A Guide to Tooth Decay

Although tooth decay is relatively easy to treat when caught early, the disease is ubiquitous and widespread. Of all adults between the age of 20 and 64, a stunning 92 percent have experienced tooth decay and 23 percent suffer from untreated cavities. If left untreated, tooth decay can continue to consume away at the affected teeth and can even spread to adjacent teeth. Eastside Comprehensive Dentistry in Issaquah, WA offers a number of treatments which range in complexity, depending on the severity and extent of the decay. These include tooth-colored porcelain fillings, root canal therapy, and dental implants.

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries in the medical world, has plagued humans for at least 15,000 years. Scientists have found that 94 percent of the Pleistocene era (which ended roughly 11,700 years ago) inhabitants of Grotte des Pigeons, a cave located in modern-day Morroco, suffered from serious tooth decay along at least half of their teeth. In fact, the decay was so bad that by their late 30s they hardly had enough teeth to eat with! As is often the case, researchers have found that the cause of the extensive decay is found in these Grotte des Pigeons residents’ diet — sugar-heavy acorns, wild oats, and legumes.

To understand how dental caries affect our teeth, let’s first review the anatomy of the human tooth. Our teeth are composed of several layers of different types of tissues, each of which performs a specific function. These layers are:

  • Enamel: One of the hardest tissues in the human body, the outer layer of human teeth is composed of enamel tissue. Heavily mineralized, enamel helps protect our teeth from the daily strain of chewing, biting, and grinding, as well as from extreme temperatures and otherwise dangerous chemicals.
  • Dentin: A calcified and mineralized tissue, dentin backs the outer layer of enamel and also serves to protect the pulp beneath it. Keeping the layer of dentin healthy is important because it is susceptible to dental caries and if the damage is severe it could require more complicated treatment.
  • Pulp: This is a soft tissue in the center of the tooth that holds the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue of the teeth. Because pulp cannot repair itself, if it is infected the tissue will die. Decay of the pulp is often a result of tooth damage, which can provide bacteria a direct route to the core of the tooth — if your teeth are cracked or chipped, our Issaquah, WA offers dental crowns and porcelain veneers. Otherwise, a deep cavity can also spread dental caries to the pulp, in which case root canal therapy may be necessary.

When we eat, food particles may be left behind in between our teeth and this debris attracts fermenting bacteria. Products with heavy concentrations of sugar are also known to cause tooth decay, as bacteria in your mouth will ferment the carbohydrates and convert them into acid. In turn, acid will demineralize the tissues of your teeth and ultimately cause them to disintegrate, leaving behind a hole or cavity. If not treated, the decay will continue to spread through the tooth and can even jump to adjacent teeth. If the rot is particularly extensive, the affected teeth may no longer be salvageable, in which case dental implants are the preferred treatment.

Tooth Decay: Early Warning Signs and Preventative Measures

There’s no reason significant tooth decay should sneak up on you. There are a number of early warning signs that you can look out for, which include:

  • Sensitivity of the teeth to temperature changes
  • Pit formation on tooth surfaces (tissue necrosis)
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Discoloration, especially white, gray, black, and brown spots on the teeth
  • Pain resulting from eating and drinking sweet products

Tooth decay is dynamic in that your teeth can re-mineralize if the aggressing bacteria are cleaned away. You should brush your teeth at least twice a day and daily flossing is heavily encouraged. Mouthwash can also help kill bacteria, while toothpaste and fluoride may also help with the re-mineralization process. It is also recommended that you schedule routine dental checkups so that our well-trained and knowledgeable staff can keep your mouth free of excessive deposits of plaque and bacteria.

Compassionate and Expert Dental Care in Issaquah, WA

If caught early, tooth decay can be treated through a simple procedure at Eastside Comprehensive Dentistry. By removing the decayed tissue and replacing it with tooth-colored fillings, your teeth can be rid of an existing infection. As the decay spreads through the tooth, a more complicated procedure may be necessary. A root canal can be used to treat particularly heavy tooth decay. If you suspect that you are suffering from dental caries, contact our Issaquah, WA office to schedule your no-obligation consultation today!