Dental decay, otherwise known as caries, is likely to affect every person at least once in their lifetime. This makes decay one of the greatest (if not the single greatest) preventable diseases in our society.
The most common way that patients will know they have decay is when they can feel a cavity or a 'hole' in their tooth. But did you know that we can see signs of decay far earlier? In fact, if we can identify decay before a cavity forms we can even avoid fillings!
For decay to form, there needs to be two things: bacteria and sugar. When teeth are not cleaned regularly, or if there are areas in your mouth that you sometimes miss when you clean, bad bacteria begin to form. This bacteria will then use the any sugars in your diet as food in order to produce acid. This acid will then begin to weaken an area of your tooth until it is so weak that it breaks to form a cavity.
Untreated decay will always worsen with time. Once it reaches a stage that it is sufficiently large one or more of several possibilities will occur. The tooth may:
The best way to treat decay is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This can be done through:
If decay does form though, treatment will depend on the size of the lesion. It may range from fluoride or toothmousse applications, simple or complex fillings, root canal treatment, crown placement or, in the worst case scenario, extraction.
Gum disease refers to an inflammation and infection of both the gums and bone that surround the teeth. It begins as gum irritation or redness that may result in bleeding when brushing or flossing. Eventually this irritation will worsen and spread towards the bone, causing it to be eaten away by the infection.
Gum disease forms due to the buildup of bacteria gumline. When this bacteria sits there for a long time, it will harden to form tartar or calculus. Once it reaches this stage, the tartar cannot be removed with normal brushing, allowing it to continually irritate the gums. As the condition worsens, the bacteria and tartar will begin to spread along the tooth to go underneath the gums which can further accelerate the disease.
As the disease progresses a number of different problems will arise. As the bone which supports the teeth continues to be eaten away, it can lead to loose teeth that may be sore to bite on. The gums may also shrink down resulting in the teeth appearing longer and sensitivity to hot and cold. Most significantly though, it can result in the formation of an abscess, or a concentrated area of infection, which will lead to unnecessary pain and discomfort.
Like decay, the best way to manage gum disease is to prevent it from occurring in the first place!
This can be achieved by:
However, if there has already been irreversible damage, treatment will depend on how severe the gums and bone have been affected. If the damage is only mild then a deep cleaning to remove bacteria and tartar sitting below the gums may be appropriate. However, if the damage is too extensive and there is no longer much bone around a particular tooth then the tooth may have to be removed.