Decay and its consequences: how severe are they?

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Written by Dr. Qamri

January 7, 2021

Dental Decay/ Caries/ Cavities all mean the same thing. It is a result of the bacterial attack on your teeth, which compromise it’s structure, eventually resulting in loss if left untreated. Unlike most other body parts, the teeth, much like the nervous system, lack the ability to auto-repair and need external intervention. Yes! The tooth cannot heal itself. Nor do only medications help treat dental diseases. dental diseases need treatments and maintenance.

The most common reason for cavities is the lack of a good oral hygiene regimen however, several other factors such as diet, genetics, physiology of the saliva, and pre-existing conditions also play a vital role in causing cavities. 

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Types of carious infections:

The tooth is a unique structure where every surface is prone to decay to a varying degree. Depending on the surface under bacterial attack, the consequences also vary. The easiest way to understand this is by understanding the layers of teeth.

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Infection involving the upper enamel: Enamel is the outermost layer of the tooth and the most resilient one as well. Intercepting decay at this level is the most ideal situation. Your dentist will simply drill out the decayed portion and replace it with a similar colored resin-based material. 

Infection involving upper enamel and inner dentin: The second layer of the tooth i.e. The dentin is not strong as the enamel and decay spread through it rather rapidly in comparison. If intercepted in time, it can be preserved well by drilling out the decayed portions and replacing them with the resin-based material. However, if overlooked, it’s only a matter of time before the decay reaches the core of the tooth, which is known as the pulp. 

Infection involving Pulp: Pulp is a network of blood vessels and nerve plexus that provide the tooth it’s vitality. Once infected, the only solution is to remove all of it and disinfect it from within. The process in known as the root canal treatment. 

Infection affecting surrounding structures: Decay can not only affect the teeth but its surrounding structures. The bone and gums suffer in the process of neglection. The extent of infection in the bone determines whether the teeth are salvageable or not. 

Infection causing life-threatening conditions: Although rare, long-standing infections of the teeth spread to different parts of the head and neck known as “spaces”. Multiple factors such as compromised immune system, pre-existing conditions etc. Contribute to the likelihood of a space infections. 

Ignoring your tooth cavities

Once the bacteria in the plaque have started releasing acids that dissolve the tooth structure and cause cavities, the disease only progresses. Just like any other disease in our body, dental diseases also only worsen if you don’t take the necessary step at the right time. Simple teeth cleaning every 6 months can save it all. Failure of which cavities begin to form for which tooth fillings are required.

Ignoring cavities can lead to the progress of the infection to the nerve of the tooth indicating a root canal treatment. Further progression leaves you with an option of getting your tooth extracted and then replacing them with an artificial tooth. This process takes time, but the right treatment at the right time can save it all. It’s simple you go for a haircut every 4-5 months, you might as well book your dental appointments too.

Modes of treatment: 

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  • Fillings: When enamel and or dentin are involved
  • Root Canal Therapy: When pulp is involved
  • Surgery: When Root canal procedure is not enough to eliminate the infection
  • Extraction/ Tooth removal: When the tooth shows poor prognosis and no treatment can save it
  • Replacing the missing teeth: Once the infections has healed, its imperative to restore the missing teeth. The options available are bridges, partial dentures (removable or fixed) and implants depending on the patient’s conditions. 

Remember you can prevent tooth decay by following the 5 steps to be absolutely cavity-free.

Highlights

  • It is you who can help yourself. Time and dental diseases don’t wait for anyone.
  • Dental diseases are very much preventable, but once they start they only progress to cause more complications.
  • It all starts with plaque. So maintaining a good oral hygiene and getting rid of the plaque will stop the onset and restrict the progression of the dental diseases.
  • Remember 6 monthly visits to the dentist can save it all.

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I passed out from MUHS in 2015 and have been working in the clinics ever since. For me, dentistry is a lot more than fillings, root canals and injections. It’s about effective communication, it’s about educating and guiding the patient to become self-sufficient in mastering the oral health care, and most importantly it’s about having the sense of accountability in whatever treatment I render, big or small! But I’m not all work and no play! In my free time I love to read, binge watching tv shows, play a good video game and nap!
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