Tooth decay, cavities, or dental caries are one and the same and represent structural damage to a tooth that will require fillings, crowns or other treatment. Tooth decay is such a common malady that it ranks second only to the common cold.
Tooth Decay 101
Tooth decay starts with normal bacteria in the mouth. This bacterium feeds off food particles, especially those high in sugar and starch, and transforms them into acids. When bacteria, acid, saliva, and food particles commingle, they create a sticky matter known as plaque. Plaque (found on the back molars, at the border of fillings, and right above the gum line) is a yellowish biofilm that forms on the teeth about 20 minutes after eating. It eventually develops into tartar if it is not promptly brushed away after eating. This is where tooth decay starts, as does gingivitis and periodontitis.
Why All This Talk About Tooth Decay?
Left untreated, tooth decay can progress to more serious dental issues like a tooth abscess or tooth loss. Depending upon the extent of the tooth decay, the treatment plan can include a relatively simple tooth filling with a composite resin or other compatible material, or a more involved procedure requiring a root canal and dental crown.
A dental crown, or more commonly referred to as a cap, is a fabricated material used to strongly reinforce a damaged tooth. A crown is not needed in all cases of tooth decay. When indicated, a specially fitted crown is placed over a tooth after the decay has been removed. When there is limited tooth structure remaining following a repair, the tooth is more likely to break if not further reinforced with a crown. If the decay involves the dental root, a root canal might be necessary before the tooth is crowned.
The Anatomy of a Crown
A crown or cap is a tightly fitting, tooth shaped covering that is permanently adhered over the remaining tooth structure after the decay is removed. A crown is made of gold, porcelain, or porcelain adhered to a metal base. The procedure to crown a tooth is time consuming and expensive but renders excellent results, in most cases. It requires at least two visits to the dentist and possibly more, depending upon the individual circumstances.
Preventing Tooth Decay
There are basic dental care tips to help stop tooth decay in its tracks:
- Schedule professional dental care at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning and evaluation.
- Brush teeth at least twice a day, for a minimum of three minutes at each session. Preferably, do so in the morning and the evening.
- Be sure to use a properly sized toothbrush that will comfortably reach the back teeth.
- Brush firmly but be cautious not to damage gums in the process.
- Use fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss teeth daily.
- Limit intake of sugary foods and drinks, as well as starchy foods.
Following the above guidelines does not guarantee that dental decay and the potential need for a crown can be avoided. Every preventive step taken to properly care for teeth and enhance oral hygiene is helpful in the process.