What Happens if Tooth Decay is Left Untreated?

Research shows that an average of eight-in-ten adults in the UK struggle with one or a few teeth with decay. The statistic for children is equally high, reflecting one-in-five with signs of early onset of tooth decay. What causes tooth decay and what happens when you leave it untreated?

If you’re running your tongue over that cavity in the back of your mouth as you’re reading this, then this article is for you. No one wants to experience the embarrassment of having bad teeth, so what can you do to prevent a small cavity from becoming full-blown tooth decay? Keep reading to find out!

Understanding the Root Cause of Tooth Decay

Before we tell you what to do about tooth decay, it’s important to know what causes this embarrassing problem. Let’s highlight how this process occurs.

Plaque Develops

Dental plaque forms on your teeth when bacteria begin to grow on the sugars and starches that aren’t cleaned off your teeth after meals and snacks. When the plaque isn’t regularly removed, it hardens above or under the gum line and becomes tartar. In turn, tartar makes it increasingly difficult for plaque to be removed. 

Plaque Creates Erosion

As plaque develops, the acid it contains removes the minerals found in the tooth’s outer enamel. The acid creates erosion and tiny holes form in the enamel which is the first stage of cavities. 

Plaque acid is strong enough to start eating at the layer of your tooth known as dentin. Since dentin leads directly to your tooth nerve, you start experiencing tooth sensitivity. 

Plaque Damage Spreads

As the acid and bacteria spread, they start affecting the inner tooth area, called the pulp which contains the blood vessels and nerves. Once the pulp becomes irritated and swollen, the swelling starts pressing on the nerves. 

This causes that all too familiar tooth pain. As the bacteria spread, it can even reach the bone or tooth root. When this happens, infection is guaranteed to set in and can extend to the rest of your body. At this point, you’ll need more medical attention than just a tooth removal. 

What Are the Symptoms of Tooth Decay?

Since you might not always get a good view of all your teeth, it’s equally important to know what the symptoms of tooth decay are. Let’s look at the most common signs to look out for. 

  • Dark, often black, spots show up on your teeth
  • Toothache seems to appear overnight
  • You experience pain when you eat something hard
  • Sensitivity on and around the tooth shows up from one day to the next
  • Touching your mouth in that area hurts

Risk Factors That Increase the Risk of Tooth Decay

The reality about tooth decay is that if you have teeth you’re at risk of developing tooth decay and cavities. Some factors, however, place you at more risk. Knowing what these factors are will help you prevent or deal with them effectively. 

Particular Foods and Drinks

Most foods are washed away with saliva while you’re eating. Certain foods, on the other hand, cling to your teeth long after you’re finished eating them. These are the ones that are likely to aggravate bacteria growth. The top culprits are:

  • Sugar
  • Soda
  • Cake
  • Ice cream
  • Honey
  • Cookies
  • Chips
  • Dry cereal
  • Candies

Location of Certain Teeth

One of the reasons people often neglect the early stages of tooth decay is that decay usually occurs in the back teeth. The molars and premolars have a lot of grooves, nooks, crannies and multiple roots that food particles can easily settle in. 

Frequent Eating or Drinking

If you’re continuously snacking on sipping on sugary drinks throughout the day, you’re placing your teeth at greater risk of mouth bacteria wearing your teeth down. Certain types of acidic drinks and foods create a layer of acidic bacteria over your teeth, making them harder to clean off. The more of these foods you eat or drink without brushing in between, the easier it becomes for bacteria to break down the layers of your teeth. 

Using the Wrong Type of Toothpaste & Brushing

Proper dental hygiene isn’t just about regular brushing. It’s about brushing with a toothpaste that has the correct amount of fluoride in it. Fluoride is commonly known for not only preventing cavities but also reversing the very early stages of damage. To ensure you’re getting an adequate amount of fluoride on your teeth and brushing correctly consider the following:

  • Ensure that toothpaste and mouthwashes contain fluoride
  • Where possible, brush your teeth with public water (so, from the tap) as bottled water often doesn’t contain fluoride
  • Brush your teeth after each meal for the fluoride to protect your teeth
  • Brush and floss your teeth correctly and with the right type of toothbrush – your dentist will be able to advise you of the correct toothbrush for your age and condition of your teeth
  • Change your toothbrush often 

How Long Can You Leave Tooth Decay Untreated?

Many people often leave tooth decay untreated until pain sets in. Unfortunately, as with everything else, the longer you leave tooth decay untreated, the worse it gets. On average, it takes about 3 to 6 months for cavities or tooth decay to start affecting your nerves. 

Depending on the general condition of your mouth hygiene, this period can be considerably shorter. When cavities go untreated, they get bigger and start affecting deeper layers of your tooth and gums. 

Steps to Prevent a Tooth Cavity From Turning into Decay

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to tooth decay. A cavity can easily be prevented or stopped in its early stages. It’s really as simple as practicing proper mouth hygiene and scheduling regular visits to your favorite dentist. 

A few crucial tips for keeping tooth decay at bay include:

  • Brush your teeth every day. This usually means, the morning, after each meal and at bedtime
  • Avoid snacking on large amounts of sugar or carbohydrates during the day
  • Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride
  • If you’ve experienced sensitivity in the past, opt for a toothpaste that contains a sealant to further protect your teeth
  • Schedule regular checkups with your dentist – don’t wait for a painful tooth

When To See a Dentist

Due to the high amount of sugar and carbohydrates in the average diet, it’s no wonder that there’s an increase in instances of tooth decay. The good news, however, is that you don’t have to suffer through the agonizing pain of a cavity. 

The team at Shine Dental Clinic is eagerly waiting to fix your smile by helping you treat your tooth decay at the first signs. It’s as simple as calling us on 01623 629391 or booking an online appointment. Our dental experts will not only provide you with expert dental health but also give you a few tips to keep tooth decay from ruining your smile! 

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