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Sometimes tooth decay is obvious: pain or sensitivity often alerts us when something’s wrong. But it’s hard to notice decay in the early stages when it’s easiest to treat. It’s one reason getting into your dentist’s chair for routine checkups is so important. However, some familiar red flags can tell us when tooth decay occurs.
What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay happens when bacteria in your mouth turn the sugars in the food you eat into acids. Those acids attack your tooth enamel, eating away at the hard surface of your tooth. Decay can lead to holes in your teeth called cavities. If the bacteria and acid reach the dentin and pulp layers underneath the enamel, it can cause pain as nerves and blood vessels are affected. If you don’t treat tooth decay, it can lead to infection in those soft tissues below the enamel.
How Can I Tell If I Have Tooth Decay?
Sometimes tooth decay is easy to spot. But it’s hard to notice tooth decay in the early stages. Routine checkups can catch and treat tooth decay early–sometimes even before a cavity forms. As a general rule, the earlier you catch it, the less painful and costly the treatment. Some of the most common symptoms of tooth decay include:
- Brown or white spots or visible holes on your teeth
- Bad breath
- Loose fillings
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
- Tooth pain
- Discomfort while chewing
- Red or swollen gums
Where are the Most Common Locations for Tooth Decay?
You’ve probably noticed that getting a cavity on a front tooth is rare. Our flat front teeth are easier to clean and less likely to trap food and bacteria. We generally see cavities on molars where the grooves can trap food particles. Molars are also harder to reach when brushing and flossing. We also see tooth decay between teeth for the same reasons. Many patients also experience decay under existing fillings, so it’s essential to get routine x-rays to check for hidden decay.
What Factors Put Me At Higher Risk For Tooth Decay?
Certain traits and habits increase your chances of getting tooth decay.
- Consuming sticky or sugary food or drinks promotes the growth of decay-causing bacteria.
- Bad oral hygiene habits leave plaque on your teeth, leading to tooth decay.
- Dry mouth happens when your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva to wash away food particles and bacteria.
- If heartburn or acid reflux causes stomach acid to come into your mouth, it can damage your enamel.
- Aging fillings can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Talk with your family dentist about replacing worn fillings.
- We know that children are at higher risk of tooth decay. Many older adults are also at higher risk because of medications, wear and tear on teeth, and neglecting oral hygiene habits.
How Can I Prevent Tooth Decay?
It’s always better to prevent tooth decay than to treat it. Good oral hygiene can save you the pain and inconvenience of tooth decay and keep you out of the dentist’s office. Some tips for preventing decay include:
- Brush with an ADA accepted fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss at least once a day.
- Use a mouth rinse with fluoride if recommended by your dentist.
- Drink lots of water.
- Avoid sugary snacks and drinks.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- If you have dry mouth, talk with your dentist about a special mouth rinse.
- See your dentist for checkups twice a year.
Think You May Have Tooth Decay? See Your Family Dentist
If you don’t treat tooth decay, it can lead to a severe infection or tooth loss. If you have pain or sensitivity, don’t try to ignore it or put off seeing your dentist. Hall Family Dentistry is a judgment-free zone. Of course, we want you to take good care of your teeth and avoid cavities. But if you get a cavity, it’s better to catch and treat it early. We’re here to help you keep your teeth healthy and resolve any problems. Dental pain usually doesn’t go away on its own, so give us a call if you have symptoms of tooth decay.