Tooth Decay / Dental Caries Symptoms & Causes
The most dangerous part about tooth decay is that symptoms are not caused in the initial stages. Besides a bit of negligible pain in the affected tooth, a person does not experience exceptional discomfort until the decay converts into cavities. At this stage, toothache becomes too severe to ignore. The symptoms may range from mild sensitivity to unbearable toothache along with swelling.
A tooth comprises of three layers – the outermost layer is called enamel, the middle layer called dentin and the center portion is called pulp. Decay always begins from the surface of the affected tooth with the destruction of enamel. The condition worsens as the decay begins to pierce through the surface and enters the inner layers. Based on the extent of damage, tooth decay is classified into different levels.
- In the first level of decay, the affected area is very small and restricted to the surface. At this stage, fluoride treatments can be used to curb decay. The caries or the decay may be arrested or even reversed if the fluoride treatment is taken on time before the severe damage is done.
- If decay is neglected in the initial stages, the problem deepens into the inner layers of the tooth. Cavitation or the actual loss of tooth structure is caused in this stage. There may be dentinal hypersensitivity or toothache. Dentists need to clean and fill cavities with the suitable material to prevent the problem from worsening.
- The third stage of decay is the most severe. In this stage, the decaying portion affects the innermost layer of the tooth called pulp. At this stage, extreme pain and discomfort is caused because pulp is a sensitive area consisting of blood vessels and nerves. Blood supply to the tooth stops and the tooth dies. Subsequently, abscess forms at the root of the tooth in the bone area. The condition is called abscessed tooth and is extremely painful.
A dentist diagnoses tooth decay in the following ways:
- Dental history: Enquiring about the patient’s previous dental conditions
- Chief complaint: Enquiring about pain, sensitivity and discomfort in the recent past, its onset, progression, aggravating and relieving factors.
- Using dental tools to probe in the affected area to detect soft spots. Dentists sometimes use a mirror to examine the tooth more closely
- Taking X-rays of the mouth in order to evaluate the extent to decay.
Based on these tests, the dentist diagnoses the exact cause of discomfort. In case it is an issue of decay, the dentist evaluates the extent of damage and prescribes treatment accordingly.