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Tooth Decay - Topic Overview

What causes tooth decay? continued...

Children, whose teeth are still growing, are more likely than adults to have tooth decay. This is because the minerals in new teeth are not very strong and are easier for acids to eat away.

Even babies can be at risk for tooth decay. Babies who are put to bed with a bottle can get "bottle mouth camera.gif"—tooth decay caused by the sugar in milk, formula, or juice. Babies aren't born with decay-causing bacteria in their mouths. But they can get bacteria from adults who share spoons, forks, or other utensils with them.

What are the symptoms?

Tooth decay usually doesn't cause symptoms until you have a cavity or an infected tooth. When this happens, you may have:

  • A toothache, which is the most common symptom.
  • Swelling in your gums near a sore tooth. This can be a sign of severe tooth decay or an abscessed tooth camera.gif.
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.
  • White, gray, brown, or black spots on your teeth.

If you have a toothache, see a dentist. Sometimes the pain will go away for a while, but the tooth decay will keep growing. If you don't get treatment, your cavities could get worse and your tooth could die.

How is tooth decay diagnosed?

To diagnose tooth decay, your dentist will:

  • Ask questions about your past dental and medical problems and care.
  • Check your teeth, using a pointed tool and a small mirror.
  • Take X-rays of your teeth and mouth to find tooth decay that can't be seen with the eyes alone.

How is it treated?

The best treatment for tooth decay depends on how severe it is. If tooth decay is caught early, before a cavity forms, you may be able to stop it by brushing with fluoride toothpaste or getting fluoride treatments. That's one good reason to see your dentist on a regular basis.

If the decay has eaten through the enamel, you may need one or more of these treatments:

  • A filling if a cavity has formed. After the decay is removed, the dentist uses a material to fill the hole and restore the tooth to its original shape.
  • A crown if the decay is severe and your tooth is badly damaged. A crown, or cap, is a man-made replacement for part of a tooth.
  • A root canal if the pulp of your tooth is infected. A root canal removes the diseased pulp of a tooth.
  • Removal (extraction) if the root of the tooth is severely damaged. The dentist may replace the tooth with a bridge camera.gif or an implant.

If you have pain and swelling, you can take steps at home to relieve it.

  • Use ice or cold packs on the outside of your cheek for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. Always put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Don't use heat.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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