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Tooth decay

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is damage to your tooth’s surface, or enamel, from acids. If you don’t get treatment, this can progress to a small hole in your tooth, called a cavity, which can cause pain and an infection. In the later stages of tooth decay, you may even lose your tooth.

What causes tooth decay?

Tooth decay is caused by plaque acids gradually dissolving away your tooth. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria over your teeth. When you eat or drink sugary things in particular, the bacteria in plaque produce acid, which can gradually break down the surface of your tooth and cause tooth decay. If a hole (cavity) develops in the enamel, the plaque and bacteria can reach the softer material underneath the enamel called dentine.

What treatments are there for tooth decay?

For very early tooth decay there are new techniques available which avoid the necessity for a dentist to have to remove the decay. If you have more advanced decay, your dentist can remove the decay and repair your tooth with a filling. If the nerve in the middle of your tooth is damaged, your dentist will perform root canal treatment to remove the nerve and repair your tooth with a filling or a crown. If you have a badly decayed tooth, your dentist might not be able to repair it and they’ll have to take the tooth out.

How do I prevent tooth decay?

You can help to prevent tooth decay by doing the following:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. It’s important to brush them well and to cover all surfaces of your teeth.
  • Use interdental brushes or dental floss or tape to remove plaque and food in between your teeth and where they meet the gums.
  • Limit the amount of sugary food and drinks you consume, especially the frequency.
  • See a dentist and hygienist for regular check-ups so they can spot and treat tooth decay early. They can also give you advice on how to take care of your teeth properly.

How will my dentist diagnose tooth decay?

A dentist can diagnose tooth decay during a regular dental check-up. Your dentist will examine your teeth and ask if you have any symptoms of tooth decay. In the early stages of tooth decay, you might not have any symptoms. As tooth decay progresses, it can cause a toothache or sensitivity to sweet foods and drinks, or the hot, or cold. Your dentist may be able to see a cavity in its early stages when they examine you. Early tooth decay may look like a white spot on your tooth, whereas more advanced decay may appear as a darker spot or a hole in your tooth. Your dentist may take an X-ray of your teeth to check for cavities that are not visible to the eye.

What to do if you have a cracked, damaged or rotten tooth

If you have any of these problems with a tooth, go and see a dentist as soon as possible as early tooth decay is much easier to treat than advanced decay. Your dentist will be able to tell you if you have tooth decay, and how they can help you to treat it.

Find your local Bupa Dental Care dentist for advice and guidance

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

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