Tooth decay is damage to a tooth caused by plaque. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria that sticks to the teeth above and below the gum line. If plaque isn't removed from the teeth, it can build up and harden into tartar. The bacteria in plaque and tartar use sugars in food to make acids. These acids can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
Any part of your tooth can decay, from the roots below the gum line to the chewing surface. Decay can affect the outer layer (enamel) or inner layer (dentin) of your teeth. The deeper the decay, the worse the damage.
Untreated tooth decay will get worse and may lead to tooth loss. If you have a small hole (cavity) in your tooth, your dentist can repair it by removing the decay and filling the hole. If you have deeper decay, you may need more treatment. A very badly damaged tooth may have to be removed.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your dentist if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
If you have pain:
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your dentist or nurse care line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your dentist or nurse call line if:
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Current as of: May 12, 2017
Patrice Burgess, MD, FAAFP - Family Medicine
& Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Arden G. Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
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