Caries, or tooth decay, is a disease characterised by a series of reactions that causes the softening of the hard dental tissues. If left untreated it advances from the surface inwards, eventually leading to the irreversible destruction of the tooth.
Caries normally go unnoticed by the patient. A thorough examination will detect spots or chalk-white spots (areas where there is no enamel) or brown pigmentation on the tooth surface. This phase may be characterised by a certain sensitivity (strange sensation) to some foods, particularly sweets or hot or cold drinks, although usually there is no actual pain.
When the caries advances and affects the pulp or nerve inside the tooth, pain will generally ensue, although if the affection is very slow it may destroy a large part of the nerve painlessly.
When the affection is deep, abscesses may form (better known as gumboils, i.e. destroyed dental material and pus) and give rise to major inflammation and pain.
The diagnosis must always be made by a dentist following a thorough examination of the teeth. If caries is not detected and are suspected, or else when we want to see if the root is diseased, x-rays must be performed. The X-ray will reveal any possible affection of the pulp and the level and shape of the caries.
Prevention of caries is based fundamentally on 4 aspects:
- Carrying out proper oral hygiene.
- Strengthening tooth resistance (fluoride).
- Avoiding the causes of tooth decay (eating habits/bacterial plaque).
- Treating caries early on (proper hygiene habits from an early age).