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 "—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 .
- Bad breath
or a bad taste in your mouth.
- White, gray, brown, or black spots on
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
- 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 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.