Taking action against tooth decay
Tooth decay is the degradation of tooth structure by the bacteria that is in dental plaque. If our oral health is poor, plaque contacts the teeth for a longer time and eventually causes a cavity to form. If left untreated, it can lead to a dental infection, potentially causing pain and swelling, and over time, an abscess.
Regular visits to the dentist allow early detection and stopping these cavities before they turn into infection by removing the decay and placing fillings. If the cavity is identified early and decay minimal, a filling usually solves the problem. However, the longer the decay is left untreated, the higher the chances of an infection. If the cavity is deep and the resulting filling is close to the pulp tissue, the tooth can be saved with a root canal. If decay is extensive and tooth can't be salvaged, an extraction is required.
When a small cavity is present, the treatment is often as simple as a filling. This involves preparing the tooth by removing the decayed tooth structure and filling the space with a composite resin, porcelain or amalgam filling.
If a tooth has a significant amount of decay, or already contains several fillings, your dentist may recommend a crown. A crown involves preparing or reducing the tooth 360° and vertically as to shape the existing tooth structure in a way to accept a full crown, which completely covers the entire tooth when cemented. Crowns are very strong and long term. They can be made of porcelain, gold or porcelain fused to gold. A crown also completely caps or encircles a tooth of a dental implant.
A dental inlay is similar to a regular filling in that the decayed tooth structure is removed and then restored. The only real difference is that instead of using composite resin, porcelain, or amalgam directly, an impression of the preparation is taken, and sent to the lab where the restorative will be made of gold or porcelain, and then cemented.
A dental onlay is a laboratory fabricated restoration that restores the entire biting surface of a tooth, usually made of porcelain or gold. Onlays can be recommended when the amount of tooth decay is too much for a filling but not enough for a full crown.
When a space exists from the loss of a tooth (ie. extraction), a bridge, aka a fixed partial denture, may be recommended. A bridge involves doing a crown preparation on the teeth adjacent to the space - these teeth will be known as the "abutment" teeth that support the bridge. The pontic or replacement tooth is fused to these abutments and the result is a fixed, cemented bridge. Bridges are a good option for replacing missing teeth, if an implant can't be done.