Tooth Decay - Topic Overview
How is tooth decay diagnosed?
To diagnose tooth decay, your dentist will:
- Ask questions about your past dental and medical problems
- Check your teeth, using a pointed tool and a small
- 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:
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.
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.
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 or an
If you have pain and swelling, you can take steps at home to relieve
- Use an
ice pack on the outside of your cheek. 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.
How can you prevent tooth decay?
You can prevent most tooth decay with these tips:
- Take good care of your teeth. Brush your teeth twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime. Use fluoride toothpaste. Floss once a day.
- See your dentist for checkups once or twice a year so problems can be found before they're serious.
- Don't snack before bedtime. Food left on the teeth overnight is more likely to cause cavities.
- Avoid foods that have a lot of sugar, especially sugar-coated cereals, desserts, and sticky foods like taffy and raisins. The longer sugar is in contact with your teeth, the more damage it will do.
If you have children, get them regular dental checkups, and take steps early to prevent tooth decay.
- To help prevent baby bottle tooth decay, don't put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.
- To help prevent the spread of decay-causing bacteria, don't feed your baby from utensils you have used.
- Teach your children to brush their teeth in the morning and at night.
- Keep your children away from tobacco smoke.
- Ask your dentist about:
- Fluoride supplements if your water doesn't have enough fluoride.
- Sealants to help protect your child's teeth from decay.