Tooth decay is highly preventable, but it remains one of the most widespread chronic health conditions. That’s partly because the very bacteria that causes cavities is a natural part of a healthy mouth. While avoiding sugary foods and maintaining excellent oral hygiene can help you avoid cavities, treating decay before it has a chance to spread is an essential part of good oral health. Dr. Chris J. Allemand is an expert at finding and treating tooth decay. From his office at North Bend Dental Care in North Bend, Washington, he sees patients from the eastern suburbs of Seattle.

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What causes tooth decay?

Tooth decay usually begins with too much plaque, the thin, sticky film that forms on your teeth when sugar or carbohydrate molecules interact with the bacteria that’s naturally present in your mouth. If you don’t brush as often or as well as you should, plaque and bacteria can build up on your teeth and eat away at your tooth enamel. These spots of decay are known as cavities. Eating a diet rich in sugar or carbohydrates boosts your risk of developing cavities.

Why is it important to treat tooth decay?

While it may be possible to live with tooth decay for a while, an untreated cavity can eventually result in far bigger problems. The same buildup of plaque and bacteria that causes cavities can also irritate your gums and lead to gingivitis, also known as gum disease or periodontal disease. Untreated tooth decay can also spread, resulting in multiple affected teeth. Tooth decay that’s left untreated may create the need for a root canal or even an extraction.

How are fillings applied?

A filling is a way to restore a tooth that’s been damaged by decay back to its normal function and shape. Before a filling can be applied, Dr. Allemand must first remove the decayed tooth material and clean the affected area. The type of material he uses to fill a cavity mostly depends on its location in your mouth and the extent of the repair. Gold, plastic and porcelain fillings are available, but the most commonly used materials are:

  • Composite resin: These plastic fillings are custom made to match the exact color of your teeth to create a natural appearance. These white fillings are the most aesthetically pleasing, but they usually don’t last as long and aren’t ideal for larger fillings because they may chip more easily.
  • Amalgam: These silver fillings are more tolerant to wear and tear, making them an ideal material for the surface of your molars, which bear most of the force when you chew. Because of their darker color, amalgam fillings aren’t aesthetically suitable for teeth near the front of your mouth.

How can I prevent cavities?

If you already take the time to brush and floss twice daily, chances are you’re doing a fairly good job keeping cavities at bay. Having regular professional care helps ensure that your own dental hygiene skills are up to par and that any decay is caught early.

Dental sealants are a quick, inexpensive, and effective form of cavity prevention for children. Sealants are applied to the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars in the back of a child’s mouth, to keep bacteria and decay out of the tiny grooves and pits on the chewing surface of molars. Although sealants act as a long-lasting barrier against tooth decay, sealed teeth still require proper brushing and flossing to remain cavity-free.