What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay, sometimes also known as dental caries, is one of the most common conditions to affect both adults and children in the UK and can cause tooth cavities that require fillings or other dental treatment. Some people are at higher risk of developing decay than others and it’s commonly caused by plaque.
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth and if it isn’t removed by regular brushing and other oral hygiene techniques, tooth decay will follow.
What is tooth decay caused by?
The bacteria in plaque react with sugar in the foods and drinks we consume to produce acids. Over time, the acid in plaque can begin to breakdown the hard outer-surface of the tooth (the enamel) to form a cavity. At this stage, you may not have any symptoms at all. If left untreated, the cavity can progress to the deeper, softer layer of the tooth (dentine). At this stage, you may experience sensitivity to hot and cold when eating and drinking. Finally, decay can then expose the nerves (the pulp) inside a tooth. Exposure of the pulp to bacteria may cause a dental abscess, which can be very painful.
Tooth decay symptoms
The symptoms or signs of tooth decay can vary somewhat, depending on the extent and severity of the issue. Often the first sign people notice is a sensitivity to hot or cold food or drink. If you have severe tooth decay, you’re likely to experience pain and potentially abscesses.
Tooth decay pain is likely to be more noticeable when eating or drinking, but can also show itself through chronic toothache, with pain that comes and goes persistently and gets worse over time if not treated.
The symptoms of tooth decay under a filling or crown are likely to be similar, with sensitivity and pain being the most likely signs that bacteria has been able to enter the tooth again and create a new cavity under the filling or crown.
In severe cases, tooth decay can weaken teeth to the point that they may crack or fragment.
How to get rid of tooth decay
Tooth decay treatment usually involves a filling, root canal treatment or extraction of the affected tooth or teeth. The treatment you will need will depend on the extent of the dental decay you have and your dentist should talk through treatment options with you.
Tooth decay removal in the form of a filling means that the decayed part of the tooth must be removed, usually by drilling, and a filling will replace it. If this is not viable, due to the extent of the dental tooth decay, then root canal treatment or extraction might be the only options left available to you.
Are there different types of tooth decay?
Whilst there are no different types of dental decay as such, tooth decay can form on and in different areas of the teeth, including:
- On the biting surfaces of teeth
- Tooth decay between teeth
- On root surfaces
- Around existing fillings and crowns (recurrent decay)
- Especially on back teeth that are harder to keep clean
How quickly does tooth decay progress?
The length of time it takes for tooth decay to progress to a stage where a cavity is formed and treatment is required will vary from case to case, as the conditions in people’s mouths changes frequently.
The progression of the decay is affected very much by oral hygiene practices. Someone with very early tooth decay could take many months or even years before they need a filling. However, as decay is permanent, it’s important to take action and not let decay progress to this point whenever possible.
What happens when tooth decay isn’t effectively treated?
Once the decay has advanced, it sometimes requires a filling to treat the cavity and ensure that the tooth is not further damaged. However, if the decay has advanced beyond the point that this is possible, it can mean that teeth might need root canal treatment, crowns to be fitted, or even for teeth to be extracted altogether.
How to stop tooth decay
The best way to stop tooth decay from progressing any further is to practice good oral hygiene. Using a fluoride toothpaste when brushing twice a day, along with reducing sugar in your diet, can make a big difference to the progression of dental decay.
What to do if you have tooth decay
If you already have tooth decay that requires treatment like a filling, root canal procedure or extraction, ensuring that you follow this treatment with good oral hygiene practices and a low-sugar diet can help to minimise the chances of experiencing tooth decay again in the future.
Why might you make a compensation claim for tooth decay?
If your dentist has been negligent in your care regarding tooth decay, and this results in pain, suffering or financial loss, you may be eligible to make a claim for compensation.
If you have tooth decay that has not been correctly diagnosed or effectively treated by your dentist, despite regular visits, the problem can progress to a stage where you need to have restorative dental treatment, or you may even have teeth that cannot be saved and require extraction.
It might be that your dentist missed a cavity on several visits, which resulted in the problem getting much worse, or it could be that your dentist missed tooth decay altogether, meaning that you were not treated when you should have been, and this made your condition worse.
Another instance where you might be able to claim compensation is if your dentist didn’t fill the cavity correctly when originally treating your tooth decay and was negligent with your care. If this has meant that you’ve experienced recurrent decay under fillings and required more restorative treatment, which would have been avoidable if there was no negligence originally, you might be able to make a claim.