Dental decay – how to tell if you need a tooth filling
Dental decay is a serious issue. If left untreated, it can become a serious threat to your dental hygiene and cause you a lot of pain. Tooth fillings can be used to help solve this problem and help you achieve your perfect smile. Could you need a tooth filling? To help you find out, we’ve put together this guide on dental decay and tooth fillings.
What is dental decay?
Simply put, dental decay is the process of sugary food dissolving teeth.
Whenever sugars in the food we eat and drink react to the bacteria in plaque, it forms acids that soften and dissolve the enamel and dentine of a tooth. The acid is eventually neutralised through natural salts in your saliva but can attack your teeth for up to an hour after eating and drinking.
Over time, the sugary food will make a cavity (hole) in the tooth.
There are three types of cavities dental decay can cause:
- Coronal cavities
This is the most common type and is located on chewing surfaces or between the teeth. This type of cavity is common in both children and adults.
- Root cavities
Our gums recede as we age, which leaves parts of our tooth roots exposed. Since there is no enamel covering tooth roots, these exposed areas are more susceptible to dental decay.
- Recurrent decay
This type of cavity is located around existing fillings and crowns which have accumulated a build-up of plaque.
Without treatment, dental decay can destroy your tooth and kill the delicate nerves at its centre. It can also cause the area at the root tip to become infected. Once this part is infected, it the tooth can only be treated with root canal, surgery or by extracting the tooth.
If the decay is not too serious, it can be removed. The tooth can then be restored with either a white or silver filling. The silver fillings contain mercury, while the white fillings are made from a durable white material that matches the colour of your teeth.
If caught early enough, sometimes dental decay can also be treated with a fluoride varnish to help stop more decay.
How to tell if you need a filling
Unfortunately, dental decay does not have a lot of symptoms in its early stages. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your dentist for a consultation.
- Tooth sensitivity
Does one of your teeth feel sensitive when exposed to certain foods, such as hot or cold temperatures, or sweet, sticky and sour foods?
- Flossing string tears
When you floss, does the string tear each time you floss a particular tooth?
- Damage to a previous filling
If a previous filling is cracked, broken or missing, you may need to replace the filling.
- A chipped or fractured tooth
Is your tooth damaged?
- Food stuck between teeth
When you eat, does your food always get stuck on or between certain teeth?
- Dark spots
Can you see or feel a dark spot or a hole in your tooth? Does your tooth feel rough?
- Throbbing or sharp pain
Do you have throbbing in your mouth, or pain in your tooth when you bite down or chew your food?
Signs and Severity of Tooth Decay
You won’t notice pain and sensitivity until decay goes through the enamel into the dentin layer, the Academy of General Dentistry notes. Dentin is made up of tiny nerve endings that become irritated and cause sensitivity when exposed to hot, cold, sweet, sticky and sour foods. You may also feel discomfort when biting down and find that food frequently gets trapped between your teeth.
Decay spreads rapidly through dentin because it is much softer than enamel. Root decay also spreads quickly, since the cementum covering on the root is not as hard and thick as enamel. Be warned that as tooth decay continues, your pain may be more frequent and intense.
It is important to remember that infection develops when decay and bacteria reach the pulp portion of your tooth, which contains the nerves and blood vessels. The ADA notes that pain from an abscessed tooth is persistent, serious and will likely keep you up at night. Other symptoms include fever, facial swelling and a bad taste in your mouth. You may notice pus draining from a red swelling on your gum near the root tip. Consequences can be serious if the infection spreads into your jawbone or throughout your body.
How Implants Work
During a minor surgical procedure, your dental implant is inserted directly into the jawbone in the space vacated by the missing tooth. It will then be left to heal for a period of months before the final crown is attached. During this healing period, the implant actually fuses to the bone surrounding it.
Tooth Replacement Options Using Dental Implants
Implants can replace missing teeth in a variety of ways. They can be used to:
Dental Implants Replace One Tooth.Replace One Tooth — When you have one tooth missing, a single implant is inserted into the bone to replace the root part of that tooth; a crown then goes on top to simulate an actual tooth. This treatment choice has the highest success rate, making it the best long-term investment for replacing a single missing tooth. Even if the initial cost is slightly higher than other options, it is the most cost-effective solution over time. An implant will never decay or need root canal treatment, and feels just like the tooth that was there.
Dental Implants Replace Multiple Teeth.Replace Multiple Teeth — When you have more than one tooth missing, implants provide an ideal replacement mechanism. You don’t even need one implant for every missing tooth. Instead, implant teeth can act as supports for fixed bridgework. For example, if you are missing three teeth in a row, we can place two implants, one on either side of the gap, and a crown in between that has no implant underneath. That way, you won’t need to use any of your remaining natural teeth as bridge supports, which could weaken them and make them more susceptible to decay.
Dental Implants Replace All Teeth.Replace All Teeth Permanently — Implants can support an entire arch of upper or lower replacement teeth that are fixed into the mouth and are never removed. Sometimes the new teeth can be supported by as few as 4 implants. It’s comparable to the structure of a table, which only needs 4 legs to hold it up. In cases where jawbone density and volume have deteriorated, 5 or 6 implants might be needed to support a row of 10 to 12 teeth. Dental implant replacement teeth protect your jawbone, won’t slip, and should last a lifetime.
Dental Implants Support Removable Dentures.Support Removable Dentures — Implants can even make removable dentures more comfortable, effective and healthier to wear. Traditional dentures rest on the gums and put pressure on the underlying bone. This accelerates bone loss so that the jaw shrinks and the dentures slip, particularly on the bottom. But today dentists can attach a removable denture onto implants, transferring that pressure into the bone structure rather than the bone surface. This prevents the dentures from slipping while you eat and speak, and preserves the bone directly beneath them.
Signs and Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
It’s important to understand that you can have periodontal disease with no obvious symptoms, especially if you are a smoker (nicotine reduces blood supply preventing bleeding and swelling of the gum tissues). Still, there are some important things to look for:
- Bleeding gums — Some people think that when their gums bleed, it simply means they’re brushing too hard. While brushing too hard is bad for the gums, it should not cause bleeding. Any bleeding of the gums should be considered a warning sign of gum disease.
- Bad breath — It’s very easy for plaque to collect in the spaces between the teeth, creating the perfect living conditions for bacteria that produce odorous, sulfur-containing compounds, resulting in bad breath.
- Redness or swelling of the gums — Inflammation of the gums is usually the first visible sign of periodontal disease.
- Receding gums — If you notice that your teeth look longer than they used to, it may be that your gum tissue has receded (away from the enamel), exposing some of your tooth roots.
- Sensitivity — If there is gum recession, the exposed roots may become sensitive to hot or cold.
- Periodontal abscess — Bacteria can become enclosed in a periodontal pocket and the area will fill with pus, becoming swollen and painful.
- Loose teeth — When periodontal disease results in bone loss, teeth can become loose or migrate. Tooth loss can result and may be accelerated if you are applying excessive biting forces from clenching or grinding your teeth.