may be no pain when the tooth surface is attacked. Only the inner pulp, the soft tissue in the hollow center of the teeth has nerve tissue.

Initial Stages of Tooth Decay

Symptoms of tooth decay occur when the tooth’s hard surface is de-mineralized, the calcium compounds which harden the tissue, is gradually leeched away  by exposure to acidic compounds such as those produced by the bacteria found in plaque, specifically Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus.

The acidic compounds are a waste product of the bacteria which feed off sugars and starches. Sugar in the form of fructose and starch can be found in many foods. When a person’s diet is high in starches and sugars the bacteria have more food to eat and demineralization proceeds faster if the plaque is not removed regularly from the teeth.

Every time a person eats foods high in starches or sugars, the bacteria living in the plaque start to eat too. Within minutes they are ingesting their preferred food and excreting this acidic waste. While de-mineralizing the tooth takes time the bacteria are fed each time starches and sugars are ingested.

Eventually the symptoms of tooth decay will advance from a white chalky or dark spot into an actual hole in the enamel or dentin and if unchecked will work its way downward to the pulp where the nerves are causing pain and very possibly infection.

Apparent Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Initially tooth decay is silent and visible only as a white, brown, black or gray spot on the tooth surface.

As the bacteria breeds the person can suffer from bad breath or a bad taste in their mouth.  Eventually toothaches may occur and this is one of the most common symptoms of tooth decay because sometimes the initial symptoms can be overlooked.

Dentists may routinely take x-rays of a patient’s mouth and teeth to discover if there is tooth decay and in the case of a patient with a toothache, to see how advanced the decay is.

While tooth decay begins on the surface of the tooth, as it progresses it can leech away inner portions of the tooth and even involve the pulp. These bacteria can cause a serious infection called an abscess and severe pain if untreated.

When a dentist takes an x-ray the teeth will usually block out the x-rays causing that portion of the film to be lighter. Where demineralization has occurred it may appear as darker spots on the film letting the dentist know just how advanced the tooth decay is and take corrective action.

When to Act

Do not wait for the symptoms of tooth decay to occur. Preventative measures are usually easier and less expensive than restoration of damaged teeth. 

Good oral hygiene and regular dental care can help the average person to avoid the world’s most common disease, tooth decay.

However if tooth decay does occur an immediate trip to the dentist can help avoid more expensive later treatments and the discomfort of a toothache.

Treating the symptoms of tooth decay in its early stages is far simpler, if it advances the dentist may have to drill away portions of the de-mineralized tooth and replace it.

The interior portion is usually filled with a restorative material in order to replace the missing tooth area.

If dental treatment is delayed until symptoms of tooth decay -like toothaches- become chronic and severe, the restoration process may be far more involved and the tooth decay may have spread to other teeth.


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