By the time they reach their mid-30s, more than 80% of Americans have at least one cavity, making tooth decay one of the most common chronic diseases. People of all ages can develop tooth decay – even babies. Despite this, the condition is usually easy to treat and preventable with good oral hygiene.
Tooth decay, also known as “dental caries,” is damage to a tooth that happens when harmful bacteria in your mouth make acids that attack the tooth’s surface enamel. Eventually, this decay can lead to a small hole in the tooth, called a cavity. In the early stages, you may not even notice the decay. However, as the cavity gets more extensive, you will likely experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Toothache/Tooth Pain: Pain is the most common symptom of a cavity. Patients often experience an ongoing ache in one or more of their teeth when decay is present. However, pain may also come on suddenly or as a result of biting into certain foods.
- Hot and Cold Sensitivity: As your cavity grows, the enamel on your tooth will start to wear away, exposing the hard tissue layer beneath, called the dentin. Dentin contains many microscopic hollow tubes, making it particularly vulnerable to decay. When there isn’t enough enamel to protect the dentin, hot, cold, or acidic foods can stimulate the cells and nerves underneath, ultimately causing the sensitivity you feel.
- Sensitivity to Sweets: Like temperature sensitivity, lingering discomfort from sweets is another sign of tooth decay. More specifically, it usually indicates damage to the enamel and the beginning stages of a cavity.
- Bad Breath: Poor oral hygiene is the primary culprit behind bad breath. When food is left stuck between your teeth or elsewhere in your mouth, it gets broken down by bacteria in a process called fermentation, which releases a foul smell.
- White or Dark Spots on Teeth: Staining caused by a cavity may first appear as a small white spot. As the decay advances, the stain may darken to a brown or black color.
- Holes or Pits in Teeth: If the spot worsens, you may end up with a hole or pit on your tooth that will likely be visible when you look in the mirror. Some holes, especially those between the teeth, may be difficult to see or feel. However, you will likely still feel some pain or sensitivity in that area. If you notice a hole or pit in one or more teeth, it is a clear sign of tooth decay. Make an appointment with your dentist immediately to increase the likelihood of saving your tooth.
When to See a Dentist
Good dental care, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups, is the best way to prevent tooth decay. But if you suspect you have a cavity, our team of dentists at Lowry Main Street Dental are here to help. Contact us today for an emergency appointment.