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A Guide to Dental Decay and its Effects 

Dental emergency problems vary massively and are all triggered by a number of different factors. Did you know, though, that in the majority of cases, dental decay is responsible for most problems that require immediate professional treatment? Unbelievable isn’t it? Especially when you realise that dental decay is quite easy to prevent and eradicate with just a few common sense approaches.

According to recent surveys, dental decay is the most common trigger for all emergency dental treatment in the UK. Because of this, it is important that people understand the implications of not looking after teeth, and can comprehend the generalities of oral health, as this is where it all stems from. Learning about dental decay and how to prevent it now, could ultimately help you to avoid painful and costly dental treatment in the near future.

How does dental decay set in?

Even people who look after their teeth and brush and floss regularly may still get dental decay. The difference is that if you look after your teeth as recommended and attend regular appointments with your dentist, you are more likely to have mild decay that can be sorted out the next time you have a check-up. People who do not practise what is advised however, will find that decay will build up over time and will result in more serious dental work needing to be undertaken to put things right again.

Dental decay starts when plaque builds up on the teeth. Plaque is something that gathers momentum if it isn’t removed and can be found on everyone’s teeth, even those who brush and floss daily.  It is a sticky and extremely thin layer of film that you can’t see but contains things that can harm the teeth if left; debris, bacteria and other types of matter that are not pleasant for instance.

One of the worst things about plaque is that it can cause a multitude of serious dental problems. When plaque builds up, it starts to set onto the tooth and then hardens; this is called calculus, which, when solid, is almost impossible to get rid of by brushing and flossing.

Gum disease is a common result of calculus, as is receding gums.

If plaque has reached this point, it is essential that you seek emergency dental treatment as it may cause problems further down the line. A dentist will use scaling and root planning techniques to get rid of the calculus.

Bacteria is also a concern. Bacteria in the plaque reacts with sugars in our food which causes acid to form – this can rot the teeth and erodes the enamel. This, again, needs addressing immediately, as cavities and decay are the end result.

Simply allowing plaque to remain on the teeth will cause serious issues. Once the acid in plaque has formed a cavity in the tooth, this will lead to more space for the debris and other bits and pieces to get in and build up. These cavities cannot be cleaned simply by brushing, so the bad stuff will continue to build up until it breaks through the enamel and dentin on the tooth. The pain will become unbearable if the decay gets to the inside part of the tooth and sensitivity will also be an issue. The inside of a tooth is extremely sensitive, so this scenario needs to be avoided if at all possible. This area is also prone to infection, which, if left to develop, can lead to an abscess – which we all know is one of the most painful dental problems.

What else should I be concerned about?

Dental decay can also impact on things such as the very structure and solidity of the teeth. For example, if a tooth has a cavity this will consequently make it weaker than the rest of the teeth, which could see it more prone to being knocked out or chipped.

Dental decay can also be the cause of bad breath, which, if you lead a hectic social life, or are required to liaise with people or the public regularly at work, can become a problem, and may lead to you becoming self conscious. Dental decay really can affect all aspects of your life.

What is the best way to get it treated? 

It is impossible to say what kind of treatment will be required, as all dental decay cases are different and will need treating differently. What your dentist will do however, is assess the seriousness of the decay before making an informed decision. Your dentist will more than likely attempt to fill the cavities with a durable material if the cavity can be spotted in time, but a different approach will be needed if the decay has penetrated through and reached the crux of the tooth already.

In this instance, root canal treatment would need to be undertaken, because if decay has reached the pulp of the tooth it will more than likely have become infected. Because an infection may be present, filling the cavity would not be a wise move, as this would seal in the problem and could later impact on the other surrounding teeth. Instead root canal work will be done to remove the infected pulp and eradicate all chance of further problems. A crown will then be placed on the tooth to seal it and prevent anything else (infection and such like) getting in further down the line.

How do I know if tooth decay is the problem?

Decay may be present if you start to suffer from recurring tooth pain. The pain may eventually develop into sensitivity as well as a throbbing sensation. Soreness can also occur when you bite down.


As previously mentioned in this piece, decay can be prevented to a certain extent by listening to old fashioned advice and putting it into practice. Brushing and flossing regularly is the biggest thing you can do that will help keep the rot at bay, and you should also visit your dentist regularly for check-ups as they will be able to monitor the build up of plaque.

It is also recommended that you use fluoride toothpaste as this is known to strengthen the enamel in your teeth which consequently helps with regards cavities developing.