what-is-tooth-decay

What is tooth decay, causes, how to prevent cavities

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Ever wondered what do those black spots appear on your teeth and don’t go off even if you brush your teeth thoroughly? I’m sure each one of us has experienced something like this in our life. Can you guess what am I referring to? Yes, it’s the decay in your teeth!

What is Tooth Decay?

All our teeth have an outer protective layer called as Enamel which is very strong. Tooth decay occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as breads, cereals, milk, soda, fruits, cakes, or candy are left on the teeth.

Bacteria that live in the mouth digest these foods, turning them into acids. These acids dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth, creating holes in the teeth called cavities.

Causes of Tooth Decay

Here’s how tooth decay develops:

  • Formation of plaque: When sugars and starches aren’t cleaned off your teeth, bacteria quickly begin feeding on them and form plaque. Plaque that stays on your teeth can harden under or above your gum line into tartar (calculus).

   Tartar makes plaque more difficult to remove and creates a shield for bacteria.

  • Acid attack:The acids in plaque remove minerals from the tooth enamel. This causes tiny holes in the enamel. Once areas of enamel are attacked, the bacteria and acid can reach the next layer of your teeth, called dentin.

   Dentin has tiny tubes that are directly connected with the nerve of the tooth.

  • Deep destruction: As tooth decay continues, the inside of the tooth (pulp) gets affected. The pulp becomes swollen and irritated from the bacteria and as the infection increases in the pulp, discomfort and pain is experienced.

Risk factors for tooth decay

Everyone who has teeth is at risk of decaying them, but the following factors can increase the risk of decay:

Structure of tooth: Decay most often occurs in your back teeth (molars and premolars). These teeth do not have very smooth surfaces but rather have lots of grooves and pits on their chewing surface that can collect food particles.

As a result, it becomes difficult to clean such teeth making them more prone to decay.

Poor oral hygiene: Inadequate brushing leads to incomplete plaque removal and further increases risk for decay. Bed-ridden patients or mentally challenged children fail to maintain good oral health which puts them at a greater risk for decay than others.

Food and drinks: Foods that stick to your teeth for a long time such as milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, soda, cake, cookies, and chips are more likely to cause decay than foods that are easily washed away by saliva. Also, frequent munching on snacks or sipping acidic beverages increases the risk for decay of teeth.

Also Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause stomach acid to flow into the mouth damaging the tooth enamel.

Bedtime infant feeding. When babies are given bottles filled with milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquid at bed time, it causes the sugar from these liquids to remain on the teeth for hours while they sleep, feeding the decay-causing bacteria.

baby-drinking-milk-from-bottle

you can read her 8 dental problems in child.

Not getting enough fluoride:  Fluoride is added to many public water supplies. It’s also a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouth rinses. This naturally occurring mineral helps to prevent tooth decay. No exposure of teeth to fluoride in any way makes teeth more vulnerable to decay.

Dry mouth: Saliva is a very important constituent which helps washing away of food particles stuck in the mouth. Also certain substances found in saliva help to counteract the acid produced by bacteria. Thus, reduced saliva or a completely dry mouth increases chance of decay.

Certain medications, some medical conditions, radiation to your head or neck, or certain chemotherapy drugs can increase your risk of cavities by reducing saliva production.

Genetic or childhood illnesses : People who have weak enamel due to genetics or childhood illnesses like Amelogenesis imperfect and Enamel dysplasia are easily susceptible to dental decay.

Symptoms of Tooth Decay

  • Initial stage of tooth decay could be seen only as small white spots on the teeth that signify loss of minerals.
  • Grey, brown or black spots may appear on your teeth, sometimes causing small holes in the teeth.
  • Some may even feel tooth sensitivity – you may feel tenderness or pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold or sweet.
  • In later stage one may experience toothache – either continuous pain keeping you awake, or occasional sharp pain without an obvious cause; it can sometimes be painless.
  • In advance stages, decay can even progress to inner part of the tooth (pulp) and can cause a dental abscess (pus) and eventually the tooth may become lose if left untreated.
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth and bad breath can also be a problem for a few people.

This dental problem can be addressed at various levels depending on the stage of dental decay. Initial decay can be reversed up to some extent by fluoride treatments.

Other cases may require a Dental filling or a root canal treatment (involving pulp). Severely damaged teeth may even need to be removed to avoid further complications.

How to Avoid Tooth Decay?

  • Here are some ways in which you can reduce the risk of decaying your teeth:

    • Brush with fluoride toothpaste after eating
    • Rinse your mouth.
    • Visit your dentist regularly.
    • Drink some tap water. Most public water supplies have added fluoride, which can help reduce tooth decay significantly. If you drink only bottled water that doesn’t contain fluoride, you’ll miss out on fluoride benefits.
    • Avoid frequent snacking and sipping.
    • Consider fluoride treatments. 

Remember: Dental disease is almost entirely preventable and oral health is just as important as the health of the rest of your body.

Frequently ask questions

Can I reverse tooth decay?

Tooth decay can only be reversed if it is in initial stage (white spots) by some fluoride treatments.

If decay has progressed to holes in enamel, dentin or infected the pulp, it becomes impossible to reverse it.

What are the home remedies for tooth pain due to decay?

 In case of emergency, one can do lukewarm salt water rinses or use clove oil, as it has been used effectively in numbing the pain and reducing inflammation.

One can also consume an over-the-counter pain killer for temporary symptomatic relief. Make sure to see your dentist and find a permanent solution to your pain.

Does tooth decay need to be treated immediately?

Tooth decay takes several weeks to progress to its next stage, but it is best to treat it as early as possible to avoid more invasive and costlier treatments.

How do I know if my toddler has tooth decay?

Initially, white spots or bands are seen around the milk teeth, indicating weakening of the enamel. Later, an early cavity is seen which has a light brown colour and it later progresses to a darker shade of brown to black.

What happens if the tooth decay is left untreated?

Untreated decays can lead to pain and discomfort with the associated tooth, eventually one is unable to chew food. Sometimes, the intensity of toothache is so severe that it disturbs the night’s sleep. If not treated at this stage, it may lead to abscess (pus) formation and ultimately tooth loss.

References

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