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Like any other part of the body, our teeth are also susceptible to a number of problems. One of the most common among them is tooth decay. The main causes for this can be attributed to the food that we eat and the bacteria that we harbor in our mouth. Ruling out either of them to prevent this condition is not possible. Hence, maintaining good oral hygiene is very important. What makes dental care so important is the fact that tooth decay is a slow process. It starts with small caries in teeth, and may take years before large cavities that expose the nerves and cause pain, are formed. It can be detected early or at a later stage. Depending upon the degree of damage, there are a number of treatment options that a dentist may opt for. But before we discuss them, let us understand what its causes and symptoms are.

Causes

As already said, food that we eat and bacteria are the culprit behind this tooth condition. Foods rich in carbohydrates have high content of starch that tend to stay back on teeth, especially in between the teeth and in cavities (if already present). This provides food for bacteria that grow in these cavities. Improper cleaning of teeth after meals may also leave bits of food in between. Bacteria thrive in these food bits and form plaques. The acids released by the hordes of bacteria in plaques attack the outermost layer of teeth, the enamel. As the enamel is destroyed, the bacteria reach deeper layers of teeth causing greater damage. This problem is quite common in children due to their consumption of sugar-rich foods.

Symptoms

For those who do not go for regular dental check ups, this problem may be detected only after one feels a toothache. However, the common symptoms that one should watch out are:
  • Bad breath
  • Foul taste in the mouth
  • Toothache (due to infection or irritation of the tooth pulp)
  • Pain while chewing food, brushing teeth, eating hot or cold food or drinks or breathing in cold air
  • Holes or pits (cavities) in teeth
In case of severity, pus-filled sacs may be formed at the base of the teeth, in the bone, that is accompanied with swollen glands and jaws, fever, and acute pain.

Prevention

Here are some simple ways to prevent this disorder:
  • Brush at least twice daily. If it's not possible to brush after every meal, at least rinse your mouth every time after you eat something.
  • Avoid eating snacks frequently.
  • Eat food like cheese, fruits, and vegetables that are naturally good for your teeth.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Drink water that has fluoride added to it, like tap water.
  • Visit the dentist regularly.
Today, dental health study has opened many options for tooth decay treatment. However, it is better to follow all tenets of proper dental care so that we can prevent our tooth from deteriorating.

Treatment Options

When you visit your dentist (after reading the symptoms), he will perform a dental check up to see if it's indeed a case of tooth decay. In case it is, he would also ascertain the severity of the damage, as that point is the deciding factor of the type of treatment that needs to be followed. The various treatment options available are:
  • Fluoride Treatment: Toothpastes and mouth rinses already have some amount of fluoride in them, as this mineral is important for dental health. Fluoride prevents cavities and helps teeth to repair themselves. In case the tooth decay is in the initial stages, fluoride treatment is what dentists resort to. Professional fluoride treatment involve the dentist applying a liquid, gel, or foam to the affected tooth. This stuff has a higher concentration of fluoride than the one in normal toothpastes or mouth washes. Alternatively, a paste rich in fluoride may be prepared in a tray, that is then fitted over the teeth and left on for sometime. These fluoride treatments need to be repeated a couple of times as instructed by one's dentist.
  • Fillings: If the rotting has penetrated deeper than the enamel, one has to go for tooth filling. In the cavity filling procedure, the affected portion of the teeth is removed, and filled with a filling material that restores the shape of the teeth. The filling could be composite resins (that are of the same color as the teeth), silver amalgam, gold, or ceramics. Silver amalgam is a mixture of other metals like mercury and tin. Although medical research (though somewhat controversial) has shown that silver amalgam is a safe option for tooth filling, some people fear the harmful effects of mercury being incorporated in the body. Nevertheless, silver amalgam is the easiest material for a dentist to use. It is also the fastest and the least expensive option for tooth filling. On the other hand, gold and ceramics are expensive choices for tooth fillings.
  • Crowns: In case of extensive deterioration, doing multiple fillings will weaken the tooth. In such case, crowns are used. The damaged area of the tooth is removed, treated, and a crown or a covering jacket is put over the remaining teeth. The crowns are usually made of gold or porcelain.
  • Root Canal Treatment: In case of a severe problem in which even the nerves get affected, root canal treatment is required. In this form of treatment, the pulp is removed along with the affected parts of the tooth. This area is then filled with a sealing material to prevent exposure of the inner parts to harmful bacteria. Root canal treatment is also known as orthodontic procedure.
  • Tooth Extraction: In case most of the tooth has been damaged, a dentist may have to extract the tooth altogether. It is advisable to go for a dental implant to fill the empty place left by the extracted tooth, as other teeth may move in to fill that space. Tooth extraction procedure is done with the use of local anesthesia, after which the infected tooth is removed by a trained dentist. Though a simple procedure, there are a few complications like infection that one must be aware of.
Instead of getting into the rigmarole of which treatment procedure to go for, try to prevent this condition from occurring. Follow proper prevention measures, and in case you experience the slightest pain, go to the dentist immediately so that the problem can be curbed in the initial stages itself.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.