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Tooth Decay

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Tooth decay describes the development of one or more cavities as the outer layers of the tooth, known as enamel, become worn away or damaged. When the hard surfaces of the teeth are worn down, small openings or holes can develop. Tooth decay is actually one of the most common health problems across the globe, especially among children, teens and older adults. When cavities occur but they do not receive an adequate level of treatment, they can become larger and more severe until they affect the deepest layers of the teeth. This can lead to not only severe pain and discomfort, but also serious infection and even the loss of the tooth. There are steps to take to prevent cavities and tooth decay, as well as to remedy these issues when they do occur.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

Tooth decay is a process that occurs over a period of time, because there is bacteria in the mouth that damages the enamel of the teeth. This is a process that can occur without the patient noticing that anything is going on. This natural tooth decay can then progress into something more serious when plaque forms on the teeth and then the plaque attacks the teeth, its acids removing vital minerals from the outer enamel of the tooth. Tiny openings and holes form due to acid erosion of the teeth, allowing the bacteria and acid to seep further and deeper into the tooth to cause additional damage.

Many people do not take tooth decay or cavities seriously simply because they are so common. Cavities and tooth decay still do have serious and lasting complications, even for younger children who still have their baby teeth. Some of the complications that are most commonly linked to tooth decay include pain, loss of the tooth, abscess in the tooth, broken teeth, difficulty chewing and serious infections. As the infections become more serious, so does the discomfort. Tooth decay can have serious quality of life implications.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests

The signs and symptoms that appear with tooth decay and cavities can vary depending on the extent of the decay and location of the decay. When a cavity first begins, it may not create any apparent symptoms. A dentist may be able to note the appearance of a cavity, however, so that recommended steps can be taken in order to stop the decay from becoming worse. Some of the most common signs of tooth decay include sensitivity in the tooth, toothache, sharp pain upon eating or drinking something hot, cold or sweet, visible pits or holes in the teeth, pain upon biting down and pus around the tooth or in the gums.

Dentists can typically notice tooth decay easily without relying on a lot of additional tests. They will ask questions about tooth sensitivity and pain and will examine the teeth and mouth. The dentist may utilize special dental instruments to probe the teeth and gums looking for abnormalities. They may utilize dental X-rays In order to look into the extent of decay. They may also be able to diagnose the specific type of decay, as cavities come in different types including pit and fissure, smooth surface and root.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention

Treatment for tooth decay will depend on how severe the decay is, and the particular situation. Some examples of treatments that physicians use for cavities and tooth decay include fluoride treatments, fillings, crowns, tooth extractions and root canals. Fluoride is a mineral that makes it easier for teeth to repair themselves when the damage is still new. Fillings are materials that replace decayed areas of the teeth once the damage is permanent. Crowns are custom-fit coverings for badly decayed teeth, completely covering the natural crown of the tooth. Root canals involve removing the pulp inside the tooth and replacing it. Tooth extractions involve complete removal of a tooth diseased and decayed beyond repair.