Tooth decay, or softening of the enamel, is one of the most prevalent dental conditions. Acids produced by bacteria weaken tooth enamel over time, which results in a cavity. According to one study, 92% of adults have had cavities in their permanent teeth.
The good news is that decay occurs in stages, and early treatment can prevent it from progressing and potentially spare you from needing a root canal or complete extraction. While our busy lives make it easy to dismiss early signs of decay, recognizing symptoms is the key to treating cavities early.
The most common signs of tooth decay include:
Sensitivity or pain that comes on suddenly is one of the most common indications of decay. A loss of enamel can expose the sensitive dentin of the tooth. Dentin protects the tooth’s roots which contain nerve endings. When left exposed, nerves are vulnerable to hot, cold, and sweet foods and beverages. Sensitivity can range from mild to severe and may be persistent or intermittent. Making a note of when your sensitivity began can help our team assess the tooth for decay.
If the initial symptoms of tooth decay are ignored, it’s likely that a toothache will develop. Unlike tooth sensitivity that can be fleeting, toothaches tend to present as sharp, throbbing, and constant, regardless of activity. In addition, toothaches may be accompanied by swelling around the tooth, bad-tasting drainage from the infected tooth, as well as a fever or headache. If your toothache lasts longer than 1-2 days, or you experience a fever, earache, or pain when opening your mouth, it’s important to contact your dentist as soon as possible, as this can indicate an advanced infection.
Cavities are infected areas or pits in the tooth that can collect food particles and become a breeding ground for bacteria. This build-up of bacteria creates a very unpleasant smell that can cause persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.
One visible sign of decay is tooth discoloration. A spot or stain on a tooth that appears bright white, brown, or black could indicate a cavity. Although natural discoloration can occur, it’s best to have your dentist examine it for signs of decay.
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Since tooth decay can start without a distinguishable red flag, having our dental team take periodic X-rays can help identify early tooth decay before it leads to a cavity. It’s also another great reason to maintain regular dental checkups. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms noted above or have questions about your dental health, please get in touch with our team to schedule an appointment.