Treatment Options for Tooth Decay

Pile of sugar and dental tools with beads that say "tooth decay"

In centuries past, teeth with decay or infection had to be pulled. Thankfully, modern technology allows patients many treatment options for their tooth decay or oral health problem. Dentists can find areas of tooth decay with probing tools, x-ray imaging, and even the use of machines with near-infrared light. CariVu Technology is just one dental caries detection device that can make finding and fixing your cavities a breeze. Let us show you what options you have available for finding trouble spots in your mouth and what we can do to detect and treat your tooth decay!


What Is Tooth Decay?

Many patients aren’t quite sure what “tooth decay” means. However, explaining that this means the same as “dental caries” or “cavities” makes it much easier to understand. More than 91% of people in the United States have had at least one cavity during their lifetime. Most people have had more than one, which may even include you. Those facts are in stark contrast to the pearly, white smiles most people associate with Americans. The 91% of people that have had cavities lie within the 20-64 year-old age group, and the percentage goes up to 96% after ages 65.


Children are not any better off, with about 1/5th having untreated cavities in their teeth. What is a cavity you ask? Cavities go by the name of “tooth decay” because they are literally areas on your teeth that decay. Your teeth are made up of 96% pure minerals such as calcium and phosphate, making them the hardest substance in your body. You would think they would be fairly indestructible, however, poor oral hygiene habits can leave them weak and susceptible to decay. When you eat, sugars in your foods and drinks mix with mouth bacteria to create plaque. Plaque is that sticky, acidic (and clear) substance that sticks to your teeth like glue, especially along the gum line. If you don’t brush and floss your teeth several times a day, that acidic plaque will weaken your tooth enamel, eventually eroding it and decaying it. Hence, the term “tooth decay”.


Close-up view of a dental mirror close to a patient's teeth

Removing and Filling Decay

Once a part of a tooth decays, you can’t reverse it. You have to physically remove the decay and fix the tooth cosmetically. There are several ways to go about this depending on your level of tooth decay. The American Dental Association recommends that all patients visit the dentist at least twice a year (so every 6 months) in order to avoid or catch tooth decay when it is small. If you do this, we can catch surface cavities that are easy to fix. We simply drill out the small surface cavity and fill the area with dental filling, shaping it to your tooth once more so it looks good as new.


However, when tooth decay is more severe, we have to look at other treatment options. When you receive dental x-rays, we look to see areas where shading indicates that there is a breakdown of your tooth structure. If there is a large area, we know you have severe decay or infection. When that happens, we have to use drills and dental tools to open up your tooth. If surface cavities have grown through various tooth layers to the soft center of your tooth, we have to do a root canal. This is where we completely clean out all the soft center tissues of your tooth, including the roots. We remove all that tissue (which you don’t need once a tooth is grown), and we fill it with dental material, capping it off with a crown.


Using CariVu Technology

Filing a surface cavity or performing a root canal are two main treatment options for tooth decay. We can sometimes fill internal cavities if the center tooth tissues are not affected. However, in extreme cases of decay, we may need to completely remove a tooth if it is breaking down enough that a root canal can’t save the natural tooth. This leads to needing a dental implant, bridge, or denture when tooth loss is severe.


In our cavity treatments, we utilize CariVu technology. This is a powerful tooth decay detection devices. Traditionally, x-rays are the tool of choice for many dentists to see the internal structure of your teeth. However, x-ray technology has its limitations. CariVu creates more accurate images of the teeth through bathing them in safe, near-infrared light. When this transillumination technology is used, the enamel will appear transparent on our images. Porous lesions (or areas of tooth decay) will absorb light and appear dark. This allows us to easily detect the exact location, size and shape of a cavity. Part of treating a cavity is actually finding its location and size, which is why CariVu technology is so important to the tooth decay treatment process.


Patient speaking with a dentist that has a dental x-ray in his hands

Other Technology Options

Modern dentistry is seeing advances every day in the field of dentistry. CariVu technology is just one tool used to help treat tooth decay. However, lasers are often used in modern dentistry. Laser dentistry can be used to detect areas of tooth decay on tooth surfaces and internally. Then, using laser light, a dentist can actually cut, reshape and remove abnormal areas from the gums. They can do the same with tooth decay in a tooth. Using a pen-like wand, a focused beam of laser light can remove a decayed area of a tooth. It’s a simple way to treat teeth and gum problems without using anesthesia.


When a laser is used on gum tissue, the wound seals itself immediately, diminishing the risk for infection and bleeding. Technology such as laser light and CariVu is changing the way dentists work and the experiences that patients have. If you would like an easier way to treat your tooth decay, ask about CariVu technology and other treatment options for your cavities! Call Niles Family Dentistry today at (720) 744-0001 to set up your dental plan!

Ashley Niles

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