Tooth Decay 101 in Singapore

Protect your teeth—and your smile—with our comprehensive guide to tooth decay! Learn the signs of tooth decay, the different stages, and what you and your dentist can do at each step to treat the cavity and save your tooth.

What is Tooth Decay?

Your teeth have a hard outer layer called enamel. However, this enamel can break down because of two things:

  • Plaque.  A soft and sticky film that contains millions of bacteria
  • Sugar. Sugar from the food we eat stick to the plaque. The bacteria feeds on the sugar, and produce acid that break down the tooth enamel.

Simple dental hygiene habits like proper brushing and flossing every day can help remove plaque and sugar. However, if you do not take care of your teeth, you can experience tooth decay. This starts when the tooth enamel begins to break down, but can worsen if it is not treated by a dentist. Here are the different tooth decay stages, and the typical tooth decay treatment.

Tooth Decay Stage 1: White Spots

Do you see white or chalky spots on your teeth? These spots could be caused by decalcification (also called demineralization). The acids formed by bacteria have begun to break down the calcium and phosporus in your teeth.

You may ask, “I brush and floss every day, but why do I still have white spots on my teeth?” White spots can be caused by poor diet, antibiotics like amoxicillin, too much fluoride, or not getting enough calcium in your diet. But regardless of the cause, white spots are a sign that your teeth are weaker. It is important to see a dentist, to prevent further tooth decay. There are other causes of white spots and your dentist can reassure you if it is not decay to that regard.

White spots are permanent, but your dentist can help even out the colour of your teeth. Some methods include enamel microabrasian, teeth bleaching, or for severe discoloration, veneers.

Tooth Decay Stage 2: Enamel Decay

Your tooth has a natural remineralization process, where it replaces lost calcium and minerals. However, if it is unable to produce enough, the tooth starts to form lesions or cracks. As the tooth decay progresses, the damage becomes bigger and deeper. Signs of enamel decay include:

  • White spots on the teeth become darker
  • Overall yellowing or discolouration
  • Edges of teeth become more rough and irregular
  • Indentations appear on the tooth surface

While early enamel erosion and small cavities may not feel painful, it is important to go to a dentist to prevent it from becoming worse.

Tooth Decay Stage 3: Dentin Decay

Do your teeth feel sensitive when you eat or drink anything very hot or cold? Do you get a toothache after eating something sweet? This could be a sign that the tooth decay has reached the dentin.

Dentin is the tissue that lies under the enamel. It has microscopic tubes that connect to the nerves of the tooth, which is why you are already feeling sensitivity or pain. If your tooth decay has reached this point, you need to see a dentist immediately. Dentin is softer than tooth enamel, so the rate of tooth decay will be much faster.

Your dentist may still be able to treat the tooth cavity and place a dental filling, which will strengthen the tooth and prevent bacteria from entering the vulnerable area. 

Tooth Decay Stage 4: Pulp Decay

The pulp is the center of the tooth, and contains living tissue and cells. If tooth decay reaches this area, you will feel constant pain. It may be necessary to do a root canal.

When you have severe tooth decay, you may also be at risk for a tooth abscess. Your tooth has infected, and a pocket of pus either at the root of the tooth or the surrounding gums. Your gums and face may start to swell, and the pain from your toothache can radiate to your jaw and ear. If you are experiencing these tooth decay symptoms, contact a dentist immediately.

Tooth Decay Stage 5: Tooth Loss

Your dentist will do as much as he can to “save” your tooth, but if the damage is too severe it may be necessary to extract the tooth to prevent infection. That is why it is important to get tooth decay treatment before the cavity becomes very painful.

Tooth Decay Singapore Treatment: What to Expect

Many people endure the pain of a tooth cavity just because they are afraid of going to a dentist. However, there is no reason to fear dental treatments. Your dentist is there to help you, and will do all he can to protect your teeth—and your smile.

Your dentist appointment will begin with a dental examination. He will look at your mouth and teeth, and ask you questions about pain and sensitivity. He may probe your teeth to check for soft areas, or take dental X rays to check the extent of tooth decay. 

Then, he will recommend a treatment based the severity of the cavity, and your particular situation. Typical tooth decay Singapore treatments include:

Fluoride treatments

This can help treat or reverse a cavity in the early stages. He will fill a tray filled with either liquid, gel or foam fluoride and fit it over your teeth. This is completely painless.

Tooth fillings

If the tooth decay has already affected the enamel or dentin (the second or third stage of tooth decay), your doctor needs to use a filling. The cost of a dental filling in Singapore depends on the material and the extent of the damage. Types of fillings include:

  • Composite Resin.  Made of a mixture of fine glass and plastic, it looks natural and is quite durable because it bonds directly to the tooth. It can last up to 5 years.
  • Ceramic. Made of porcelain, this high-quality filling looks natural, is resistant to staining, and can last for up to 7 years. However, it is not as strong as composite resin.
  • Amalgam. Made of mercury, silver, tin, zinc or copper, these are the least expensive fillings and can last more than 10 years. They are often used to treat molars or back teeth, since they do not match the colour of natural teeth and can discolour over time. Please note that Dental Essence does NOT provide Amalgam fillings due to the environmental and biologic hazards associated with free mercury.

Crowns

This is necessary to treat extensive tooth decay or very weak teeth. The crown fits over the top of your tooth, called a crown. Your dentist will need to remove both the decayed area and some of the tooth surface so that it fits well. Like dental fillings, crowns can be made of different materials like porcelain, resin, amalgam, and gold.

Root canals

Root canals can help save a very damaged or infected tooth cavity. It is performed by an endodontist, or a dentist who has received additional training specifically for treatments of the dental pulp.

During a root canal treatment, your endodontist will remove any infected pulp, apply medicine to clear infection, clean the tooth, and then seal it. Usually, your remaining tooth will be covered by a crown—both to protect your tooth, and restore it to its original function.

How to Prevent Tooth Decay

Your dentist can help treat tooth decay, but it is also important to prevent cavities. Here are some things you can do to keep your teeth healthy and strong.

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Replace your toothbrush every three to four month, since bristles can become soft or misshapen and will not be able to clean your teeth as effectively. Remember to brush your tongue, too—sugar residue can collect there.
  • Use dental floss or interdental cleaners. This helps remove plaque between the teeth.
  • Eat nutritious meals. Be sure to include calcium-rich food like milk or leafy vegetables.
  • Avoid sugary snacks and drinks. We know candy and soda are bad for the teeth, but be careful of hidden sugars. Sauces, smoothies and even healthy snacks like granola bars can contain a lot of sugar, too.
  • Visit your dentist every six months. Your dentist can do a professional cleaning to remove plaque, and check for early signs of tooth decay or gum disease.

Dental Essence Singapore: Your Partners in Dental Health

Are you concerned about tooth decay, or want to improve the appearance of your teeth? Dental Essence is here to help you. Aside from tooth decay treatments like fillings, root canals and crowns, we also provide orthodontics, restorative and oral surgery, and cosmetic dentistry. Call us now or book an appointment for a personal consultation.