Tooth decay(also known as dental caries) is damage to the enamel/dentine of your teeth caused by bacteria. It leads to cavities, that can affect every layer of the tooth, when acids produced by bacteria in the mouth softens the tooth.
What causes tooth decay?
The main things that cause tooth decay are bacteria and food (mainly sweets). A clear, sticky substance called plaque is formed which contains bacteria that feed on the sugars from the food you eat.
As the bacteria feed, they make acids. The acids attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more after you eat. Over time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, causing tooth decay.
Factors that reduce the risk of tooth decay
Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly.
Having regular checkups with your dentist.
Not having a diet rich in sugar and other carbohydrates, as these provide food for the bacteria in your mouth.
Using enough fluoridated toothpaste or other agents as suggested by your dentist as it makes the teeth more resistant to acids produced by plaque.
Preventing a dry mouth. Saliva washes away food and harmful sugars, so it helps protect your teeth from decay. A dry mouth can be caused by a condition such as xerostomia or Sjögren's syndrome, by taking certain medicines or by breathing through your mouth. The salivary rate can be increased by chewing sugar from gum. If you are suffering from a dry mouth please discuss this with your dentist.
What is a filling?
A filling is the process of restoring the tooth damaged after removing the decay, by using an appropriate material. This makes the tooth functional.
The most commonly used filling materials are amalgam, glass ionomer and composite. You can choose the material you prefer. Your dentist can also help you choose what suits you best.
What is an inlay and onlay?
Inlay and onlay are like fillings but they are constructed in the laboratory so they are more strong. Inlay is when the restoration is within the four walls of the tooth whereas onlay involves one or more walls. They are made of gold, porcelain or composite. Your dentist will discuss the various options with you and advise if inlay /onlay is required.
A crown is a tooth-shaped "cap" that is placed over a tooth. This covers the tooth and restores its shape, size, strength and appearance (depending on which type of crown you are going for). These are then cemented in place fully encasing the tooth. Crowns can be made from various different materials from precious to non precious metals. White crowns are usually porcelain fused to metal, cerac, or zirconia.
Your dentist will advise you if you need a crown and the type material that is best suited to you.
When a gap is created by one or more missing teeth then a bridge is used to replace the teeth missing from that area. A bridge is normally made up of two or more crowns for the teeth on either side of the gap and the missing false tooth/teeth is attached to these two crowns. The whole unit is cemented by the help of the retainers (crowns) on the abutment teeth (supporting). This makes it look esthetically good, giving it strength and helping it to function. This is called a fixed bridge.
There is another type of bridge where the support is taken from the adjacent teeth of one or both sides, but only a metal wing is placed on one surface. Here the tooth tissue loss is less and less invasive. The retention is not as good as the fixed bridge.
Your dentist will discuss with you which bridge is more suitable after giving you all the options.
A veneer is a thin layer of porcelain which is made to fit over the front surface of a tooth and then is cemented in place. It is considered to be more of a cosmetic treatment and helps to improve the shape, colour and position of teeth. It also helps to close small gaps and is sometimes used to mask discolouration. Please speak to your dentist and your dentist will advise you.