Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that produce acid, which destroys the enamel of your teeth. As tooth decay progresses beyond the enamel, it is more damaging to the tooth. As you eat and drink, a sticky coating called plaque forms on your teeth and contains bacteria that feeds on the sugary foods you consume. The acid thus produced by the bacteria eats away at your teeth.

Tooth decay is something that affects all age groups. Children are more likely to have tooth decay as the minerals in their teeth are not strong enough to put up a fight against the damaging effects of acid. Several other things can increase the likelihood of the formation of cavities, these include:

  • Precarious oral hygiene habits coupled with avoiding dental check-ups;
  • A high sugar and high carbohydrates diet that feeds the bacteria present in your mouth;
  • Fluoride deficiency;
  • A dry mouth or lack of enough saliva that helps to wash away sugars and food, thus, protecting your teeth;
  • Diabetes;
  • Smoking

Tooth decay usually remains asymptomatic until you have a cavity or an infected tooth, which may cause pain, black or brown spots on your teeth, swelling in your gums, bad breath and taste in your mouth. A toothache is a sign that you should see a dentist as soon as possible as the decay will keep on growing, even if the pain subsides.

Tooth decay is diagnosed by your dentist either by using a small mirror and a pointed tool or by taking X-rays to identify tooth decay that is not visible to the naked eye. Once identified, the treatment for tooth decay depends on its severity. If tooth decay is identified before a cavity forms, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste or fluoride treatments can stop its progression.

Catching the problem early can only be done if you see your dentist regularly.If the decay has worked its way through the enamel and a cavity has formed, then you may need a filling. If the tooth is severely damaged, the dentist will place a crown.

If the decay has progressed beyond the dentin and infected the pulp, then a root canal will be done whereby the diseased pulp of a tooth will be removed. If the root of the tooth is also severely damaged, the tooth has to be extracted. The extracted tooth can be replaced with an implant or a bridge.

If you experience swelling and pain, you can relive the pain by using ice packs on the outside of your cheek and by taking over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

You can prevent tooth decay by taking good care of your teeth. Brushing, flossing, going to dental check-ups regularly can help you get the treatments you need in due time, and before they become too severe to salvage your teeth.

Making certain adjustments in your diet can also go a long way in preventing dental problems. Thus, avoiding snacks before bedtime and cutting down on sugary foods and deserts can minimise the chances of tooth decay.