How Is Tooth Decay Diagnosed at Your Dental Checkup?

Posted on: April 10, 2019

During a dental checkup, a dentist examines the teeth and gums for any problem areas. Early tooth decay may not show any symptoms at first. This is why it is of the utmost importance that patients never skip a dental checkup.

Tooth decay is a common dental issue and is nothing to be ashamed of. Catching it early on is your best chance of ensuring lifelong use of your teeth and bite.

Signs of early tooth decay

Cavities or caries are small holes that form in teeth due to advanced tooth decay. Decay forms when bacteria in the mouth builds up and produces acid. The acid then eats through the enamel and causes cavities.

Because the acid gets through the outer layer and into the inner pulp of the tooth, the nerves and blood vessels within the tooth are affected. For this reason, one of the main symptoms of tooth decay is a toothache. However, most early stages of a cavity are symptom-free. These caries cannot be detected by the untrained eye and must be diagnosed at a dental checkup.

Symptoms of tooth decay include toothache, increased sensitivity of the tooth, bad breath, dry mouth, unpleasant taste in the mouth and possible discoloration of the affected tooth.

How often to get a dental checkup

Without any tooth pain, patients tend to let the problem go on longer than they should. Checkups should be a part of any oral health regimen. At least once every six months, every patient of any age should go in for a dental cleaning and checkup. Younger children are more susceptible to tooth decay and should get a checkup about every four months.

How your dentist diagnoses tooth decay

Tooth decay can be diagnosed in a number of ways, the first being a visual examination. Decay presents an array of telltale signs in its early stages. The dentist looks for any areas where plaque buildup has occurred, as well as small brown or black spots. A discolored tooth may also signify tooth decay.

A checkup also includes looking at the gums for any possible areas of inflammation. Gum health and tooth health are very closely related. The dentist will take into account any dental and dietary history relevant to the condition of the teeth.

An x-ray may be used to detect tooth decay if a visual examination is not enough. Some areas of decay are so small they cannot be viewed directly. This is where a bitewing x-ray comes in. A bitewing x-ray can detect lesions that have not yet formed into holes in the tooth. X-rays are especially useful for tooth decay in the molars.

Cavities tend to develop more quickly through the back teeth rather than the front. Quickly moving caries in the molars are known as pit cavities. A tricky form of tooth decay is the elusive root cavities, which occur below the gum line. These must be diagnosed with an x-ray as well.

Next steps

After diagnosis, you will want to take care of tooth decay right away. Work with your dentist at the diagnosis appointment to schedule an appointment for treating your cavity.

Request an appointment here: or call South Mountain Family Dental at (602) 282-6078 for an appointment in our Tempe office.

Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: Dental Checkup.

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