Tooth decay occurs when a build-up of bacteria damages the surface of your teeth, which is also called the enamel. Reversing mild tooth decay is possible in some cases, and you can prevent it by practicing good oral hygiene. If your tooth decay has progressed beyond the help of home treatments, it’s important to visit your dentist as early as possible.
Untreated tooth decay can cause many problems, from gum disease to dental caries, or cavities. Tooth decay can also be very painful and lead to serious infections. These infections could result in losing a natural tooth or experiencing cardiovascular symptoms. Learn more about how to treat tooth decay below.
What Causes Tooth Decay
Bacteria naturally thrive in your mouth, and many bacteria are beneficial to your health. However, when harmful bacteria enter the oral cavity, they play a role in causing tooth decay. They’ll feed on the sugars and starches in your food and form a film over your teeth called plaque.
The bacteria in plaque generate acids as a byproduct of their consumption. The acid gradually erodes your enamel, slowly dissolving the minerals on the surface of your teeth. When you let plaque go untreated, it will harden and form tartar. Tartar can damage your teeth and cause gum disease.
Risk factors for tooth decay include:
- The specific tooth: Your molars and premolars are more susceptible to tooth decay. These teeth are harder to reach with a toothbrush because they’re in the back of your mouth and are often textured with pits or grooves, which makes them more difficult to clean.
- Dry mouth: Saliva helps clear away food and hinder the effects of bacteria.
- Your age: Cavities are the most common among children and teenagers. Older adults also experience an increased risk. Teeth wear down over time, and older adults might also take medications that cause side effects like dry mouth.
- Poor brushing habits: Plaque forms more easily when you skip daily brushing.
- Consuming food and drinks high in sugar: Any naturally or artificially sweetened foods or drinks feed the bacteria that cause plaque. These products include soda, candy and ice cream. However, healthier items like fruit and breakfast cereal can also lead to tooth decay.
- Frequent snacking: Snacking throughout the day without brushing your teeth afterward gives oral bacteria more opportunities to grow. Heavy consumption of acidic beverages like sodas also increases erosion of your enamel.
- Heartburn: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a treatable condition that can bring stomach acid into the oral cavity, which weakens enamel.
- Eating disorders: Anorexia can lead to dry mouth and the loss of nutrients that teeth need to remain strong. Bulimia causes additional problems, contributing to tooth decay with stomach acid that enters the oral cavity during purging sessions.
- Older dental work: Your fillings may gradually weaken, and dental devices can thrive with bacteria.
- Baby bottle or sippy cup feeding: Babies and toddlers may experience tooth decay when fed before bed or overnight without having their teeth cared for.
Is Tooth Decay Reversible?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a cavity, you might wonder if tooth decay can be reversed. A method called demineralization can reverse small cavities. This process involves mineral deposits forming in the damaged part of a tooth. You can try a few methods to reverse mild tooth decay on your own. If your tooth decay is severe or you experience painful sensations in your teeth, the best option is to schedule a visit with your dentist.
You can prevent tooth decay from progressing by:
- Drinking through a straw: When drinking sweet or acidic beverages, limit exposure to your teeth.
- Drinking your coffee black: While coffee might have an antibacterial effect, adding sweeteners like creamer only contributes to the negative effects. If you drink coffee frequently, try using fewer sweeteners or fillers, including milk.
- Drinking more water: Stay hydrated and keep your saliva production up by drinking plenty of water. Drinking water flushes out food and bacteria. As an added bonus, tap water contains fluoride for fighting plaque.
- Chewing gum: Chewing sugar-free gum can help fight plaque and increase your saliva production. The Xylitol in gum can also kill harmful bacteria.
- Using an antiseptic mouth rinse: Rinse with mouth wash each morning or night to control the population of oral bacteria.
- Taking antacids: Take antacids to treat your acid reflux and reduce your stomach acid.
How to Reverse Tooth Decay
In the early stages of tooth decay, you can practice good oral hygiene and get teeth cleanings to reverse the progression of plaque. The mineral fluoride may be able to help remineralize teeth internally and externally. Fluoride is added to public water supplies and many oral care products due to its ability to prevent cavities and reverse tooth damage.
You can find fluoride in:
- Tap water: While fluoride is added to public sources of water, bottled water lacks the mineral.
- Certain kinds of toothpaste: Check the label of your preferred brand to see if your toothpaste contains fluoride. The majority of toothpaste products use fluoride, which is appropriate for adults and children above the age of two.
- Mouth rinses: Fluoride is also commonly added to antiseptic mouth rinses.
- Fluoride gel or tablets: Your dentist can prescribe fluoride to children who need it.
Other ways you can reverse tooth decay include:
- Improving your oral hygiene: If your tooth decay is the consequence of poor oral hygiene habits like a lack of brushing, you can improve your oral care routine. Brush at least twice daily, and use dental floss. A teeth cleaning lets your hygienist scrape away the tartar.
- Protective sealants: A dentist can fill natural holes in your teeth to prevent decay from progressing into a cavity.
- Getting more calcium in your diet: Calcium keeps your bones and teeth strong.
- Changing your diet: If you frequently snack on sweets, holding yourself accountable to regular meals while avoiding sugar can help. Eating enough fruits and vegetables can keep your teeth in good condition. It’s also beneficial to consume less processed carbohydrates.
- Cutting back on acidic beverages: Avoid drinking certain beverages with citrus and sodas while you’re working on improving your oral health.
Schedule an Appointment With AZ Family Dental
There’s only so much you can do to treat tooth decay at home. Once you’ve started experiencing symptoms, it’s time to see your dentist for an evaluation. At AZ Family Dental, we provide teeth cleanings and treatment services for issues caused by tooth decay.
Our welcoming staff treats patients like family. We work with children and adults alike. Schedule an appointment by calling us, or contact us online to get started.