Kate Brayman DDS

What Causes Tooth Decay? – A Complete Guide

What Is Tooth Decay and How Is It Caused?

Preventing tooth decay helps maintain your oral health. If unchecked, decay can progress, causing pain, infection, and tooth loss. Factors like poor oral hygiene, a diet high in sugars and acids, insufficient fluoride, and genetics increase the risk of decay. Early detection and regular dental visits to Dr. Kate Brayman on Long Island can help you prevent and manage tooth decay, ensuring long-term dental health.

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is the destruction of tooth enamel, the hard, outer layer of the teeth. 

What Can Cause Tooth Decay?

What can cause tooth decay?

What causes tooth decay? It happens when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria called  Streptococcus mutans forms on the teeth and converts the sugars in the foods and drinks we consume into acids. This bacterium, which is a natural component of the human oral microbiome, creates acids that attack and erode enamel, leading to cavities. If left untreated, tooth decay can progress beyond the enamel into the deeper layers of the tooth, causing pain, infection, and sometimes tooth loss. Another significant bacterium related to tooth decay is Lactobacillus. While Streptococcus mutans are mainly involved in the initiation of tooth decay, Lactobacillus species are more involved in the progression of the cavities once they have formed. Maintaining good oral hygiene and reducing the intake of sugary foods and drinks can help control the growth of these bacteria and prevent tooth decay.

What Can Contribute to Tooth Decay?

These are the top four causes of tooth decay, that create an environment where cavities are more likely to form:

  • Bacterial Growth: Oral bacterial growth, fueled by the metabolism of sugars and subsequent acid production, leads to the erosion of tooth enamel and the formation of cavities.
  • Poor Oral Hygiene: Not brushing and flossing regularly allows plaque to build up and harden, leading to tooth decay.
  • Sugary and Acidic Foods and Drinks: Consuming foods and beverages that are high in sugars and acids can promote the growth of bacteria that produce harmful acids, attacking tooth enamel.
  • Insufficient Fluoride: Fluoride helps prevent cavities and can reverse early signs of tooth decay. A lack of fluoride, whether from not using fluoride toothpaste or not having access to fluoridated water, can make teeth more susceptible to cavities.

Other causes may include: 

  • Frequent Snacking: Eating or drinking frequently, especially sugary or acidic items, provides constant fuel for bacteria in the mouth, increasing the risk of decay.
  • Dry Mouth: Saliva helps wash away food particles and neutralize acids. A lack of saliva, often due to certain medications or health conditions, can increase the risk of decay.
  • Worn Fillings or Dental Devices: Over time, fillings and dental devices can weaken, break, or develop rough edges, allowing plaque to accumulate more easily and leading to new cavities.
  • Receding Gums: When gums recede, the root of the tooth becomes exposed, and this area is more prone to decay than the enamel-covered part of the tooth.
  • Genetics: Some people are more susceptible to tooth decay because of genetic factors that affect the composition of their saliva, the strength of their enamel, or the shape and alignment of their teeth.

Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Symptoms of tooth decay depend on the extent and location of the decay. Early stages of decay may not present any symptoms, but as the condition progresses, indicators can arise:

  • Toothache: Spontaneous pain or an ache that occurs without any apparent cause.
  • Sensitivity: Teeth become sensitive to hot, cold, sweet, or very acidic foods and drinks.
  • Visible Holes or Pits: Small holes or pits might be visible on the surface of the tooth.
  • Stains: White, brown, or black staining on the surface of a tooth.
  • Pain When Biting: Discomfort or pain when biting down or chewing.
  • Swelling: Swelling around the tooth or in nearby gums, possibly accompanied by a feeling of pressure.
  • Bad Breath or Taste: Persistent bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth can be a sign of decay.

If you experience any of these symptoms, see Dr. Kae Brayman on Long Island as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment can prevent tooth decay from worsening and save the tooth from more extensive and costly procedures.

How to Diagnose Tooth Decay

Diagnosing tooth decay combines a detailed dental examination including diagnostic tools used by a qualified dentist. They conduct a visual inspection of each tooth with a small mirror to identify any signs of decay, like discoloration, holes, or pits. A dental probe might be used to check the tooth’s surface for soft spots, indicating potential decay beneath the enamel. Dental X-rays may reveal decay particularly between teeth or beneath fillings, and in determining the decay’s extent and whether it has affected the inner material of the tooth. Some dentists use laser fluorescence detection devices to further detect and measure decay within the tooth’s structure, offering insights beyond X-rays. Any sensitivity to temperature or sweetness aids in identifying decay areas and gauging severity. By following these steps, the dentist can accurately ascertain the presence, extent, and specific location of tooth decay, 

Treatment for Tooth Decay

Treatment for Tooth Decay

Treatment for tooth decay depends on the severity and extent of the decay. Here are common approaches to treating cavities:

  • Fluoride Treatments: In the very early stages, tooth decay can sometimes be reversed with fluoride treatments. Fluoride can help remineralize the tooth enamel, stopping or even reversing decay. These treatments can be in the form of varnishes, gels, or liquid solutions applied directly to the teeth.
  • Dental Fillings: For decay that has progressed beyond the earliest stage, removing the decayed material and filling the cavity is necessary. Fillings are made from composite resins or porcelain, depending on the tooth’s location and aesthetic choices.
  • Crowns: When a large portion of the tooth is decayed, a dental crown may be needed. The decayed or weakened area is removed and repaired, and then a crown—made of gold, porcelain, resin, or other materials—is placed over the remainder of the tooth to restore its shape, size, and function.
  • Root Canals: If the decay reaches the tooth’s pulp (the central part containing nerves and blood vessels), a root canal may be required. This involves removing the decayed pulp, cleaning the inner chamber of the tooth, and sealing it to prevent further infection. The tooth is then restored with a filling or crown.
  • Tooth Extractions: In cases where the decay is so severe that the tooth cannot be saved, extraction may be necessary. Removing the decayed tooth prevents the spread of infection to other teeth and areas of the mouth.

When to See a Dentist for Tooth Decay

It’s important to see a dentist at the first sign of tooth decay to prevent the condition from worsening and to avoid potential complications. Indications that you should visit a dentist include visible holes or pits in your teeth, tooth pain or toothache, sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks, persistent bad breath, or an unusual taste in your mouth. If you notice any discoloration on the surface of your teeth or experience swelling around your face and cheek related to tooth pain, seek dental care. Good oral hygiene practices, like regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups, along with a balanced diet prevent tooth decay. Regular dental check-ups are also key in detecting decay early, even before symptoms appear, allowing for less invasive and more effective treatments. Contact us at the office of Dr. Kate Brayman to schedule your appointment and ensure your teeth stay healthy. 

Kate Brayman DDS

Dr. Kate Brayman

Long Island Dentist at Kate Brayman, DDS

Dr. Kate Brayman is a leading cosmetic dentist serving Long Island and Woodbury NY 11797. A graduate from the New York University College of Dentistry, Dr. Kate Brayman brings passion and artistry into dentistry. She is certified by the American Board of Dental Public Health. Her professional memberships include the American Dental Association, the New York State Dental Association and the New York County Dental Society.

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