How To Stop Tooth Decay From Spreading

26 June 2024

The World Health Organisation (WHO) state that untreated tooth decay is the most common health condition according to the Global Burden of Diseases 2019.

If left undetected or untreated, dental decay can cause bad breath and significant pain before eventually resulting in the loss of teeth. Tooth loss diminishes the ability to chew properly, can affect speech and can significantly affect a persons self-esteem and psychological well being.

Here’s the thing… dental decay is preventable. If detected early enough, tooth decay can be stopped with simple proven treatments.  

Let’s take a look at what causes tooth decay, what you can do to prevent it and what treatments are available should you need them.  

What Exactly Is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is the demineralisation or softening of enamel. It happens when the plaque that grows on our teeth breaks down the sugar from our food and turns it into acid. With time, the acid gradually dissolves the enamel and makes a hole through to the inside of the tooth. The resulting hole is known as a dental cavity. Without treatment the decay will continue to spread until eventually the tooth is destroyed.  

What Are The Symptoms Of Tooth Decay?

One of the earliest signs that a tooth might have some decay is an increased sensitivity to hot or cold things or a toothache that occurs after eating /drinking sweet things. You might also feel pain when biting down on the teeth, particularly if it’s one of your back teeth. Not all dental decay is easily visible but you might see a brown, black or chalky looking area developing especially between the teeth or in the pits on the chewing surfaces of your molars. If decay is allowed to progress through to the centre of the tooth where it can reach the nerve chamber, the nerve will become inflamed and eventually die. This will result in significant pain and an abscess may develop. If this happens, an abscess may develop resulting in significant pain along with potential swelling and feverlike symptoms.  

What Can I Do To Stop Tooth Decay From Spreading?

The sooner you have tooth decay treatment, the more likely you are to stop the decay and prevent it from spreading. If you think you have symptoms of tooth decay you should make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. Dental decay can’t be treated without professional intervention but getting help as soon as you develop symptoms can stop the tooth decay and, in some cases, prevent it from developing into a cavity.

It is not just what we eat but the frequency at which we eat it. When we eat something sugary the pH in our mouths drops and the environment changes from alkaline to acidic. It is during the acid phase that tooth decay happens. Our saliva neutralises the acids and returns the mouth to a safe ph. This process takes 2 to 3 hours from start to finish. If you continuously eat or drink again during this period, the mouth can’t get back to its alkaline status. Instead it remains in an acidic state and cavities start to form.

By adjusting your habits so that you confine sugary snacks and drinks to mealtimes and either avoid eating/drinking between meals or choose non-carbohydrate/sugary foods, you will allow your mouth the opportunity to recover from the last acidic attack before the next one starts. This will enhance your natural defenses against tooth decay and help to slow down the progression of any early dental caries.  

Tooth Decay Treatment

Treatment for dental decay will depend on how far the decay has travelled and how big the cavity is. Your dentist may need to take an X-ray to determine the extent of this.  

If tooth decay is still in the early demineralisation phase and hasn’t yet developed into a cavity, your dentist may use a strong professional fluoride varnish to try and remineralise the enamel. They may give you some prescription-stength fluoride toothpaste to use daily at home. This approach is also sometimes used to stop the progression of a dental cavity that is still very small.

The most common treatment for dental decay is a filling. This involves removing the decayed part of the tooth and replacing the missing portion with a filling. There are various different filling materials available and your dentist will choose the one that is best suited to the size, shape and position of the area that needs restoring.  

If your tooth decay is severe or if the tooth has become weak and broken, a crown or cap may be required to restore the tooth’s function. The dentist will remove the decay and reshape the tooth so that a crown can be fitted over the top of the tooth.

If the tooth decay has traveled as far as the nerve and it has become infected, you will need the nerve removing and a filling placing in a procedure called root canal treatment.  

In cases where the decay is very advanced, the tooth becomes unrestorable, and the only option left is to remove it.  

What Can I Do To Prevent Tooth Decay?  

The prevention of tooth decay lies firmly with the individual but it’s never too late to get started. The good news is that simple changes can have a really significant impact.  

Eat a healthy, balanced diet, low in sugary carbohydrates and high in fresh, crunchy vegetables. Chewing food is a great way to naturally clean the teeth.  

Brush morning and night with a fluoride toothpaste. Spit out the excess but don’t rinse. This will allow the fluoride time to be absorbed. Try to avoid eating or drinking anything for at least 30 minutes after you have cleaned. You can also use a fluoride mouthwash but use it at a different time to brushing.  

Floss or use interdental aids every day to remove food particles and plaque from between your teeth.  

Chew sugar free gum after meals to help stimulate saliva which in turn will help to neutralise the acids.  

Visit the dentist and dental hygienist regularly. Spotting tooth decay early can prevent it developing into a cavity. They may also suggest sealing the pits or grooves in your back teeth to eliminate areas where food can become trapped, and bacteria can flourish.  

Innovations In Dental Decay Prevention

Education is key to prevention. Explore prevention focused technologies and treatments that focus heavily on educating individuals to health. Guided Biofilm Therapy uses a biofilm discloser to highlight the plaque bacteria so each patient can be shown where to focus their efforts. Gentle airflow with warm water and a powder containing anti-cariogenic properties is then used to chase the highlighted plaque biofilm and remove it completely even from the most difficult to reach areas. Having guided biofilm therapy carried out frequently helps to train and educate patients by giving bespoke and proactive feedback that empowers the individual to take control of their own health. Investing in prevention-led care will prevent tooth decay and dental treatments further down the line especially when combined with lifestyle changes mentioned earlier in this blog.  

Remember the best treatment for stopping tooth decay is to prevent it in the first place. Act promptly if you notice changes in your mouth and never underestimate the power of prevention.