What is tooth decay?
Dentists may refer to tooth decay with several terms, including plaque, tartar, sugar bugs, bacteria, debris and more. Tooth decay is the damage that occurred to a tooth as a result of bacteria. Initially, decay affects the hard outer enamel layer, but if the bacteria remains, it can continue to eat through to the inner dentin layer and even reach the pulp of the tooth. At ImplantWide, we like to see our patients for regular dental cleanings; this allows us to assess their level of decay and spot problems while they are still small and manageable.
Decay through the Layers
The outside layer of your teeth, known as enamel, is hard, strong and protective. It is the hardest substance in our body, stronger than bone. Enamel is the first of four layers of our teeth. We are lucky to have this hard-protective layer; it allows us to bite and chew food with the frequency that we do. Though enamel is strong, it can decay. Decay occurs when bacteria find sugar to feed on.
As we chew food, there are often tiny fragments left behind, these fragments settle between and in the nooks and crannies of our teeth. Our body naturally developed a solution to this with the creation of saliva and plaque. Saliva is present to wash away germs, and plaque is a naturally occurring material that blends saliva and debris collecting it into a substance. What our body was not prepared for is the amount of sugar consumed today.
Humans today consume significantly more sugar, it is in sweets, but also bread, pasta, many drinks and more. Bacteria feed on this sugar and then emits an acid that decays our teeth, breaking down the enamel.
After the bacteria eats through the hard-outer enamel layer, it then finds itself in the next layer, known as the dentin. Bacteria that is in contact with dentin will cause us discomfort and pain. We will notice it, though many patients share that they chose to ignore it. Dentin is a bony tissue; it is a calcified tissue that is hard and dense. Dentin is sensitive, which is for our dental health, this sensitivity transfers the impulses of energy from chewing to the pulp and nerve. Bacteria that meets dentin will bring some degree of pain.
The third layer of the tooth is the cementum. Cementum covers and protects the root of the tooth. Decay that reaches the cementum leads to an active bacterial infection in the inner portion of the tooth. It will not heal on its own, it will not go away if ignored, a bacterial infection inside a tooth will continue to rage until it kills the tooth, and the infection can extend to neighboring teeth, killing them as well.
When the fourth layer, known as the pulp of a tooth, becomes infected, it is often very painful for the patient. At this point, a root canal therapy procedure is required to save the tooth. When a tooth is growing, the pulp is necessary, but after a tooth is fully grown, the pulp can be removed. Root canal therapy is the process of opening the tooth to expose the pulp, removing the pulp, nerve, and source of infection. We then cleanse the canal and fill it with a medicated material. Root canal therapy does weaken the tooth structure; therefore a dental crown is often necessary to shield and protect the tooth.